Like many people, I spend way too much time thumbing through news feeds and clicking on intriguing Twitter headlines.
Over the years, I’ve investigated many ways of reducing how long I spend staring at my feeds so I can focus more on work before five o’clock and unwinding come evening time.
Today, I regularly use the app Pocket to save interesting articles I come across during the working day to my phone and read them later after I’ve worked through my To Do list.
I wanted to discover more about the thinking behind a popular productivity app with the aim of helping users reduce their screen time and get more value from their devices.
Create A Product That Solves A Problem
Nate Weiner and his team created Pocket in 2007, initially calling their app ReadItLater. Like many products, it was born out of need.
“I was always emailing links to [myself] about things I wanted to learn or articles I wanted to read,” Weiner said. “I never found myself coming back to [read] them. They’d just get lost in my inbox.”
When Lifehacker featured this new productivity app, it became more popular. Later, Weiner and his team rebranded ReadItLater as Pocket. They want to solve the problem of consumers facing cluttered and overwhelming experiences while consuming content on their phones.
“When we did the initial redesign of Pocket, when we renamed it, [we] tried to plant a flag in the ground around putting the content first and respecting the content,” said Weiner.
“We try to get out of your way as much as possible, but be helpful in the moments we need to be.”
Decide What Success Looks Like
Like many of Pocket’s 30 million-plus users, I relied on the free version of Pocket for several years. I upgraded to Pocket Premium, which costs $44.99 a year, only because I wanted to access my archive of old articles.
But the Pocket team says revenue or the number of premium users, which they don’t share numbers on, isn’t the main goal. Instead, they quantify success differently, at least publicly.
“Our mission at Pocket is about, how do we enable people to consume stories that are worth their time and attention? We don’t look at just raw active users or the number of people saving.”
In 2017, Mozilla, maker of the Firefox browser, acquired Pocket for an undisclosed sum. Now Firefox users can see curated Pocket articles when they open a new browser window based on what they read previously and how others engaged with similar content.
“Our goal…is about helping people to consume great stories. How do we help cut through the noise for people and help them discover and find things that they might not have otherwise?”
The Pocket team is based in San Francisco and employs remote workers from around the world. They rely on instant messaging tools and video-conferencing to get things done.
“We’ve moved to things like Slack and video-conferencing…to help remote folks seamlessly jump in the conversation. But it’s definitely a muscle you have to work at. It doesn’t come for free.”
“Collaboration and communication is key. We’ve really had to learn and get better at it.”
Build For The Future
Some days, my two children are more interested in watching YouTubers than catching up on television.
Watching how they engage with online content led me to wonder if the way we consume information and even read is changing. From Weiner’s perspective, it is thanks to the many content platforms that are emerging.
“The mediums in which we are able to consume content evolve,” said Weiner. “It’s a very distracting world today. There’s a billion things that people could read.”
Weiner noted this is raising the bar for effective content.
“It’s got to be something that’s valuable. It’s got to have something that people can take away from it. If they could read a billion things, why are they reading your article? It’s got to be something that really respects their time.”
To that end, Pocket now includes features that adapt to people’s evolving interests and lifestyles, such as video groupings and even an audio mode that reads articles aloud with text-to-speech technology.
The Pocket team also says their users spend an average of more than 15 minutes per day reading, and the 3 most popular topics last summer were health, productivity, and politics.
“Before, [readers] had to hold their phone or look at their computer. They can now consume that content while they’re out on a run or while they’re driving to work, or they’re making dinner,” said Weiner
“But I don’t think that necessarily means that reading, for example, is going away any time soon.”
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