Instapaper’s new highlights feature revitalizes the app. Here’s how to make the most of it


Instapaper v5.2 adds familiar yellow-marker highlights to your saved articles. This doesn’t sound like much, but it will change how you use the read-later service. Instapaper is the O.G read-it-later app, letting you save those longer articles you find on the web, in Twitter, in your RSS reader or anywhere else. You send these articles off to Instapaper via a bookmarklet (or using the third-party integration from many apps), whereupon they are cleaned of clutter and saved for you to read off line.

This seemingly small update changes the game. Before, Instapaper was a transient place for long-form articles — you’d read them and then archive them. Now it’s a place to organize and revisit articles, turning your collection of clippings into a library of annotated notes. And for the makers, it represents a way to make more money for the app, by finally adding a killer reasons for us to buy the $1-per-month subscription.



Highlighting in-app is just about as easy as you could wish for. You tap and drag on the text in the normal iOS fashion, and the normal iOS copy/define/share popover pops over. Only now there’s a new item on that list – highlight. Tap this and the highlighted text is marked in yellow. Free users get five highlights per month. If you upgrade to the premium subscription service[1] ($3 for three months) you get unlimited highlights. You will want to do this.

To remove the highlight, you just tap it and another popover pops over, although this one is in a different style. Tap the button to remove.

That’s cool and all, but what about finding the highlights later? In the app you’ll find a new entry in the sidebar – called Highlights – where they’re all stored. Each highlight gets its own list entry, with the title or the original article followed by a summary of the highlight underneath (if the highlight fits into three lines you see it all).

Tap to open one of these and you are taken to the article, pre-scrolled to the position of your highlight. You can also delete a highlight in the list view with a long press on an entry. The remaining articles then slide in to fill up the empty space.



The Instapaper website got a huge update too. Now there’s a place to bulk-edit and organize all those articles you never read, using drag and drop. And while the highlights are a killer feature as they are, the best part is that you can share those highlights to Evernote, Twitter, Pinboard and Tumblr. The site now has the same two-column layout as the iPad app, and when you click to view a highlight the article is pre-scrolled just like in the iPad app. In fact, highlights will sync almost instantly across all your various versions of the app.

And yes, you can remove and add highlights right there in the browser.

The rest of the web app has also been improved. You can bulk edit items just by clicking on a few of them and then choosing to archive, move (to a folder) or delete them, and you can do the same for individual items by clicking and dragging. It’s quite a bit better.

Evernote, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinboard, Facebook

I could quite happily stay inside the new Instapaper app to do all of the above, but highlights can also be shared to various places – Evernote, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinboard, Facebook. This is done with a a new option in the app’s preferences. Each service has a new button next to it to allow auto-sharing of your highlights to that service. It’s off by default.

This means that you can share highlights automatically, but it also means that you can save them in useful places. Evernote seems to be the handiest here, along with Pinboard. The others are more for sharing with other people. Evernote integration works via email, which is a bit lazy and means you’re subject to the whimsies and delays of Evernote’s mail-in feature. The various services look like this:

I used a different quote from Evernote as the one I wanted still hadn’t appeared in my notebooks.

A few notes on integration. Notes aren’t tagged in any way. In Tumblr, the quote appears as a quote with a link to the original. In Pinboard, the quote is added to the bookmark’s ‘description’ field, and Pinboard itself marks the item as “from Instapaper.”

Evernote doesn’t get anything useful. The author of the clip is set as “,” but I can’t find a way to search on this piece of metadata. I’d like Instapaper to add the tag “quote” to everything to make it easier to collect them together. On the plus side, Evernote does a good job of collecting other related quotes together automatically (they appear as thumbs under the current note).

Also, tags would make processing with IFTTT possible.


I’ve been rolling my own quotes highlights for a while now, using the description field of Pinboard as a place to keep the highlighted section, and having IFTTT send the result to Evernote.

This has worked OK, but now I get the advantage of having a proper library of highlights synced across Instapaper on all my devices, as well as auto-adding to Pinboard and Evernote.

I’ve always preferred the reading experience in Instapaper – it continues to amaze me that I can choose between more than one serif and one san serif font in Pocket, for example – but features-wise Instapaper has been lacking. It still needs a faster background update, and to play nicer with IFTTT, but highlights is such a killer feature that I just switched Instapaper back to my first home screen, and bought a three-month sub.

Of course, I already have a feature request. It would be pretty rad if you could highlight a few lines on a page, click the Instapaper bookmarklet and have those lines saved as a highlight.

  1. Subscribers also get full text search of all saved articles, use of third party apps, and a send-to-Kindle option for articles.  ↩