When Pocket first came out, the product immediately resonated with me: collect links and articles that you find anywhere, and save (“pocket”) it to your personal folder to read later even without internet. The idea is like bookmarking, except you don’t necessarily want to save the links for easy access in perpetuity; you just want to be able to read them once, share it perhaps, and move on with your day. Other solutions kind of exist; you can favorite Tweets, bookmark Safari pages, leave Chrome tabs open… but nothing as platform-agnostic as Pocket. I briefly tried using Inbox by Google to save links privately, but turning your email inbox into a link farm seems a little sacrilegious.
Outside of the core feature of saving things to read later, Pocket does other content things to varying degrees of success:
Discovery. This area is likely Pocket’s biggest play, and what rocketship startups like China’s 头条 is leading with. The more content a user saves, tags, reads, and generally engages with, the more the underlying platform knows about what the user likes and doesn’t like. Apply machine learning and aggregated content, and you now have an ever-growing amount of advertising real estate. Pocket’s Weekly Content email was opt-in by default (or I don’t remember ever turning it on, and I never bothered to turn it off), and eventually the weekly newsletter became another source of content discovery for me.
Organization. You can add tags to any content. Tags can be automated to a certain degree from scraping site metadata or natural language processing on the raw content. A third way could be crowdsourcing tags from all users saving and reading a piece of content, but this is hard. Personally I have never tagged my content nor really noticed any tagging from recommended content.
Accessibility. One of the great conveniences of Pocket is the caching of every link, and the consequent uniformity of content when accessed. This means you can read without an internet connection. Pocket does let you try to load the content dynamically from the source if you want to view the original. But in general, everything is cached into their system and served directly to you from Pocket’s servers. This caching makes a poor sharing experience however.. whenever I wanted to share a piece of content on social networks, the generated link would be associated with Pocket (ie.
pocket.co/something123), which obfuscates the source URL and the often valuable signaling information it brings (an article from NYT is different than one from BuzzFeed).
Sharing. Sharing on Pocket has never been a thing as far as I can tell. Content discovery, as mentioned above, is driven mainly from curated (part manual part automatic) lists such as the weekly newsletter. The few times I have shared (“recommended”) an article, or even browsed my own feed from my network, content was far and few between and engagement was very low. The one exception that works alright is sharing directly with a friend — presumably direct sharing of content is less frequent, more targeted, and from a trusted connection. Whenever I do send or receive content, it is sure to be added to the to-read pile. Direct one-to-one sharing is is also a “push” model (shows up in your notifications) instead of a “pull” model (look at your feed) that removes the extra barrier for discovery.
Pocket was the first great app that helped me efficiently navigate the increasing flood of content. I recently deleted Pocket from my phone and browsers, however, in favor of Refind.
I remember Refind came to market riding on Pocket’s popularity; they advertised themselves as a complement to Pocket rather than a substitute. Use Pocket to save content for reading later, but also use Refind to save content for, well, refinding later. Nevermind you could probably use Pocket for refinding content as well. Do one thing and do it really well and all that. The clean look and messaging drew me in though, and what really kept me around was the social aspects: Refind replaced my regular browser-specific bookmarking (eg. on Chrome or Firefox) with a “social newsletter” bookmarking that was cross-platform and publicly viewable, followable, and shareable. For some reason this worked to keep me around despite my newsletter still having only 1 subscriber (me). Every week I would get my own newsletter with the links I saved in a nicely formatted feed email, as well as Refind’s own weekly newsletter (much like Pocket’s).
I spent a year or so with both Pocket and Refind: one-time read articles go into Pocket, and reference-type or “evergreen” content go into Refind. This system worked well for a long time with few qualms. I became gradually annoyed however with the closedness of Pocket’s platform; I didn’t want to share links that started with
pocket.co/something123, and there continued to be issues accessing or rendering certain types of content, whether it was formatting or paywalls. At the same time I was increasingly impressed with the way Refind was evolving, making tags easy to see and add, sending relevant weekly content, and the social aspect of “this number of people also saved this content” and “this person also saved a content that you saved” even though the latter was usually totally irrelevant (I later turned this notification off). Great growth-hacking technique though.
Speaking of growth-hacking, Refind also jumped on the blockchain trend and announced they are giving away 1 billion coins to users in anticipation of using 10% of future profits to buy back the coins at market price. A billion imaginary coins aren’t really worth anything but coins are crypto and crypto is hot, so users aren’t thinking too hard about them.. it’s gimmicky, but theoretically cool and a great way to incentivize referrals for a (currently) free service.
One day in the near past, Refind went straight for the throat and added a “Read Soon” option (sound familiar?). If you manage to do one thing and do it well, then really you can just do another related thing well also. I didn’t start using this feature immediately, but the additional option was a constant reminder that it was possible, and one day on a whim I poked around on the Refind site and found that it was actually quite easy to fully transition my Pocket-specific content directly to Refind. Everything first goes into my “Read Soon” section, both the one-time articles and the evergreen content; then the worthwhile evergreen content gets added to my “Saved” section. It worked great and, thus, I stopped using Pocket. One fewer app, extension, and closed platform later, I was (and still am) completely on Refind, saving, reading, and refinding away.
Gotcha! This isn’t a tale of just two content apps; it’s a tale of three. Harvest is complementary to Refind (or Pocket); whereas the latter is focused on the page level of content, Harvest is all about the individual text level of content. Think highlighting on Medium or Kindle, except instead of being closed in a single platform, content saved to Harvest is available right from your dashboard accessible anywhere you have internet.
Harvest also strikes truer into one of the core reasons why we consume content: we read not just because it’s interesting or newsworthy.. we read to learn. Harvest makes it easy for anyone to learn passively from the content we consume. And it’s not just from highlighted content on pages; it’s from your own notes as well.
Harvest makes it 10x easier to save any piece of content from any device, whether it’s highlighting a short paragraph, a note in your own words, or a combination of the two. The note can include any relevant contextual information to go with the content (context helps retention) like URL, time of save, and tags. Then Harvest makes it 10x easier to learn from that content through repeated exposure, using scheduled notifications (like email) on a spaced repetition algorithm. Then Harvest makes it 10x easier to share content to your connections and followers through beautiful displays and sharing schedule optimizations.
It’s still very early, but we see a world where everyone is better able to curate, share, and learn from the massive amount of content being generated every day.
See for yourself: Harvest