Read-it-later Apps

Updated: December 10, 2021 Reading Time: 2 minutes stage: complete

As a reader and consumer of digital information, one problem I've often had has been about storage and retrieval of links I want to read. I'm not one to keep hundreds of open tabs in my browser so I've experimented with lots of "read-it-later" apps. This year alone, I've cycled through just using my browser's builtin Bookmarks manager to Pocket, Instapaper, and now, WorldBrain's Memex.

At their core these apps do almost the same: they provide a browser extension so that you can easily save a link for later, a search box so you can filter through all your links, and they have highlighting features so you can extract the relevant parts of what you read.

Pocket and Instapaper are almost identical. They both give you a mobile app where you can download readable versions of your links so you can read them and highlight them offline. This means that they also have the same shortcomings, chiefly that because they process the links before you can read them, they remove useful graphics and images that I may want to save from time to time. I ended up using Instapaper more because I like its highlighting features more and their premium subscription was cheaper.

WorldBrain's Memex, on the other hand, has a different (and more interesting approach) to solving the "read-it-later" issue. The app draws inspiration from Vannevar's Bush idea of a Memex:

"a device in which individuals would compress and store all of their books, records, and communications, mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility."

Rather than processing your links and giving you a clean reading view, WorldBrain lives in your browser. You can bring it up at any time, add tags, notes and just highlight parts of any webpage.

To me, this approach is better. I can just visit a site and highlight any parts that might interest me at once, rather than needing to save the link first, visiting my Instapaper dashboard, and only then being able to read/highlight the article. On top of this, it is a "privacy-first" app so all your data lives in your machine and you can set up backups to Dropbox or Google Drive if you want. On top of all this, the developers are quite active and they have a public roadmap . I hope they deliver on their mission so I can stick to it in the long run. \