All those of you who still remember reading paper based books, think about one thing – did you ever keep a separate notebook to make notes about your comments on certain sections of the book or to mark sections you really liked? Wasn’t it just better to just mark the sections in the book itself, wasn’t that more convenient and when you’d pick it up again, you’d remember the context? Similarly, in the digital world of web pages and ebooks, what’s better, keeping a separate service that you use to mark web pages you liked or to keep a single service where you can save the web pages, your comments and bookmarks and even be able to search through it all?
Instapaper is amazing. No doubt about that. But is it irreplaceable? Not quite. I was initially going to use the title – “Instapaper finally has an alternative” but seeing the features that this new service presents, I can truly say that DotDotDot.me (or •••) is truly a replacement for Instapaper.
DotDotDot is all about a great reading experience which includes not just a great interface but also an impressive array of features. The apps allow you to mark passages and comment on and tag them. You can also share marked quotes on twitter, via email or just copy the link and share it where ever you want to. Here’s a sample link. The stress, despite all these sharing concepts, is still on reading. To further this, the team out of Germany brought us the feature of importing out Google Reader feeds and even DRM free ebooks. That’s by far the most mind-blowing feature I’ve seen. I imported a couple of Gutenberg ebooks and the import was perfect.
Till before December last year, the DotDotDot team had an amazing iPad app out there. They’re still in beta testing phases so I was expecting them to keep working on just the iPad app. But they gave us (specially me) an early Christmas present by releasing an iPhone app. As expected, the app is still in the making but the first look itself is polished and very conducive to reading. They have, despite the smaller screen and it’s related constraints, maintained the reading style and have even somewhat improved on the marking, tagging and sharing side.
Haters will be Haters
People love Instapaper for various reasons. Instapaper is independent and Marco Arment has worked hard to keep it free from any external funding. In that sense it is an underdog and that’s reason enough to love it. But people also love it for the excellent text scraping algorithm. Instapaper has an amazing algorithm and Marco has tried hard to work with a lot of online publishers to ensure that their site is readable on Instapaper. People also love Instapaper because its unconventional. Instapaper has broken every cardinal rule of Internet-based services – a non-VC funded app can’t run for profit, a paid only app in the iOS app store will not gather steam, a single person can’t run a company, a paid API is totally unacceptable.
That, of course, doesn’t mean that competing services like Readability and Pocket don’t work. It just means that whoever fills the shoes that Instapaper leaves empty will reap the benefit of the rest of the users on the Internet. Readability is all about the format and has a legacy following. Pocket, after they reinvented themselves, now features separate sections for video and photo bookmarks and lays a big stress on tags. But nowhere have I seen a stress on the two things DotDotDot is working on – inline comments and a reading experience that includes eBooks One could say that services like Catch.com or Quote.fm provide you with a commenting and sharing system but they don’t do it inline. Their stress is on the comment itself, not the relationship that the comment holds with the text, i.e., the context.
A long way to go
As I mentioned earlier, Instapaper is independent and does not palm off your personal data in exchange for Ad money. DotDotDot is still a long way to go from a finalized product at which point they are planning to go for a freemium model where a large part of the features will be available for free and some extra features will be paid. That way, a great product will remain free from the clutches of advertisement driven data use.
DotDotDot is still in a beta phase and they’re still understanding the direction they want to go in. But from what I see – a polished eBook and article reader with features that many other apps have till now ignored, I see a great product in the making and I’m sure I will be with it all along the way. You too should head over to the site and sign up because you’ll love it. In fact, I recently went to a ceramic painting class. Here’s a little sample of my DotDotDot love… 🙂