Grounded & Steadfast

The journal of Chris Bowler, a collection of thoughts on faith, business, design, and the creative process. Also working on Idea Cafe.

Content Everywhere

This week's news of the launch of Pocket — a compelling rebrand and slight change-of-focus of Read It Later — caught my attention. Like all the recent chatter on Instapaper and Readability, Pocket touches on a subject dear to my heart. It's not surprising that these tools generate a lot of opinion and discussion — services like Pocket give us more control and access to the content we consume and share via the Internet. And we care about that content.

Regarding Pocket, there was plenty of both discussion and opinion on launch day. Federico gave a good overview of the redesigned service. Ben Brooks lamented that we see another free service trying to get users first and profit second (and this one changed from charging to not charging). Marcelo Somers and Kyle Baxter also chimed in.

What excited me about the news was not the monetizing strategy or the overall execution of the design, although I'm not yet sold on the former and the latter was well done. Rather, I was very impressed with the focus on the save-anything-for-later concept. This is an idea that has been on my mind the past year, as there has been a gap in the services available to us.

I also saw a few comments yesterday that don't make a lot of sense. Ben Brooks couldn't see how he needed a service like Pocket. Ian Hines felt it was targeted completely at women (á la Pinterest). Ian is just off base — having women in the video doesn't mean they are excluding the tech-savvy nerd-centric folks from their target audience. As for Ben's opinion, this could not be less true for myself.

Some Backstory

The lack of a service like Pocket is one I've felt for some time. Because of the rise of iOS, plus services that allow me to find new content, I've needed an anything bucket for the cloud. There are several requirements that a service like this needs to fulfill:

There are a few other items that would be nice to have, but are not necessary:

Services have come that fit many of these criteria. Instapaper is a good example. It allows for easy capture. It has a good reach across the iOS landscape (what I mean by ubiquity) — I can save items from all the best iOS apps like Reeder, Tweetbot and Flipboard. It has a nice structure, gives a decent interaction with saved items and of course, and gives a lovely view for reading your saved articles.

The issue is that none of the services I've seen fit all my requirements. Instapaper is primarily a tool for reading later. Same for Readability. But I come across items on my iOS devices that require another look when I get back to my Mac. Items to archive (whether in Yojimbo, Pinboard or my bucket of choice, Gimme Bar). Designs to explore further. Videos to watch. Technical resources to investigate, then archive. Apps to purchase.

The internet brings me many forms of content, and they do not all require the same action from me. So an anything bucket that lived on the web, with the potential for native interfaces, gets me really excited.

Then, Pinbox

I believed in this idea so much that I took steps towards building my own service. Titled Pinbox, it was an anything bucket that would pull in items from your various streams and services. Likes or faves from the services you specified would show up, as would emailed items or items viewed in Safari and triggered with the Pinboxes bookmarklet.

Pinbox Home page

The most difficult aspect of this project was deciding how to start. There were so many services that come close: Gimme Bar, Stellar.io by Jason Kottke, as well as Instapaper and Readability. The aspect of having so many similar services, combined with the knowledge that that's a very good chance that someone else is currently working on a solution like this, can be daunting when starting out. But none fit my needs exactly, so I moved forward.

Pinbox Archive page

I eventually decided to actually build the service on top of Gimme Bar. After a discussion with Cameron Koczon, I started working on my idea, building out some rough browser mockups to flesh out the concept further.

Pinbox Account page

The overall idea of Pinbox was this: it was a place to capture items from various sources, then to process them. It was not intend to be a permanent storage location. It was an inbox, and inboxes are meant to be cleared out, at some point.


I'm excited about Pocket. Something nicely designed and backed by real money — with a plan for earning revenue as well — will fit nicely in my tool belt.

As I mentioned above, a service of this type needs to be accessible everywhere you access content. With Pinbox, because a brand new app like this would not start out with deep integration in the iOS landscape, I chose the route of pulling in Faves/Likes. But Read-It-Later already had the traction of being included in the major iOS apps. Pocket has a great head start on any newcomers to this space and makes a compelling case for using the service.

As for Pinbox, it's not going anywhere. Despite having API access to Gimme Bar and a developer friend ready and available to build it out, I decided to shelve the project before Christmas. After the sale of Fusion, I had to decide which projects to pursue. And friends, like many of you, I have way more ideas than time to allot to them all.

At the end of the day, I wanted to spend time making something that aligns tightly with the priorities in my life. A tool that keeps people connected and online more doesn't quite fit. It's still a need, and I'm happy to see something like Pocket become available.

I'll happily use the service while I work on projects that are even closer to my heart.