Review: Read It Later

The first time I saw the Internet–many, many years ago–I thought I’d died and discovered that heaven is a really great library. Unfortunately I soon discovered that this library was growing faster than my time and energy were able to keep up with.

Enter bookmarks. Enter “save as…” Enter tabbed browsers. (Last week I discovered I had 88 tabs open in Firefox.) Enter RSS subscriptions. If it were a physical pile of TBR (to be read) books like the one on my coffee table, it would have engulfed the eastern United States by now.

No, I haven’t found a solution, but I have a new tool and it works for some situations. Read It Later is a simple plug-in that works with your web browser or mobile device so that you can save a web page to read later. It stores pages locally so they are accessible whether your are online or offline.

Installing the plug-in wasn’t difficult. It created a bookmarklet in my browser’s toolbar and displays a small clickable icon in the address bar and my RSS feed if the page or link can be saved using Read It later. The Reading List can be viewed by clicking the drop-down arrow on the bookmarklet or by displaying the Read It Later sidebar in my browser. Click the yellow arrow in the address bar while viewing a page or next to an item in an RSS feed and the yellow arrow becomes a red check mark to show you it’s saved. (Occasionally click the Download arrow in the Read It Later sidebar to make sure all your offline reading is up-to-date.) There is also a menu of Options so you can tweak how Read It Later works on your computer.

The sidebar is the easiest way to display your Reading List for later viewing. It also offers a sync function if you want to sync your desktop browser to a mobile device. (iPhone is officially supported and there is a user-created app for Android.)

I’ve been using Read It Later for a couple of months as a Firefox plug-in. (It is also available for other browsers and for the iPhone.) Not surprisingly, I’ve acquired a pretty long list; but I’m happy to say I’ve also read and used, filed or discarded quite a lot.

Reading offline has advantages. Of course there are the times no Internet access is available, though with wi-fi that is increasingly rare. For an information junkie like me, one of the big advantages is that I can read text straight through without being distracted by links. Oh, yes, I adore hyperlinks and the ability to explore a subject thoroughly, but it’s can lead me on an endless trail. Reading offline I’m not so easily distracted by links (Remember paper? Paper isn’t hyper.) and if there’s a link that looks interesting, I tag the article “Links” or “Learn More” so I can check it out when I’m online. If there’s a link to a long PDF document or something like that, I tag it “Download Report.” There’s a tag for Recipes–and I’ve actually prepared a few! That suggests some kind of progress.

Even the best software has downsides. Some graphics didn’t display well, if at all, in offline viewing and some tables were a little skewed. When I download my Reading List I usually get an error message saying a few pages could not be downloaded. It tells me how many (a small percentage) but not which ones. And I’ve discovered that when I mark pages that are framed by sites like StumbleUpon, BlogHer or some link-shortening applications, the content doesn’t save correctly. They are recoverable from the URL when I’m online again, but it’s a small nuisance.

All in all, though, I’ve found that Read It Later used in combination with a good bookmarking application and an RSS reader gives me some degree of control over the deluge of information the Internet brings to me.

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