As the first version of Instapaper was gaining popularity four years ago, I realized that most people didn’t have their own constant supply of great articles to read.
To address that demand, I launched Give Me Something To Read on June 1, 2008. A script would show me the most-saved recent articles from Instapaper, and every weekday morning on the train, I’d sort through a few hundred of the most popular articles and publish links to 3–5 of my favorite general-interest pieces. I later started accepting audience suggestions, and on July 27, 2009, I hired the site’s best contributor, Richard Dunlop-Walters, to replace me as its new full-time editor. Since then, Richard has dramatically improved the site, designing new layouts, tagging by author and topic, and publishing special editorial features.
I integrated Give Me Something To Read’s link feed into the Instapaper app and website, but the name was too long and wouldn’t fit gracefully in many places, so I called it “Editor’s Picks” in Instapaper. In some places, such as the recent iPad app’s sidebar, even that wouldn’t fit, so I used “Editors”.1 The inconsistent names have always caused a lot of confusion among Instapaper’s customers.
The very similar Longform and Longreads both started significantly later than Give Me Something To Read but always got a lot more attention, with Longreads fueled especially by its active Twitter presence. They’ve both done great things,2 but I always believed that Give Me Something To Read deserved a similar level of attention that it never seemed to achieve.
In retrospect, I attribute that to two things. First, while we always had a great Tumblr presence, we should have also been on Twitter earlier.3 Richard convinced me to let him start a Twitter account for Give Me Something To Read recently, but even that needed to use a clunky name variant (@somethingtoread) due to availability and Twitter’s username-length limit.
The other big problem is the name. I was holding onto “Give Me Something To Read”, but it wasn’t even a good name. In fact, it was a terrible name: it was too long, unmemorable, unavailable (and impossible) on Twitter, and unsuitable for integration nearly everywhere in Instapaper.
Last month, we decided to change the name. My criteria were:
- Short enough to fit everywhere in Instapaper, including in the iPad app’s sidebar.
- Available on Twitter exactly (not just a variant).
- Available as a reasonable domain name.
- Somewhat unique and catchy.
- Somewhat descriptive.
- Related to magazine-article-style reading somehow, but not using terms that wouldn’t make sense to most people (e.g. “hed”), and not in an exclusively retro-analog way: Instapaper is a distinctly modern service, nobody’s using a printing press in my office, and the featured articles don’t always come from magazine or newspaper publishers, so it didn’t feel right to overly romanticize ancient technologies.
- Not based on the word “long”. Not only do both of the site’s major competitors use it (and people always confuse them with each other), but it’s inaccurate: the featured articles don’t need to be long. They often are, but that’s neither a requirement nor the point of reading them.
This proved to be nearly impossible. Not only is it very difficult to find print-related terms that aren’t ancient, but with the massive popularity of online publishing, nearly every useful publishing-related term has already been used recently for something close enough for discomfort.
I came up with “The Feature”, which we didn’t absolutely love, but that we both liked. It fit more of the criteria than anything else we considered, and while it’s not especially unique, it conceptually represents the site very well without smelling like newsprint. The site often features feature articles, and “The Feature” implied a regularly selected feature article. No other name we considered was a better conceptual fit: it really made perfect sense.
So last night, we made the final changes, and the Give Me Something To Read name is now officially retired.
Please welcome The Feature (Twitter: @TheFeature): the same great article recommendations, now with a much better name.
Richard (the editor) and I were both aware that “Editors” didn’t make sense as a section label, since there was only one editor, but the label was the most practical solution we could come up with at the time. ↩
Recognizing the value of having an associated recommendation site, Instapaper’s biggest competitors have claimed Give Me Something To Read’s biggest competitors: Read It Later hired Longreads’ founder, Readability partnered with Longform, and both long-articles sites now prominently advertise their read-later-service sponsors. ↩
The original reason we weren’t was because I didn’t believe in Twitter accounts that were just link feeds from a website, but I’ve since come around. Even though I don’t like following such accounts (I use RSS for that), a lot of people do, and Richard adds more to it than just an automatic link dump. ↩