You find a lot of interesting articles as you browse the web, but you don't always have time to read them right away. Read-it-later services like Instapaper and Read It Later both help solve that problem, but rather than signing up for yet another service, you can actually turn your Google Reader account into a personalised read-it-later archive.Recently, bookmark-and-read-later services like Instapaper and Read it Later have become really popular. You bookmark articles that look interesting, they save the text and allow you to go back and read the piece at your leisure (and with nice type and formatting) from a variety of devices. I've even been using Instapaper myself, for reading articles later on my iPad. After reader ygolive tipped us off to Reader's save to Reader bookmarklet, though, I realised that a few simple tweaks can turn Google Reader into a really great, cross-platform, super customisable dump for interesting articles.
Why Would I Want to Switch?
If you're already using something like Instapaper or Read it Later, you might wonder why you'd want to switch. You can already save articles you discover, strip them of all their formatting, and even read them when you aren't connected to the internet. While we think services like Instapaper and Read it Later are pretty darn cool, using something like Google Reader has distinct advantages over the other services scattered about the net.
The biggest advantage to using Google Reader is that you don't need to sign up for an account on another service, or download a separate app to your phone, and you can stick with something that's already integrated into your workflow. Chances are, you're probably already discovering a lot of those articles in Google Reader, and doing a good amount of reading in it too — so why send those articles to an external service when you can just leave them in Reader? It already strips them of ads and formatting, and any Google Reader app worth its salt provides offline access for reading on-the-go. With just a bit of tweaking, you can add any article from the internet to your starred items, whether it's in your RSS feeds or not.
It's also worth noting that Google Reader's popularity offers some serious customisation options. You have a ton of different apps to choose from on Android or iOS, as well as some nice user scripts and browser extensions that let you tweak it to look however you want. Also, while Read It Later and Instapaper have some nice sharing features, Google Reader has them too — and you probably know more people on Reader than you do on the others. Of course, if you don't like the sharing features, the aforementioned scripts and extensions can help you get rid of them entirely, which is another really nice perk.
Lastly, something I've always found really cool about Reader is its podcast and video integration. If you listen to a lot of podcasts or watch a lot of web video, Google Reader handles them beautifully. Just subscribe to their RSS feed in Reader as normal, and you'll be able to listen or play them right from the Reader interface, turning Reader not only in to a read-it-later service, but a watch-later and listen-later service too. It's nice to have all my media in one place to check out when I have some free time.
How to Set it Up
The main idea is that instead of using an external service, you just use your Starred Items list in Google Reader as your list of articles you want to read later. As you're perusing your feeds, starring an article is super easy — just hit the "s" key on your keyboard and keep moving along. Of course, that alone doesn't make Reader the perfect read-it-later tool. With these extra tweaks and tools, though, you can seriously increase Google Reader's read-later potential.
The great part about services like Instapaper is that you can save articles from anywhere around the ‘net with a bookmarklet. It's a lesser known fact, however, that Google has a similar bookmarklet available for Reader — in the form of the "Note In Reader" bookmarklet. Just head to Reader, go to the Notes section in the sidebar, and drag the bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar.
Now, whenever you find an article you want to save for later, just hit that bookmarklet to save it in Reader (if you want, you can even select specific text on the page and send only that text to Reader). Make sure to uncheck the "add to shared items" box if you don't want to share it, or install this user script to uncheck it by default. Once it's in Reader, just star it as normal and you'll have it in your new "read later" list.
Getting Full RSS Feeds
One of the problems you may run into as you star things from within reader is that some feeds are truncated — that is, they only give you the first paragraph of the article, after which you need to go to their site to read the whole thing. Instead of clicking through to the article and then sending it back to Reader with the bookmarklet, use a service like previously mentioned WizardRSS or previously mentioned Full Text RSS Feed Builder to turn them into full feeds. They'll even turn aggregators like Hacker News into full feeds, which is great.
Customising Reader's Appearance
Reader may strip your articles of all their annoying ads and formatting, but depending on your tastes, you may not like the font or colours Google Reader uses. One of the great things about its popularity is that there are a ton of ways out there to customise how it looks. Previously mentioned Helvetireader is a great option, though my personal favourite is Minimalist Google Reader for Chrome, which lets you tweak nearly any element of the interface to your liking. Searching Userscripts.org for specific tweaks you want (like a simple font change to make it look more like Instapaper) will produce quite a few results, too.
Mobile Devices The last thing, of course, is to make sure you can read all your articles on your mobile device. Again, Google Reader's popularity comes in pretty handy here — because it's such a widely used tool, there are tons of different RSS apps out there that will sync with Google Reader, so you can pick the right one for you. Here are a few of my recommendations:
Reeder for iOS: If you're looking for a good-looking, offline-capable, sharing-ready Google Reader client for your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, you can't go wrong with Reeder. Not only does it sync all your starred items, shared items, and feeds with Google Reader, but it's just really good looking and easy to read. It will also cache all your feeds and their images for offline reading if you plan on going somewhere without an internet connection — which means you're never without your articles. Trust me, it's worth the few bucks it costs.
gReader for Android: There are quite a few quality Google Reader clients for Android, but as far as this setup is concerned, the best is gReader. It gives you easy access to your starred items, caches all your articles for offline reading, and will even let you stream podcasts from any RSS feeds containing audio files, which is especially convenient.
Google Reader Mobile for any platform: If you don't like one of the above apps for some reason, or you aren't using Android or iOS, Google's mobile site is actually pretty good. You won't get offline access, but as long as you have internet you can just head to http://reader.google.com and access your starred items from the "Tags" section. It isn't quite as great as some of the above apps, but it will still work pretty darn well if you're on a less flexible platform like the Kindle.
It may not be as quick and easy to set up as something like Instapaper or Read it Later, but you end up with a bit more choice as far as the apps you can use and the customisations you can make. Plus, you have one less service to sign up for and one less password to remember — which is always nice. If you give this method a shot, let us know how you like it in the comments — and be sure to share your favourite Google Reader apps and customisations, too.