Why I’m sticking with Instapaper

Readability recently released their new iOS app to lots of positive reviews and public declarations about “finally” being able to switch from Instapaper. For all I know Readability is a superior product, but I haven’t even considered moving away from Instapaper. I have no desire to investigate the new app. So either I’m crazy, or it’s indicative of a shift in how we view software – a shift towards the human connection that underlies everything we do online. Let me explain.

I’ve been using Instapaper for a long time, the last few months as a paid subscriber. But that shouldn’t actually count for anything. The switching costs for “Read Later” apps are low. It might be uncomfortable to have two distinct reading lists for a week or so, but after one list dies down and the other one picks up, everything would go back to normal. In most cases you can import your data into a new service, so you don’t have to lose any historical data. So if switching costs are low, and Readability could very well be a better app, why am I not interested?

My loyalty comes from the fact that I’m unable to separate Instapaper from its creator, Marco Arment.

Marco does something really smart that gives him a big advantage over the makers of other, similar apps: he makes himself extremely visible. But even more importantly, he does so as himself, with his own personality, as opposed to some tightly controlled and measured “social media brand engagement” thing.

His blog is required reading on all things from tech to coffee to headphones. I hear his complaints every week on the Build & Analyze podcast with Dan Benjamin. So, yes, it feels like I know Marco (don’t be creepy). Sure, I disagree with his opinion on cars, and I feel like he’s a little bit harsh on Nest. But that’s part of what makes Instapaper a unique app. Its creator is a real guy I can relate to, albeit in a sometimes frustrating way because his opinions are SO WRONG SOMETIMES.

Instapaper is one of only a few apps I can think of where I know the developer’s name, and actually know a little bit about them based on their online presence. Pinboard is another one. So is nvALT. But those are exceptions; in the majority of cases I don’t know who the developers of the apps I love and use every day are. I’ve now come to realize that it’s no coincidence that I have no intention of switching away from any of the apps I mentioned above. But if a better RSS reader than Reeder were to come along, I would most certainly investigate.

If there’s a point to this story, it’s this. We’re entering an era where software is personal. By now we’ve all gotten over the initial shock of how the Internet can remove geographical barriers and turn us into one big happy, arguing family. We’re coming to terms with the fact that the Internet is people all the way down[1]. So now we can start to figure out what that actually means. I think it means that we’re going to pay increasingly more attention to the people who make the things we use, and their personalities will become inseparable from their work. Loyalty will come from our relationships with people, not things.

Which is why I’m sticking with Instapaper.


  1. Frank Chimero in Issue #1 of The Manual