I’m re-committing to Pinboard, after a year or more away from it. I’m happy with what I am doing now, and thought I would document it in case anyone else wanted help understanding how to use the Pinboard effectively, especially if their usage lapsed, as mine did.
What is Pinboard?
Pinboard is an “antisocial” cloud bookmarking service. You can keep all your bookmarks there and use its barebones website or third party apps and browser extensions, all using an open API, to access them. It’s a paid service, run by a single person, with a clear and straightforward business model. When I signed up, I pre-paid for ten years of service. Part of my impetus for using it again now, after having abandoned it for, well, nothing, is the sunk-cost fallacy. The other, more important part of that impetus is that I really like the simplicity and speed of Pinboard, and I like the Pinboard iOS client I use, Pinner.
What do I use it for?
I use it for three things:
- To host my bookmarks in a cross-platform, always accessible way. I can get to the same bookmarks in Safari on my Mac and iOS, and in Chrome on Windows.
- For research and archival purposes, especially for programming projects I am working on. I can search these bookmarks on keywords, title, or description to review the best of the web pages I previously read on a topic of interest.
- As part of a homegrown “read it later” service. I can send article URLs to Pinboard from various apps, and read them later using Pinboard’s website, an app or browser extension on my Mac, and an app on iOS or Andriod.
Number 3 used to be the primary purpose of Pinboard to me. I had signed up as part of an effort to get replace Pocket with something more privacy focused. After many years of using Pocket (formerly “Read It Later”) to collect articles I was interested in from the huge stream of RSS feeds I parsed every day, I wanted a change. Primarily, this was because I became uncomfortable with Pocket’s business model: Why was it free? How did they really make money? What were they doing will all the data they collected on me?
I also wasn’t crazy about some of the UI changes made to Pocket over the years. I wanted more control over the reading experience, too, which is something that using a web service with an open API would give me. It helps that, at the time, Safari’s Reader View debuted, and I thought it was fantastic.
I was pretty obsessive about channeling all the articles I read through Pinboard, so I had a one-way workflow from discovery to reading to marking read. I never deleted anything from Pinboard, either. I thought I wanted a history of all the articles I ever read, in case I wanted to search through that history later. (Of course, I never did that.)
Why did I stop using it?
I stopped using Pinboard for three main reasons:
- I started reading Twitter more than actual articles linked to from it. The constantly updating timeline was incredibly addictive, and less mentally taxing to follow than reading complex articles from actual publications. (I have since given up Twitter because it was too addictive for me to handle responsibly.)
- My wife and I had kids, meaning that I no longer had a bunch of downtime after dinner to catch up on all the articles I had bookmarked to read later. I would still send stuff to Pinboard to read later, but I would never actually read the articles.
- My wife and I subscribed to The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. I started reading from those publications, from their apps, a lot more than scouring RSS feeds for articles from a dozen sources. Reading from their apps did not fit very well with my Pinboard workflow.
Overall, Pinboard became a graveyard for links I didn’t actually want to read. Instead of a useful resource, it was a junk pile full of stale content.
Digging out of a mess
I took the following steps to return Pinboard to a useful utility for me:
- I deleted everything I had in Pinboard—over 3,000 bookmarks that were doing me no good. Most of these were articles I imported from my RSS reader (Reeder) or Twitter (via Tweetbot), read once, and then just left in Pinboard.
- I installed Shiori on my MacBook Pro. Shiori is a Pinboard bookmark launcher and editor. It's like QuickSilver for Pinboard—hidden until you need it, only a keypress away, and accessible from anywhere. I set it up so that Control+Option+Command+P brings up the bookmark search window (from anywhere), and Control+Option+Command+B brings up the bookmark editor.
- I set up Pinner on iOS. Pinner is a full-featured Pinboard client. It will open Pinboard bookmarks in Safari or within Pinner, via Safari View Controller. It has two app extensions for creating bookmarks. The first extension, “Quick Pin”, has no UI, and is for quickly adding bookmarks to read later. The second extension lets you edit, interactively, all the metadata associated with the bookmark prior to saving it.
I developed a new workflow to work with Pinboard, so I don’t end up with a mess of useless bookmarks again. Honestly, though, calling it a workflow is an exaggeration. I basically decided to manage Pinboard with a simple set of rules.
I will continue to use Pinboard both for permanent bookmarks, which mostly involve specific technical documentation about Swift and iOS development, and for a read-it-later service, which are bookmarks I want to keep around temporarily, some of which I plan to keep long term.
- Bookmarks I would keep in Safari, for sites I would log into (banking websites, personal websites, blogs, GitHub, BitBucket, etc.), are stored as private bookmarks with tags. All of these bookmarks are also tagged “Safari” so I can pull them all, as a group, with a Pinboard search.
- Bookmarks for articles to read later, and everything else, are saved with the “read later” flag set to “true”, primarily by using Pinner’s “Quick Pin” extension or the “send to Pinboard” command within Reeder (my RSS reader app of choice).
- I regularly use Pinner or Shiori to browse my “read later” list. Basically, I had to kick the Twitter habit.
- After I read articles marked “read later”, I delete the bookmark, or choose to save it. I am pretty ruthless about deleting bookmarks now, which is the opposite of how I used to be. If I don’t read something after a few days, I will just delete it.
- Rarely, I will choose to save the bookmark. If I do so, I edit the bookmark’s metadata to remove the “read later” flag and to add keywords and a description. I open copy the first paragraph of the article to the bookmark’s description field, so it’s clear to me later on why I saved it.
So far this workflow has been working well for me. I collect “read later” bookmarks throughout the day, read through them in the evening, and delete almost all of them at the end of the day. My Pinboard bookmarks list is much smaller than before, but contains only good stuff that I want to act on, either now or later.