How buying Instapaper could help Pinterest become a media portal like Facebook


Saving articles to Pinterest has become “a core use case” even before the company acquired read-it-later service Instapaper.

Pinterest is buying read-it-later service Instapaper to ramp up its run at Facebook as a rival next-generation, increasingly insular media portal.

On Tuesday, Pinterest announced it is acquiring Instapaper, which people can use to save articles from around the web to check out later. Instapaper’s service will remain available post-acquisition, and Pinterest has no plans to put ads in Instapaper, according to a Pinterest spokesperson.

People use Pinterest and Instapaper for similar reasons. The similarity is almost too close for the deal to make sense. Pinterest started out as a way for people to collect content from around the web for themselves and others to check out later. At first, people were mainly saving images, but they’ve also started saving articles, to the point that Pinterest considers that “a core use case.” But saving articles is the same reason people use Instapaper — its “core use case,” if you will. So why would Pinterest buy a company whose product largely duplicates its own?

Because Instapaper stores the actual content, removing the need for people to leave its app to view it. And because eight-year-old Instapaper brings with it a bunch of insight into the articles that people save and read, which translates into data six-year-old Pinterest can use to get a better idea of what content it should recommend to its audience. That data could be combined with the data Pinterest already has on what content people like to post to and view on its service. And it could give Pinterest a way to try to rival Facebook as a popular place people go to find things to check out, be it wardrobe ideas, tattoo designs, how-to videos or news articles.

“As the world’s catalog of ideas, we’re focused on making it easy to save and discover content on any device. The Instapaper team are experts in saving, curating and analyzing articles, and they’re a welcome addition to Pinterest. Instapaper will work with us to continue building indexing and recommendations technologies, and we look forward to building great products together,” said Pinterest lead product manager Steve Davis in an emailed statement.

Pinterest has been pretty clear about its ambitions to be something of a hybrid between Google and Facebook. It’s as much a search engine as a social network. And like Google and Facebook, Pinterest gained popularity as an avenue for people to find content that lived outside its walls. People could check out pinboards of interior design ideas that linked to sites where they could buy the featured products or learn how to perform home projects by searching for pins of do-it-yourself videos.

But like Google and Facebook, Pinterest has become more insular. It’s ramped up its efforts to get people to buy products without leaving Pinterest, and it’s rolled out a native video player so that people can watch organic videos and video ads that aren’t controlled by some other service. And now it’s bought Instapaper, which has technology that lifts an article’s contents from a publisher’s site and replants it in its own app — and maybe eventually within Pinterest’s walled garden. It’s probably not a coincidence that in announcing its sale to Pinterest, Instapaper also announced that it would be cutting off people’s ability to use that technology for their own purposes. That technology could come in handy if Pinterest ever wants to build its own version of Facebook’s Instant Articles.

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