Instapaper Acquired by Betaworks

Marco Arment:

I’m happy to announce that I’ve sold a majority stake in Instapaper to Betaworks. We’ve structured the deal with Instapaper’s health and longevity as the top priority, with incentives to keep it going well into the future. I will continue advising the project indefinitely, while Betaworks will take over its operations, expand its staff, and develop it further.

Coupling the pace of Instapaper's venture-funded competition with the success of The Magazine, the acquisition makes perfect sense.

Marco's repeatedly articulated his resentment toward competitors like Pocket, particularly focusing upon their lack of monetization and reliance upon venture funding. Of course, although he has moral objections to these aspects of Pocket's business model, that's not to say they haven't built a compelling product. Moreover, it's one that lacks the typical friction of a business relying solely upon traditional revenues.

Accordingly, it's clear that an increasingly uphill battle against a company unburdened by revenue requirements would likely be unattractive to Marco. Pocket is doing a lot of things right and — given his time constraints — Marco simply wouldn't have the time or means to continue fighting on such terms.

Beyond Pocket and Instapaper, however, Marco's focus has been divided. Boasting Pulitzer prize-winning authors and a huge amount of support from the community, The Magazine has grown far beyond its initial offering as a small-time bi-weekly publication. And Marco's genuine enthusiasm and recognition of this fact has certainly not gone undocumented.

For Betaworks, as they turn toward Digg Originals and their own RSS reader, Instapaper abides by their future vision almost too perfectly. They've shown a dedication to clean, curated, and positive content and, with today's acquisition, they'll have further weapons in their arsenal to fight in that industry.

So, in all, the move makes plenty of sense.

I will say, however, that it's surreal to watch Instapaper — a product entrenched in a thoroughly anti-contemporary business mentality — find its way into a venture-backed company with no pre-existing means for revenue. Although Marco argues that Betaworks is a perfect fit — and I don't disagree — I am left to wonder whether the competitive aspect of the equation was outweighing the positive allure of The Magazine.

As a further note, it's odd to witness the outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement for this acquisition from a community well-known for its apprehension toward such deals. Obviously this deal doesn't have all the hallmarks of a Silicon Valley acquisition (or acqui-hire), but it is irrevocably an acquisition by a large firm with no focus upon revenue. That's not to say that Instapaper won't live on successfully, but there's an unmistakable double-standard on display today that's worth keeping in mind for the future.

Nevertheless, speculation aside, it's a very positive and forward-thinking deal for Marco. I applaud him wholeheartedly for making it. I know it mustn't be easy to let go of one's baby in such a manner, but it seems it's for the betterment of the product. Moreover, with Glenn Fleishman running The Magazine's editorial side, I'm hopeful that this might free Marco up — with, presumably, some cash infusion — to experiment with some new concepts.

As a final — less journalistic — aside, it's important to recognize the impact and genuine value of Instapaper. When it was first introduced, it utterly redefined the way we thought about consuming digital content and, in my eyes, aided in the resurgence of long-form content online.

And for that we ought to all feel very grateful.

Pocket Reaches 6 Million Users, Raises $5 Million in Funding

Pocket

Adrianna Jeffries:

Pocket added 1.5 million registered users after the redesign. It now has 6 million users who save a million items a day. Users are starting to think of Pocket as a place to save all sorts of media: The amount of video saved by users has doubled since the redesign, Weiner said. The app differentiated itself from other save-for-later apps (ahem, Instapaper) by adding filters to separate different types of content, and, of course, by being free.

Today, Pocket has another announcement. The company raised a $5 million round of funding on top of the $2.5 million it raised last year. The round was led by Foundation Capital, a Menlo Park firm that also backed Netflix. Firms participating included Baseline Ventures, a relatively new firm founded by eBay veteran Steve Anderson, and the choosy Google Ventures.

Several months later, and I continue to be very impressed by Pocket. Supporting a content agnostic attitude toward the traditional “save for later” service, Pocket has become an extraordinarily useful element of my day-to-day workflow.

Although I have a deep-seated appreciation for Instapaper, Pocket’s versatility, intelligent app design, and general capability renders it a consistent victor for my attention. Moreover, given its stated purpose as a means to gather all forms of content, I tend to see it as a much more modern solution to a historical problem.

Having said that, I certainly don’t mean to downplay the significance of Instapaper. The latest re-design of the app — particularly on the iPad — is nothing short of phenomenal. But, as is the nature of the digital service industry, you inevitably have to pick one and stick with it. For me, Pocket has won my attention for the coming year, and I’m certainly excited to see what their “massive” plans entail.

Contemporary Reading

Readability

Readability has become subject to an extraordinary amount of vehement disgust at the hands of contemporary Internet writers. Evidently exhausted by Readability’s numerous attempts to monetize and advance the end-user-driven reading experience, writers have been increasingly speaking out against the service’s leadership, goals, and, indeed, its very existence.

From my perspective, such perspectives are largely steeped in extremism and are accordingly unfair indictments of the service’s goals.

Simply put, the nature of writing on the Internet is in a loose state of flux. Bobbing between several manners of revenue-generation and means for presentation, modern weblogs are well-designed, well-written, and well-kept, but very few seek to contribute to the ongoing discussion concerning reading online. The vast majority simply present writing in a unique fashion, allow for a number of methods to share articles and features, and accommodate simplistic read-later services.

Although such measures may well be enough for some writers, it is thoroughly documented that larger media organizations are struggling to exist within the Internet content vacuum. In other words, the discussion concerning the monetization of content simply must proceed unabated as the struggles of larger organizations are likely indicative of the troubles smaller fish will come upon in future.

Regardless of Readability’s various flaws, Arc 90 has contributed something measurably new to the debate concerning content monetization. Perhaps the experiment failed, broached copyright, and any number of other touchy buzz-words, but the service unquestionably furthered the discussion. Dialectic discussion is the foundation of the Western socio-political environment, insofar as it allows for two ideas to compete in debate, and for compromise to be made. As long as this process continues, change and improvement can be facilitated.

If, at this juncture, the immediate question that comes to mind is “Why should it change whatsoever?” then the point has been utterly lost. Sustaining the status quo and conservatively decrying user-facing improvements facilitates an unhealthy environment — one that shall be inevitably trampled beneath an impending rush of feet.

In the nineties, the music industry mindlessly deemed all agents of Internet-driven change as evil. Accordingly, the music industry lost its position in the intelligent discussion, appraisal, and establishment of its own future. As is well-publicized, such actions were costly and endlessly damaging to the artists the end-user held so dearly. Years later, the industry is slowly coming back on track, although Hollywood and many larger conglomerates still seek to perpetuate the archaic attitudes of conservatism and fear with regard to the Internet.

Readability and Arc 90 may have made some mistakes, but they also non-aggressively contributed to the discussion and appraisal of the state of reading online. As the end-user increasingly demands the consumption of content on his or her own terms, Readability explored the space in novel and — perhaps — misguided ways. For all of the ill-perceived damage their actions have caused, however, I tend to regard them with a quiet sense of respect for their experimentation.

One of Readability’s most blindingly aggressive opponents, Ben Brooks, once said: “A race to the bottom is occurring, yet I don’t want to stop writing, but I also am not willing to write for free.” Although I have publicly taken direct contention with this perspective, it strikes me as fascinating that Ben could so passionately judge Readability, despite the service’s best efforts to explore this precise matter.

No service or organization is perfect — each simply seeks to make an impact upon the market of which it is a part. Readability is certainly not without its own flaws, but that is not to say that it is deserving of childish and repeated judgment at the hand of the people it is seeking to aid.

Reading on the Internet is changing and we — as writers and readers — must stop stubbornly ignoring such a fact, and explore our collective options. Each large organization seems to be trying something different — be it paywalls, RSS sponsorships, or simplistic click-driven traffic — but few are working in concert with each other to answer the larger questions at hand.

Without approaching this topic with logic, reason, and a readiness to debate, then we simply have no chance of perpetuating our sustained relevance as purveyors of the written word on the Internet.