A few days ago, Pocket released their Best of 2020 reading list. It’s full of wonderful articles. Almost all of them appeared on Readup and several won the Article of the Day (AOTD) trophy.
After 2020 ends, Readup will create a similar “Best of” list. We did so last year too. But we’re going to wait until the end of 2020 because, well, it seems strange to announce the best articles in a year that’s still not over yet!
Anyway, Pocket is great. In many ways, they paved the way for Readup. One of the very first features that we built, Stars, enables you to save articles and stories for later. We now have several features that overlap with Pocket. We refer to these features as “table stakes” - the basic stuff that any reading app needs in order to satisfy the most basic Reader requirements. For example: ad removal, dark mode, or the ability to change font size in an article.
I used to think of Pocket as a competitor, but now I don’t. Still, I keep wondering if they’ll ever try to expand from being purely a utility to full-blown reading community. It’s way harder to build a community than it is to build a utility. Both involve art and science, but building a community also involves some weird combination of magic and luck.
Regardless, there will never be a single solution to article “curation” or “discovery” online. And there shouldn’t be. The best situation for humanity is a robust, decentralized ecosystem of technologies, people, and organizations that all compete against each other to find the highest-quality content from all around the world — a race to the top.
That’s why I wish that Pocket would have done a better job of explaining how they selected the articles for their Best of 2020 list. Is that unreasonable? Sometimes I think that people won’t — and shouldn’t — stand for such abstraction. If a recommendation is machine-generated, that’s okay. And if it’s editor-selected, that’s okay too. But such information should be disclosed. Right?
Won’t this be the “table stakes” of the future? I sure hope so. Readup is simultaneously creating that future and betting on it.
As things currently stand, it’s often hard to know why we see what we see online. We’re used to it working that way. In an ideal future (the one that Readup is building) you can “dial-back” the algorithms. You can separate the human part from the machine part. It might be true that your friend posted a particular article. But it’s also true that hundreds of your friends posted hundreds of articles and you don’t see them all. So where does the human end and the machine begin?
One more thing about Pocket’s “Best of 2020” list — it’s based on a huge dataset of article saves. But everyone knows that most people who use Pocket save stuff without ever reading it. And Pocket (at least as far as I know?) doesn’t track your reading. Perhaps they see how many people reopened articles that they had previously saved? Who knows? Apparently nobody.
Meanwhile, Readup’s “Best of” lists are based on article completions — the number of people who start an article and read it all the way to the end.
And they’re completely transparent.
And they’re updated constantly.
And it happens automatically, without any editors or curators.
I’ll admit that at first I was a little perturbed that the Best of Pocket list had so much overlap with the Readup AOTD list. But now I’m stoked about it. After all, Pocket has millions of users and Readup has only a few thousand Readers, so any overlap just proves the strength of our data model. One real Reader is worth a thousand skimmers.
Ultimately, intentionality is the main ingredient that’s missing online these days. There’s too much “surfing” and “browsing” around aimlessly. Pocket helps people to be a little bit more intentional — to go from seeing an article to saving it for later…. to maybe read it. That’s a good thing. But it doesn’t fully “close the loop” the way Readup does.
The loop is closed when the article gets read.
Readup is the only business in the reading industry that has clearly defined the most ambitious touchdown possible — article completion — and we help our Readers to get to that ultimate end goal as often as possible.
Speaking of article completion, thanks for taking the time to read this whole thing. It makes all of the difference — for us, for you, and for everyone. Keep it up!