So Pinterest Bought Instapaper: Now Can It Just Leave the App Alone?


Pinterest just acquired Instapaper, an app that allows users to save web content so that it can be read later, even from a different device. 

Similar to Pocket, Readability and Feedly, among others, Instapaper was launched in 2007 by Tumblr co-founder Marco Arment. In 2013, Arment sold a majority stake in the company to betaworks, a New York City-based startup studio that builds and invests in next generation internet companies. 

The terms of the sale have not been disclosed. But Pinterest has confirmed that it has also bought out betaworks’ majority stake, so it now owns the entire company.

And the deal may be more than an acquihire, according to Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky. 

Business as Usual for Instapaper?

Unlike many of Pinterest’s recent acquisitions, including Curator , URX, Fleksy and tote, Instapaper will function independently, according to Instapaper CEO Brian Donohue. For end-users, he contends, “nothing changes.” 

Donohue and Instapaper community manager Rodion Gusev will be relocating from New York City to San Francisco to work alongside the Pinterest team. The remaining employees, however, are not going along — in spite of Donohue’s insistence that “Instapaper will continue to operate as a separate app and they (the Pinterest team) will not be pushing some separate agenda that alters the app or user-experience.”

The relocation, Donohue wrote, will provide Instapaper with greater resources including money and manpower, as well as allow Pinterest to leverage Instapaper’s parsing technology and recommendation algorithms to deliver fresher, richer pins.

Instapaper’s Value to Pinterest

And while all of that is nice, Instapaper brings something more to the table, Lepofsky said.

“Pinterest’s primary focus is to keep users viewing content on their site. To date, that content has been ‘objects,’ such as clothing, electronics, crafts, etc. Now, with Instapaper, people will be able to create content-centric boards and communities by saving/sharing news. Once Pinterest can link the graph between the news people are interested in (sports, politics, entertainment, etc) they will be able to offer up suggestions for related objects,” he explained.

Instapaper Users Fear the Future

Instapaper enthusiasts seem concerned how the new ownership will affect their favorite app. They expressed concerns the app will be ruined because Pinterest will be pushing its own agenda versus fueling what Instapaper does so well, as the messages on ycombinator show. Consider a sample of the comments:

One Instapaper user noted, “As a person who has been part of a small company / start-up acquisition 2 times now this is literally the line every single CEO says when they’re bought. Now I’m not saying you’re lying but plans change and except for very, very few exceptions this is always wrong.”

Another added: “Considering they are forcing the team to move to SF, there is no way Instapaper will exist in one year.”

And one more: “Myself, I’m concerned. I’ve found Pinterest to be user-hostile in a way that seems opposite to the Instapaper philosophy: it’s naggy (notification-wise for starters) and aimed at hooking me into their ecosystem. It’s in-your-face instead of hands-off.”

Donohue jumped in on the thread to reassuring users, “Based on the comments I’ve read below the main concerns seem to be that Instapaper will either be shutdown or materially changed in a way that effects the end-user experience. I can tell you that neither of those are the plan for the short-term or long-term of the product, and I am personally looking forward to providing you with the same great service under a new owner.”

Can Pinterest Broaden its Appeal?

With Instapaper under its roof, Pinterest (the company, not necessarily the app) might be able to attract a more diverse user base. According to the Pew Research Center, only 13 percent of men use Pinterest

The best possible outcome for all concerned might be to continue to let Instapaper do what it does well. 

If there’s “secret sauce” that Pinterest can benefit from (take for example Instapaper’s developer tool, Instaparser), then great. But the readers of this world have already lost Google Reader. Better to nourish Instapaper and help it grow than to point it toward the setting sun.


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