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Summary:

My save-to-read-later habits made me wonder if I needed to carve out more time to read. And to make sure I wasn’t too despondent, Pocket CEO Nate Weiner said that I was reading two books’ worth of text every month on Pocket. But at what cost?

Pocket Matter partnership

One of the things I like about the internet (as opposed to hating it) is the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions with really smart people and walk away more educated from those interactions. Earlier this week, I blogged about my save-and-read-it-later habits based on data from Pocket, which is my de facto TiVo for the web. My conclusion looking at the data was that I am reading a lot less than I thought (only about a third of what I was saving) and promised to work harder to get through more articles.

This prompted a response from Pocket CEO Nate Weiner and his editorial director, Mark Armstrong, who said that I have to look at it as a glass half full, not glass half empty. In his blog post in response to my post, Mark wrote:

“There is a misperception that Pocket should be treated like an email inbox, in which you have to go back to every single story or video that you’ve saved. Pocket works best if your ‘net consumption’ is better than what it would’ve been without save for later. My open rate is probably abysmal, because I am a digital hoarder. But I end up consuming exponentially more/better stories in a given day than I would have without Pocket.”

Fair point — and not much of a disagreement. Further analysis of my data by Weiner resulted in him telling me that

“Looking at the open rate is a bad personal metric. Because achieving 100 percent isn’t the right goal. The right goal is having a way to read the best content that you can find and that is what Pocket enables you to do. You should be looking at like: Holy crap, I read 20 articles in Pocket a week that I would have missed otherwise!”

nate weinerNate said that the average length of an article I read in Pocket was 1,554 words, which works out to about “120,000 words a month in Pocket, which is the equivalent of two full novels worth of articles every month!” Nate went on to argue that if I save 45 articles a week, that is about 70,000 words or about a book every week. In other words, I should stop focusing on what I don’t read and instead on be focused on what I do read — and that is the purpose of Pocket.

“Pocket isn’t here to help you get through everything, it’s here to help you get through, and not miss, the ones that matter. And based on the crazy high amount you’re reading, I’d argue that it’s doing a pretty good job.”

Ironically, all this reading is cutting into my book reading time — I just checked my Amazon book buying habits and realized that I am buying roughly half as many books as I used to.

So far in 2013, I have acquired 24 books and 17 ebooks and e-singles. In comparison, in 2012, I bought 34 books and 14 ebooks and e-singles. In 2011, I acquired 16 books and 19 ebooks. I typically read a book a week, mostly when commuting or sitting in between meetings or simply when I want to fall asleep. The increased reading on Pocket shows that my appetite for books is being whetted augmented by other types of content. Conclusion: there is only so much time in the day and so many ways to fractionalize one’s attention.

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  1. The fact that the software vendor of your preferred bookmarking tool tells you that you have to look at your experience as a glass half full, not a glass half empty is hardly surprising (I’m not trying to suggest that they’re insincere). My perspective is different.

    You are a prominent publishing and technology executive so there are numerous topics that you MUST remain current on. Half of the topics you don’t even half to think about: you see the headline and you save.

    That you return to only a third of them is no triumph: it’s a sure sign of the pernicious impact of the overload of information we all face today. If you don’t read most of your links there’s a very good chance that you’ll be sitting in a meeting and someone will say “You’ve been following metadata and the NSA, right?” And you’ll answer, “Well, yes, but the headlines only.”

    I dislike linking to my site in a comment, but here we go, my essay on the information explosion redux: http://thefutureofpublishing.com/influences/the-information-explosion-and-its-impact-on-the-future-of-publishing/

    All the filtering software and smart agents are unlikely to resolve this problem any time soon.

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    1. Thad

      Thanks for the email and your thoughtful and illuminating comment.

      To make something clear, I have been blessed with ability to read really fast — though not as fast as some with visual memory.

      That said, you are right about me having to read a lot. But to hit save by reading the headline, that is not how I work. If that was the case then i would be saving a lot more than 50 articles a week. On a daily basis I go through nearly 500 sources — so, no, I don’t feel the need to save by the headline. In my stint as a newswire reporter, I used to go through a lot more headlines :-)

      While I skim over a lot of headlines and many article — as part of the job — but the stuff which goes into Pocket has a pretty good reason why — it is after quick skimming through the content and making a decision about whether it is worth sharing or not. And then re-reading it later to boil down to 7 that are worth sharing.
      The primary use case is — curation and then curating the curation.

      As far as information explosion, that is a different story. For the analysis of the data I have received I think it is tangential –or at least it is tangential to me.

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      1. I now understand the use case more clearly: thanks!

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  2. Reblogged this on Censemaking and commented:
    Giga OM founder and prolific reader Om Malik posted a reflection on his reading habits on his blog that got me thinking about the way we consume, rate and appreciate content online. In this post, Malik shares some of the dialogue he has with the CEO of Pocket, a read-it-later service that allows you to save webpages you’re unable or unwilling to read at the moment you find them. It’s a great service and I love using it, but it is a source of guilt — which is what struck me about the exchange. I, like Malik, am also a voracious book buyer. My ‘to-read’ list is enormous and I am constantly feeling behind or wondering whether I have sufficiently caught up or processing what I need. Talking with others, this is shared and clearly Pocket is aware of this. The metric of words saved and read which, in the case of Om was two novels worth per month, is oddly reassuring that all that content consumed in webpages and tweets and such is adding up to something. The bigger issue and quest might be (a la Dr Strangelove): how to stop worrying and love content.

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  3. You should try using the Text-to-Speech (TTS) feature in Pocket. I too was feeling like I wasn’t reading enough of my ‘read it later’ list; but after using TTS I not only got ‘caught up’, but actually increased my news consumption. That being said, I’m on an iPhone, so I used an app called reeedo, which does the same thing, but on iOS.

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