Upnext is a good app for reading later - and the start of something bigger

Upnext is a good app for reading later – and the start of something bigger

Upnext is a read later app. No, it is a bookmarks app. No, it is a matter of organizing content and social network. Even Jeroen Seghers, one of the service’s founders, struggles to explain it. “In the long run, I like to think about what we’re building as a knowledge browser,” he says. But even he admits, that doesn’t mean much to anyone at the moment. In the end, Upnext settled on a “superpowered reader,” which is close enough.

Whatever you call it, here’s what Upnext is: it’s a place to save and interact with content from all over the internet. It handles articles and blog posts like Pocket or Instapaper but also serves as a dumping ground for all the YouTube videos you want to watch later, podcasts you’ll finally listen to, threads of tweets you don’t have time to scroll through yet, all those PDFs cluttering your desktop. your office, and more.

My favorite thing about the app is that instead of just storing all of that stuff in a reverse chronological list, it acts as a sort of Google TV interface for web content, a tool that takes all your links and tries to give you the right time. Upnext’s home screen shows you a few categories, a curated collection of daily snapshots of things you’ve saved, and then a few things you’ve added recently. There’s also a review page that asks you to swipe Tinder through your list to keep it clean – swipe right to keep, swipe left to archive.

The app has been in beta for over a year now, and I’ve been testing and running it for most of that time. It’s now launching publicly on iPhone, iPad, and the web — Android is finally coming, Seghers says, but not anytime soon. The app costs $10 a month or $69 a year, which is pretty steep for this type of app (Pocket and Instapaper both have very good free tiers), but Seghers thinks Upnext can build something worth the super consumer price of internet content. He didn’t ultimately rule out offering a cheaper or free version, but said that the expensive start “would give us a clear indication of what our most demanding users want.”

Upnext works on iPhone and iPad, but not Android at the moment.
Photo: Upnext/David Pierce

I’ve mostly used it as a direct alternative to Pocket (or Matter, another read-after app that I’ve been enjoying) as a simple reading tool. It does a good job of accommodating most text articles, with images and other media as well, and makes it very easy to highlight text and take notes. If you take notes on a video or podcast, it automatically timestamps them, so they are easy to find later. (Upnext doesn’t yet have an easy way to sync all your notes with your favorite note-taking app unless you also pay for Readwise, but I’m told this is coming soon.) The app doesn’t have as many customization options as some of the other apps – I like the way to make the margins wider. A little on the iPad, in particular, with Seghers saying it’s coming — but it’s still a great reading experience.

In the end, though, Upnext’s plan is to do more with your content than give it a nicer font. When you save something in the app through the Upnext browser extension or the iOS share page, Upnext tries to figure out what it is and automatically categorizes it for you. It works, right? Upnext is very good at understanding the difference between a long article and a short article and always puts YouTube links in the right place. But if you save an article with a video embedded at the top, he will think you want the article. If you find a podcast episode on its webpage instead of a podcast player, it will be saved as a short read and not a long listen.

You can’t categorize your content manually, which is annoying. (I still have a lot of podcasts in my Short Readings folder.) Instead, Upnext wants you to create playlists of content. I personally love this feature: I now keep a playlist of podcast episodes, articles, and videos on topics I’m trying to learn more about and can dive into whenever I have the time. (In that sense, Upnext is almost like a supercharged bookmarking service.) You can also share playlists with others, including your notes on different content, and Seghers says Upnext has long-term dreams of bringing a ton of social features to the app.

Three screenshots of the Upnext app showing different types of content.

Upnext tries to handle topics, podcasts, articles, videos, and more. It is difficult to correct.
Photo: Upnext

Higher on the priority list: Getting better at understanding the content people put in Upnext. The app actually saves your progress on all kinds of content, so you can pick up anything where you left off. But Seghers says the team is spending a lot of time improving the automated rating system, which will also help Upnext recommend content to users. He says, “You can tell us, like, ‘I want to read, I want to listen, or I want to watch.'” Then, if you could also tell us, ‘This is the topic I really want to make some progress on,’ or ‘This is the I kind of feel in my mood,” because our morning vs. Evening and weekend vs. Weekend, it’s all very different.” He’s also excited about turning Upnext into a powerful search engine for all the things you save but admits that’s hard work, too.

The dream for an app like this, really, is that you spend your days just getting rid of the things you care about, and the app cleverly gives them back to you at just the right moment. It’s not a chore or an inbox, like your curated copy of the internet. Upnext isn’t, but that’s pretty close to what Seghers says it’s trying to build. “You can just throw any link at it, and it’s something that’s constantly learning,” he says.

Apps like Upnext — and Pocket, Instapaper, Matter and the rest — have long been intended for a certain type of content-heavy consumer. I am this type of consumer and have really enjoyed using Upnext so far. It’s not a perfect system, and probably not yet $10 a month for most people, but I’ve spent years looking for a good “I’ll get to this later” app, and it’s surprising that Upnext comes close to getting it right.

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