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Pocket: Inside the greatest Android app

Early September, 2007. I’m at MIT, having made it all the way from Providence via MBTA and the Red Line. Paul had come with me, easing along the way my rural Kentuckian anxiety of traveling around New England. Houses – every other one “historical” and shipped directly from Europe – melted into a train full of potatolike guys with Celtics jersey. And now the din of new rails settles into the jagged piece of Cambridge carved out for MIT.

“Let’s find Eric,” said Paul.

Eric was Paul’s tall, eminently athletic rower high school friend. My day had ended earlier with a quick defeat in a Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament at UMass Boston’s infinitely transparent shoreside campus. Row row row back to land and to Eric’s tower in the Massachusetts sky.

“Paul…” Eric always had a way of dragging out reintroductions, as if the processor in his head needed upgrading.

“How goes it?”

“Going home Tuesday after finals. Then to Connecticut.”

Eric was an engineer to-be. He had an iMac seemingly held in place by old Sprite cans and wadded up napkins.

Paul, Internet-less since this was 2007, shuffled toward the bed, sat down and asked Eric to look up a way back to South Station. Eric, on the verge of history, pulled up Mozilla Firefox.

Two large buttons bulged from the browser interface. Pocket, in its earliest stage – the bookmarklet tool for saving anything and keeping a history of the Internet. Eric had saved a vintage webpage (what other kind is there? most of them are out of style within months).

“Grab a bus and…” most of Eric’s words trailed off like this to me, even if he did finish his sentences. The peak afternoon sun flooded the tower, and now that weird silence that I always felt when I wasn’t paying attention arrived, placing me tableside like the speechless family of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, waiting for Lee Van Cleef to cleave through.

The jangly 2007 Internet came through. We set out for Providence again, carrying Pocketed thoughts in our head. Neither of us had brought a book to read. Looking around and talking had to suffice the whole way back.

May 2014. Time to fork this story. The dusky Firefox extension is now a new Library of Alexandria. The fires and pillagers of antiquity are no site administrators. Scrolls were once burnt, but now webpages are changed and changed again, one SEO trick succeeding another and fresh frameworks growing up over the old scaffolding.

“What’s the best Android app?” Marvin asked.

“Pocket for sure” I replied, remembering that in 2007 an app was something that you mailed to a college.

Pocket, I explained, saves webpages.

“So?”

Bookmarks, right. Pocket was even once labeled a bookmarklet. It let you save things from Firefox to read later. That was a welcome innovation for reading on the Web. Browsers were full of distractions and noise (ads, comments): why not block all of that and focus on text?

High-res phone screens and full screen apps made Pocket even better. Android with all of its sharing features was made for Pocket. If I want to read anything now, I save it to Pocket and read it, white on black, on my 1080p Nexus 5 screen. This setup feels as natural as a paper book.

I can send a story from Chrome to Pocket, and use the Pocket icon that flashes momentarily on the screen to go straight to the app. It’s also perfect for long Blue Line ride with no data. It’s like having a library of the Internet to comb through whenever I’m looking for an old quote or study that I stashed long ago.

“Pockets?”

“No, Pocket. AKA Read it Later.”

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