Unlike most app categories, Read-It-Later (from now on “RIL”) apps find themselves in a very unsaturated market. There are the two big third-party players in Instapaper and Pocket and there is the iOS 7 baked-in Reading List feature. After that, you’d be hardpressed to find a popular service.

The one thing that plagues these RIL services is an endless queue of consumable content. I have talked to people who have quit saving articles because of the anxiety an endless queue can create. It’s something I’ve experienced as well and I’ve tried to find a way to eliminate my own endless Instapaper feed.

I think the biggest factor in eliminating my RIL anxiety was adding multiple barriers to my RIL process. The general RIL process looks something like this:

  1. Find interesting link/article on Twitter/RSS
  2. If time, read article
  3. If no time, save to RIL service of choice
  4. Read RIL service when time
  5. Archive articles in RIL service/Save to Pinboard

This process creates a single barrier between the “source” and the “queue”. One single barrier can only eliminate so many articles; your brain only has one chance to make a judgement on whether or not to save an article. With only one opportunity to eliminate bad content, your RIL queue becomes bloated and clogged.

I’ve modeled my RIL process after something like iA Writer Pro’s writing workflow. In Writer Pro, every project begins with the goal of publishing. Writer Pro pushes a writing project through four spheres to reach that end goal. Each sphere has barriers and signifiers to point the writer in the right direction.

I don’t use Writer Pro personally, but I really admire the thought behind the workflow.

Applying this to my RIL process was fairly straightforward. I’ve tried to increase the number of spheres and barriers in my RIL process. Each barrier acts as an extra assessment, lowering the chance of fluff making it into my RIL queue. My process now looks something like this:

  1. Find interesting article/link on Twitter
  2. If subscribed on RSS and Twitter, leave for RSS
  3. If not subscribed on RSS, save to Instapaper
  4. Skim RSS feed in Reeder
  5. Leave interesting articles for Unread
  6. Skim article in Unread
  7. If still interesting, save to Instapaper
  8. Read article in Instapaper
  9. Save to Pinboard

Twitter is the “catch-all” sphere and represents the first barrier for an article to pass through. Second, articles bounce around in my RSS feed until they have been skimmed and primed for the third sphere. I use Reeder to quickly skim articles and I use Unread for skimming and reading articles. From there, if an article has still not been read and is still worthy of my time, I save the article in Instapaper. Instapaper acts as my third sphere and, once the article has been read in that third sphere, it can be saved to Pinboard for archiving.

Evidently, Pinboard becomes the end goal of my RIL process. The moment I open Twitter, each article is judged and sent through each doorway in the process before being deemed worthy of a place in Pinboard. If done correctly, Pinboard should become my goldmine of content.

I have found I need to treat the second and third spheres in the same way. Articles are skimmed and bound around RSS for a few hours or an entire day before being eliminated, read in entirety or passed on to Instapaper. I then mimic this process inside of Instapaper, allowing each article to sit for as much as a day before I decide whether to read the article or to scrap it. In the end, RSS and Instapaper act more as a silo than as a holding bin, which helps to eliminate lengthy Instapaper queues.

Applying a lengthy process like this may seem difficult but I’ve found it to be more natural than any other RIL method. With this process, there is less stress on when I will read an article and more stress on if I will read an article. There is only so much time in a day and we have to choose the best content to consume during those short moments of freedom. This process has helped eliminate the crap I used to save and I hope it continues to grow my Pinboard archive into something magical down the road.