I love Instapaper, and recommended to everyone I know who reads a lot of online content, and uses Mac and iOS devices. (I don't recommend it to Android or PC users, even though the app now works for them, but because I've never used it on those platforms.)
One feature that I really appreciate within the app is its ability to show you articles "liked" by your friends, where "friends" is defined as people you know from Facebook or Twitter, along with folks from your address book. Instapaper specifically divvies these friend recommendations into two categories: articles your friends explicitly liked within the app, and articles they posted links to publicly. I find the latter category too high volume, and with too much wheat-burying chaff. But I really get a lot of use out of the first category, and find that I discover a few fascinating articles worth reading every time I browse Instapaper for articles liked by my friends.
Despite my affection for the feature, however, I wish it went a little deeper. By design, the feature employs one-way relationships. That is, as on Twitter, Instapaper lets you "follow" your friends without their needing to approve of it, follow you back, or have any other sort of interaction.
I don't think that, on its own, is a mistake. The one concern I do have is that — unlike Twitter — Instapaper doesn't even let me know when someone is following my likes within the app. I don't know if five active Instapaper users or 5000 active Instapaper users care about the articles I like within the service. To some, that doesn't matter. But I tap that heart icon within the app fairly often on content I believe is worth sharing, and I don't know if I'm doing that for essentially no reason. If I knew who were following me, or how many people were following me, I could have a better sense of whether it's even worth it for me to recommend articles, or if I'm just whistling in the wind. I feel like Instapaper empowers me and my friends to become mini curators in our own right, and I like that. Yet without knowing who's following whom, or how many people are reading what I'm suggesting, or even whether anyone is, we're curating in a vacuum. And I think that with a little more insight into who cares about what we share, that community-based curation might become considerably more powerful.
Instapaper also doesn't seem to tell if more than one person I follow has recommended the same piece of content. An article with 10 recommendations from 10 of my friends is more worth reading to me than an article with one recommendation from one friend. At least in some cases. But I don't get that extra insight from Instapaper, and I would really appreciate it if I did.
A more challenging feature to implement on the technical side, but one that would also potentially be exceedingly awesome, would be for Instapaper to recommend articles to me based on the articles I've already indicated I like — an Amazon style "people who read this also read that" sort of thing. To be effective, I don't think such a feature would need Netflix quality algorithms, either. Really, if people have read and liked the same articles that I like, I'd like to know what *else* they're reading and liking — even if I'm not already friends with them. Instapaper in theory has this information, and I wonder — with user approval, of course — if anonymized, aggregated data of this sort wouldn't provide impressive crowd-sourced curation.
A more minor objection: "Liked" is the wrong word, and a heart is the wrong icon. While I certainly read plenty of pleasant and/or lighthearted content within Instapaper, I also tend to read a lot of very serious, sometimes even depressing, articles. And when I want to recommend those articles to others, because they're exceptional, I feel awkward tapping the button that says I like it — especially one with that heart icon. Like I said, this is a minor point, but it's not an insignificant one to me. Facebook once faced a similar problem; CNN didn't want people to click "like" on a story about, say, genocide. I would prefer a "recommend" button instead, and I'm not sure what the best icon would be to go with it.
Quick aside: One might wonder why I'd publish Instapaper feature requests here, instead of emailing developer Marco Arment directly, or just keeping my mouth shut. I don't know. Part of it is probably the fact that I'm currently a bit high on powerful painkillers after some medical issues this week. Part of it is that, although I respect him and follow him on Twitter, and I've interviewed him for Macworld a few times, I don't really know Marco. Somehow, emailing him a list of feature requests feels more demanding, while posting some ideas publicly here feels more like starting a conversation.
There's also the fact that I've praised Instapaper in public and in print numerous times, so I'm not fearful of sounding like I'm levying unfair criticisms at the app or anything. Instapaper is in my dock, and it's one of those apps I use every day. I just have a few things I wish worked a bit differently. And even if none of my wishes come true, it will continue to be an app that I use every single day.
Finally, note that I dictated all of this to my iPad 3. And, as I already mentioned, I am currently taking very strong, medically prescribed drugs. So please forgive any stupidity.