Sunday, October 28, 2012

Read Later on Google+

In a nutshell: I use Google+ to solve the 'read later' problem.

Reading things later has become a problem for me. Someone at work emails me a link, following up on a hallway chat about something I'm genuinely interested in and would actually like to read about, but just not now. So I close the email, and the link - unvisited, and now representing unread content - haunts me like a tiny ghost.

Or where my wife, God bless her cotton socks, sends me a link about the place we're thinking about staying in up in Noosaville before Christmas, but right now all I want to do is smash out some JavaScript, and I'll get to that other thing on Saturday morning when I'll be in the mood. Promise.

Or if I'm on the bus, 500 metres before my stop, and I follow a link from a tweet and the article just about loads before I have to alight (love that word) from the bus. The aricle looked interesting, but will languish in a mobile Chrome tab holding pattern unless I do something with it.

Flickr photo
FlickrPiles of books, by NettyA. My Read Later list is building up like the piles at this second hand book shop in Seoul.

Recently, Scott Hanselman wrote an interesting (as ever) piece about pushing what he calls "long-form reading" onto a Kindle for his deferred reading pleasure. The Kindle part is just incidental here: as long as the articles are saved "in a way that will encourage you TO READ THEM!" (his shouting) then that's all that matters. Well, maybe not incidental. I mean, Kindles are obviously designed for reading things, but not particularly for web pages that you're not interested in reading straight away. Instapaper is, though. Same with the "social bookmarking" site Delicious, in a way. So you can cook up an If This Then That recipe to combine your bookmarks with your Kindle automatically, achieving hitherto undreamed-of productivity. As long as at some stage you actually read the articles of course. They have to end up somewhere you're likely to see them. For some people like Scott H, the Kindle is something that they reliably pick up on the weekend, or take with them to the park, on a plane, into the toilet, the bus, anywhere they catch up on their reading. Somewhere away from the desk, where they're relaxed, and ready to absorb content that's longer than a tweet or an email.

But it seems to me there are too many moving parts here. Recipes scare me. They can go wrong. IFTTT no longer works with Twitter, for example, so any recipes cooked up with twitter as an ingredient just got burnt in that particular oven.

There's also something else that stops me from using a Kindle, but that may not affect you. I'm a web developer: I'm actually interested in seeing web pages as they appear in the wild. For that reason I've never been interested in Instapaper, Readability, or any of those things. I don't consider RSS to be like those though - it makes entire sites machine-readable, so RSS gets a pass.

It takes a lot to deter me from a web page: video that plays automatically, without prior warning, is one of those things, by the way.

Google+ Read Later circle

Read Later solved as a Google+ circle

So I see a simpler solution. Use Google+. Almost all content pages have the +1 button by now. The dialog that appears usually allows you to choose which circles you share with, so I just share it with a "Read Later" circle (see the green circle above) which I created to be my private repository of links. It's not really a circle in the conventional sense, since I'm the only one in there. The point is it quietly stashes the links, and I can dial down (red circle) the degree to which these links show in my Home Stream.

Google+ is ultimately just a website, so your saved web content stays on the web. Up where it belongs. When you finally, finally, read the damn article you put aside, you can just delete the post, or more usefully, share it at that stage with the Google+ world. You can even share your whole Read Later circle (blue circle), although that would probably be interpreted as "Hey, here's stuff I haven't read yet, and I'd like to add it to your pile of unread material too :)".

You can also add the official Google +1 Button Chrome extension which shows the full +1 sharing dialog just to be sure. Notice I didn't say "to be sure" twice there. Some sites, like The Guardian, despite having Google+ buttons on their articles, disable the usual dialog, and just show links to their G+ content. And some only allow you to +1 something, that's it, without any of the circling or commenting. But in those cases you can just browse to G+ (I usually have it open in some tab anyway) and slap it in manually.

C'mon Guardian, don't wreck the Google+ pop-up. Let me selectively circle stuff.

And the main reason this all works, the reason this is simple, and I actually remember to read these put-away articles, is because the Google+ client is on both of my Android devices, even on my old iPhone. It's on my main desktop computer, and my work one, in the form of the Google+ website. No extra software required. I don't need the Evernote client, or the Delicious one, or the Instapaper or IFTT one.

Smug? Undoubtedly. Keeping it nice and simple? Yes. Total Google+ fanboy? Oh yes.