Two posts ago I talked about Marco Arment selling Instapaper to Betaworks. Last time I expounded on the psychology of being an independent developer and projected what might be going on inside Marco’s head. In the last of my trilogy on Instapaper and Marco, I want to talk about the app itself and the potential path forward.
Instapaper is a read-it-later product. It is very simple to use. You find something you want to read but don’t have time to read it. Marco provides a browser bookmarklet (a bookmark that acts like a little app) that, when you click on it, sends the current page’s contents to Instapaper. When you run the app, the article downloads, sans all the ads and junk on the page, and makes it available to read with or without an internet connection. Like DVRs, it is about time shifting, moving things from the time you don’t have to the time you do. Five years ago there were few services like this but now there are a quite a few competitors, almost of all of which are free and have big money behind them.
As I have explained before, I believe we want to put products into a box. There is a job to be accomplished and I want to know which product I use to get it done. The job to be done, say grocery shopping, goes into the Safeway box. The job to be done, say syncing files across devices, goes into the Dropbox box. Products that don’t have a clear box, that aren’t clearly hired to do a job, disappear. Finding the right box is the hardest thing about starting any business.
Instapaper has been a success by finding its box. The job Instapaper is hired to do can be looked at at a number of levels:
- It’s hired to shift time from now, when I don’t have it, to later, when I do.
- It’s hired to hold onto articles and stories I want to come back to later.
- It’s hired to fill gaps in my day, downtime if you will, with something to do.
With these ideas in mind, the low hanging fruit becomes obvious and timing is on Instapaper’s side. If it was up to me, my first target of attack would be RSS feeds. With Google Reader going away in a couple of months, it is a perfect opportunity for Instapaper to add RSS reader capabilities into the product. RSS brings the news to you. I quickly skim the list of articles marking the ones I want to read later. A single product that could take stuff I want to read later from anywhere — Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, random web sites — would be a fantastic extension for the way I already use the app. Best of all, it is worthy of subscription revenues, the holy grail for us software developers.
I’m certain that Instapaper, as it is today, is just scratching the surface of its capabilities. With the correct attention and skill set behind it, Instapaper can be a powerhouse for years to come. I’m excited to see what Betaworks does with it.