Pocket users: ‘Please help us read more’

Last week I shared my 12-month plan for improving Pocket. In it, I made the presumption that Pocket users want more out of the service than just saving articles. Here’s what I wrote:

Like squirrels scouring the forest to find nuts that they then methodically store and only sometimes consume, so too do Pocket users browse the web, conscientiously save articles, and then sometimes come to Pocket to read those articles. In short: it is my conjecture that people save more articles than they read. 

However, I will also bet good money that most Pocket users want more time to read. If they could spend more time on Pocket and just read, like in the old days before the Internet mushed their brains, they would. It’s just that they feel drawn to their darn phones so much. 

I was just basing that on my own experience. I save articles like I’m planning a long stay at a cabin in the woods (with good wifi). And then the next time I have a free moment – all those 72 times a day -, I open up Feedly again, and send some more articles to Pocket. 

I read way less articles than I would like, because reading takes time and concentration. Whereas saving articles is effortless and gives me a little dopamine shot every time.

You’re not alone

I didn’t have any data when writing that product plan. But the reactions to this recent Pocket tweet below prove I’m not alone, though: 


As you can see, several other Pocket users reply that they save lots of articles (1664, seriously?!). It’s just that they can’t find the time to read! To the point that Pocket’s advice is met with sarcasm…

Making time to read

And really, Pocket does very little to make reading easier. Yes, it has a homepage where you can find your saved articles. And hypothetically you could read them there. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about making time to read. To concentrate on what you’re reading. 

I hate to bring up phones here – but basically what these people want, is to put down their phones more, and read. Or at least read on their phone, so they feel like they’re doing something productive with the darn thing. Something less detrimental to their mental health. Pocket users want to stop mindlessly saving articles (and checking social media, and gaming), and finally get around to actual reading. 

Pocket is a hyper casual game

It doesn’t have to be like that. Pocket doesn’t have to be like that. Pocket is perfectly positioned to help people to read more, in terms of brand and type of product. It’s just that the features and activities aren’t there. And without those features, Pocket is basically a hyper casual game.

So again, I thought I’d share some ideas for how Pocket could help people to read more, as part of my ongoing effort to stop Pocket from prioritising data products and machine learning with the goal of improving Discovery.  Because the reactions to this tweet also confirm my theory that most Pocket users don’t need more suggested articles. They have enough to read. Now they need help reading.

How Pocket could help you read more

  1. First idea isn’t mine, I heard semi-popular Dutch podcast host Alexander Klöpping mention this on his podcast a couple of weeks ago: why not create a print mode? People want to read their Pocketed articles, but also want to put away their phone on which they’d normally read those articles. So why not provide people with a way to print their articles and turn off their darn phones, and just read! (‘Can’t you just print the articles yourself, right now?’ Actually, you can’t! Currently, if you try to print an article from Pocket’s Reader view, the margins are off, the picture is humongous, etc. No use.)
  2. Send an email digest. That’s it. Send people a list of the articles they saved this week. (I seem to remember Pocket used to do that. Why did they stop? Maybe people didn’t engage with that? Could be. What was the feedback of those users, though? Did we send it at the wrong time? Maybe allow people to choose their own timing then?)
  3. Combine the two ideas above. Send email digests with multiple complete articles ready to print. You open your email, select the Pocket digest, hit print – and presto, a little personalised magazine rolls out the printer.
  4. Teach people how to log off. Explain how to use iOS’ Focus mode to create more time for reading. ‘This is how you brick your phone every day at 7:00 PM but keep Pocket available, so that you can get some reading done.’
  5. Sell Kobo ereaders. Seriously, what’s keeping Pocket from pushing Kobos?! Pocket integration was one of the main reasons why my first ereader was a Kobo. And it worked: I never read as much Pocket articles as when I had that Kobo! People desperately want to read all that content that reaches them via their phones. But they want to read it on something else than a phone. Pocket has an excellent intro here, but doesn’t utilise it at all. 
  6. Keep pushing that text-to-speech feature. Did you know Pocket can read your articles to you? It’s not a very pleasant experience, per se: the voice is very robotic. But it works! And it helps people plough through that Pocket queue, instead of listening to another friendship podcast.