Pocket, the service for saving articles and videos to view later, is starting to look a bit more like a social network. The company is now testing a way for you to share your favorite items to a public profile, which others can follow to see your picks in a feed of recommended items. Your saved items are still private by default, but you can now choose to broadcast favorite pieces with your followers. The public beta, which is rolling out today on Android and iOS, illustrates how Pocket is evolving from a simple "DVR for the web" to a crowdsourced engine for finding the best stuff on the internet.
"We call it Project Lightning," jokes Nate Weiner, the company’s founder and CEO, when we met for coffee recently. (Twitter recently launched a Project Lightning of its own.) Weiner began building Pocket as a Firefox extension called Read It Later in 2007. For most of its life, the service has avoided recommending content on the idea that Pocket’s appeal comes from the fact that everything in it is something you’ve chosen yourself. But that began to change as the company’s user base grew to 17 million, and Pocket began thinking it could take advantage of all their volunteer curation to highlight the web’s most interesting articles and videos.
The idea, Weiner says, is that "all this work that millions of people are doing, you benefit from." Pocket users have collectively saved more than 2 billion items. Eventually, Weiner says, we won’t browse through Twitter-like feeds to find interesting stuff. Instead, "there’s a robot who knows exactly what you want, and here’s your stuff. How do we move to that as fast as possible?"
A robot who knows exactly what you want
In July, Pocket introduced the "Recommended" tab, offering personalized suggestions based on the items you’re already saving. The new beta adds a social layer to the tab, inviting you to follow your Facebook and Twitter friends who use Pocket. Once you do, you’ll see their picks alongside Pocket’s own algorithmic recommendations. You can also visit someone’s profile to see a feed of the things they’ve decided to publicly share. (Here’s mine.)
One of my favorite parts about the update is that you can highlight big chunks of articles and include them as part of your shared link with a single tap — sparing you the need to take a "screenshort" in a separate app. You can also share a chunk of text with the link and add an additional comment. We’re way beyond 140 characters, in other words. And for news junkies interested not just in what their friends are sharing but why, I imagine the updated Pocket could be quite useful.
Still, Pocket won’t show you everything your friends share. "This feed isn’t Twitter or Flipboard," Weiner says. "It’s not time-ordered, and it doesn’t include every possible article from the sources that you follow. The goal with recommendations is to bring you the very best of the web without the noise."