In the last two months, the way I read the Internet has completely changed. And I’m not talking about finally getting the F-shaped pattern down. Rather, my reading has become asynchronous through a simple Firefox plugin: Read It Later. Let me explain what I mean.
I start my day with Twitter. It’s the best way for me to track what’s happening in my research network of other academics who share my interests. Inevitably, I’m lead to multiple fascinating articles which I want to read, but which I also know will distract me from the task at hand. (Like all purveyors of productivity, Prof. Hacker suggests that you tackle what matters most, first.) In the past, this has either meant (1) leaving multiple tabs open within Firefox, which I would hope to get back to later (never did) or (2) or saving links to Delicious. I know many people that use Delicious effectively, but for me Delicious has more frequently become the place “where links go to die,” as MG Siegler described it this week.
Read It Later has solved this problem for me. It adds a two small buttons to the top of my browser window. When I find a link that I want to read, I simply click the checkmark. Read it Later then saves the page to my Reading List, which is accessible as a drop-down menu from the right. Simple, right? But how is it different from my previous methods?
The key is that Read It Later syncs across different computers. So my reading list is with me wherever I have a browser. What’s more, in saving the page to my reading list, it not only keeps the URL, but it saves a copy of the page at that moment, so that I can pull it up again even if I’m offline. When you’re done reading, you simply click on the check mark to unselect it. Or you can choose to unselect it and simultaneously share it with a number of other sites, including Delicious, Digg, your Firefox bookmarks, or more.
But what would you say to yet another turn of the screw? Because Read It Later also syncs to iPhones and iPod Touches with the Read It Later app. This app is what has completely changed my personal reading of the web. Since I’m only cool enough to have the Touch and because I commute to my campus on a shuttle, reading the Internet wasn’t an option. But now I find that my commute is when I can do all my reading of the links that I find throughout the day. I just sync my iPod before leaving campus and have access to asynchronous reading throughout the shuttle ride home. On my iPod, I can choose to read a copy of the webpage or Read It Later will extract just the text for an easier reading experience. When I next hit a wifi network, I re-sync the app, and my reading list on my office and home computers remove the item from the list.
The result of all this asynchronous reading is that I have more time during the day for what most needs getting done (like writing for Prof. Hacker) and can read everything that piques my interest, wherever I am.
N.B. There are a lot more features of Read It Later that I haven’t mentioned (integration with Google Reader! Saving All Open Tabs to Reading List! Click To Save mode!), and while Read It Later plays best with Firefox, it also has bookmarklets that will function in any browser.