Reading Gated Content

One of the most amazing things about the internet is hyperlinks. You’re reading something, see a link, click it, and suddenly you’re able to read something new that you didn’t know even existed. It’s like magic. It can also be terrible, yes. Point taken. But I’m frequently amazed at the things I discover when I’m reading a great article and click one of the links in it.

One of the problems I sometimes run into is gated content. If you click a link that leads to an article on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, or even Medium often enough you’ll start to run into paywalls. This is especially annoying if you only want to read a single article.

If you do read a publication frequently you should consider subscribing. It’s important to support writers and content creators. Maybe you do have a subscription but aren’t allowed to log in on your work computer. (/me raises hand!) Whatever the reason, if you need to occasionally get around content gating so you can give something a quick read, here’s how you can do it. These methods aren’t full-proof and may not work in the future, but as of February 2020 they have all worked for me.

Method #1: Incognito mode

For many sites, such as Medium, NYT, Washington Post, or HBR you can get around gating by using a private browsing window. You likely have an article open that has a paywall message.

Copy the URL from the address bar. It’s important to check if the URL has tracking information appended to it. If you see a ? in the URL, everything after that is tracking information. Don’t copy any of that, only the part of the URL that comes before the ?.

Next, open a new “Incognito Browser” window. Different browsers call this by different names, such as a Private Window. You can always find this in the File menu, generally after the New Window option.

After the Incognito window opens, paste in the URL and hit Enter. The article will load without the gating message so you can read it or save to Instapaper or Pocket for later reading.

This workaround works because many publishers allow you to view 3-5 articles per month for free, which they track with cookies. Incognito windows have no cookie history, so it will appear to the site as a brand new visit.

Method #2: Search for the Title

Some outlets, like Inc. Magazine, have started to gate articles on partner sites. This is a smart business move for them since they get paid for all views beyond the paywall, but it’s pretty crummy for readers since these articles are usually available on the publisher’s own website. That’s also good news though, as you can simply find the article on the publisher’s site and read it for free.

If you think this is the case, simply search for the article title in a search engine. For example, if the article is from Inc. Magazine and you find it behind a paywall on Medium, search for the article title in your favorite search engine. Select the search result on the publisher’s main site and you should be able to read the full text.

Method #3: Leverage your Library

There are a few publications, like academic journals or the Wall Street Journal, that require a reader to log in and have a subscription to see any part of an article. Using an incognito window won’t help you here.

Many public libraries have subscriptions that library patrons can use for free. Yesterday I read an article from the Wall Street Journal by logging in to my library account, searching for Wall Street Journal on the library website, and clicking through to their periodical tool. I then searched for the article title I wanted to read and was able to access the full text.

Take care of content creators

This isn’t intended to encourage people to not pay for content. If you find value in a publication you should consider subscribing to support the writers creating the content.


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Analog January Challeng

I love the idea of replacing digital habits, particularly ones you use a phone for, with analog habits. It can seem quaint, or old fashioned, or even hipster-ish, but I’m always delighted at the great experiences I have when I consciously choose to use a physical object instead of a digital one. Handwritten notes, hardback books, and typewriters. So much fun.

Cal Newport, author of the great book Digital Minimalism, issued an “Analog January” challenge. This is a great idea, and something I’m trying to do. Here are some of the ideas he gives:

Read

Commit to reading 3 – 4 new books during the month. It doesn’t matter if they’re fiction or non-fiction, sophisticated or fun. The goal is to rediscover what it feels like to make engagement with the written word an important part of your daily experience.

Move

Commit to going for a walk every single day of the month. Try to make it at least 15 minutes long. Leave your phone at home: just observe the world around you and think.

Connect

Hold a real conversation with 20 different people during the monthlong challenge. These conversations can be in person or over the phone/Facetime/Skype, but text-based communication doesn’t count (you must be able to hear the other person’s voice). To hit the 20 person mark will require some advance planning: you might consider calling old friends or taking various colleagues along for lunch and coffee breaks.

Make

Participate in a skilled hobby that requires you to interact with the physical world. This could be craft-based, like knitting, drawing, wood working, or, as I’ve taken to doing with my boys, building custom circuits. This could also be athletic, like biking, bow hunting, or, as is increasingly popular these days, Brazilian Ju Jitsu. Screen-based activities don’t count. To get the full analog benefit here, you need to encounter and overcome the resistances of the physical landscape that surrounds you, as this is what our minds have evolved to understand as productive action.

Join

Join something local that meets weekly. For many people, this might be the hardest commitment, but it’s arguably one of the most important, especially as we enter a political season where the pseudo-anonymity and limbic-triggers of the online world attempt to bring out the worse in us. There’s nothing more fundamentally human than gathering with a group of real people in real life to work on something real together. This has a way of lessening — even if just briefly — the sense of anxious despair that emanates from the online upside down.

I suggest you pick one of these areas and set a goal. Don’t try and do them all. Pick one, put it on your calendar on a regular basis, and lightly track your progress in your journal, on a goal tracker, or even on a sheet of paper stuck to the fridge. One small change can make a big difference over time if you stick with it. Tracking your progress gives you natural times to look back and see the difference.


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Resources for Reading Online Content

I’ve recently started a program that involves a lot of online reading. I deeply dislike reading in a web browser. Here’s what I do when I have a lot of web-based reading to do.

The Problem

Reading in a web browser is a pain. There are ads, popups, sidebars, and a whole list of other things that take away from the content itself. It’s also an inflexible format as far as the reader’s ability to customize the reading experience.

My Solution

Use a service like Instapaper or Pocket to save the articles. This has several advantages:

  • Articles are available offline
  • Articles can be read on a computer, phone, or tablet
  • Only the article content is saved, so there’s no sidebar content or other elements of the webpage to distract or take up space on the screen
  • Text size and color scheme is easily adjustable
  • You can highlight and take notes as you read

Both Instapaper and Pocket have free and paid versions. The features they offer in the paid tier can be nice, but they aren’t necessary if you simply want to gather your reading materials one place and keep track of them. I’ve been using Instapaper for quite a few years so that’s my first choice, but Pocket seems to be a good piece of software too. (I have no formal relationship with either service.)

Instapaper – https://www.instapaper.com/
Pocket – https://getpocket.com/

A Quick How To

After you create an account with one of these services, the first thing you should do is install their browser extension or bookmarklet. This gives you a button that you can click to save an article to your account.

How to save to Instapaper – https://www.instapaper.com/save
How to save to Pocket – https://help.getpocket.com/article/895-how-to-save-to-pocket-overview

I open all of the articles I need to read in different browser tabs. Then I go to each tab and click the Instapaper extension so that the article will be saved to my Instapaper account. I then go to Instapaper and double check that all the articles appear there. My last step is creating a folder in Instapaper so I can put all the articles together. (This is optional but helps me keep organized.)

I prefer reading on a tablet or phone to reading on a computer. The mobile apps for both services are very good and give a nice environment for reading.

Other Alternatives

If you use Safari, either on an iPhone, iPad, or browser on a computer, you can use the Reading List function. It’s similar to Instapaper or Pocket, though with fewer features.

If you want to print articles or save as a PDF, try the Mercury Reader Chrome extension first – https://mercury.postlight.com/reader/. This gives you a clean version of the article without any sidebar, ads, or other distractions. You can then print or save as a PDF. This is also a nicer way to read articles in your browser. If you’re on Safari there’s a built in version of this called Reader View.


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Reading Digital Content on Analog Medium

I love to read blogs. There are so many amazing resources available online on so many topics. When I decided to cut back my device time as much as possible, this was the first thing I missed. I wanted the knowledge available on websites, but available to read in a non-screen medium.

The simplest solution is to print everything. I don’t want to do that. It’s cost prohibitive in the long term and very wasteful.

I dug out my scarred but still functional Kindle Keyboard. This old war horse has been with me a long time. It doesn’t have a backlight or a touchscreen. This is probably as close to paper as I can get without paper.

Next I needed to figure out how to get blog content on the Kindle in a sane way. I know there are browser extensions to send web pages to Kindle. If this were just for a few articles that would work. However, I read a lot. My Kindle would quickly be full of individual articles, making books difficult to find on it.

The workflow I landed on has three steps.

Find Content

I use the RSS feed service Feedly to bring in content from the blogs I like. I’ve never needed anything beyond Feedly’s free tier. I skim through and anything I see that looks worth a read is sent to Instapaper.

Compile Content

Instapaper has been around a long time. It’s a nice way to collect articles and gives options for tagging, searching, and taking notes. I use Instapaper’s “Send to Kindle” feature to compile all the articles from Feedly into an ebook and send to my Kindle once per day. This is a feature of Instapaper Premium which costs $2.99/month.

There are several settings you can use to control the amount of articles sent to Kindle. I set the minimum size to 10 articles. If there are fewer than than in Instapaper they won’t be sent. Instapaper has nice browser extensions so you can add interesting articles to your feed as well.

Each morning I go into Instapaper and archive the articles that have been sent to Kindle. I’ve adjusted the send to Kindle settings a few times to get them dialed in. I love that Instapaper compiles articles into a book that has navigation shortcuts like commercial ebooks have, with a table of contents and the ability to skip between articles using the buttons on the Kindle.

Reading Content

This is the fun part. 🙂 Each digest of articles sent from Instapaper is dated. This is helpful so you can tell them apart. Amazon sees these as personal documents. If you’re familiar with the way Kindles handle content that will help you find the digests on Amazon.com if you ever need to. On the Kindle I delete each digest after reading it. This keeps things uncluttered. If I ever want to go back and redownload it’s available in the Personal Documents section of my Amazon account. All articles are available in my Instapaper account as well in the Archive section.

There are other methods to do this. Calibre, the free ebook software, has an RSS feed feature and a way to send content to Kindles. Pocket also has a similar “send to Kindle” function. I’ve used Instapaper for many years and enjoy their app design so that’s what I went with.


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The Simple Method to Increase your Job Performance in the New Year

I feel lucky that I’m wired to be a reader. From my childhood I spent lots of time reading books and it’s something that I still do. My mother used to kick me and my brother out of the house so we would stop reading so much. I wish I had to do that more often with my kids!

In my career this has been so important. Each time I take on a new task or join a new team I assemble a reading list, plow through it, add new blogs to my daily feed, and within a short time I feel more comfortable with the basics of what I’ve been asked to do. Reading will never be the same as doing and experience is important, but for me quality reading makes the journey towards doing much shorter and fulfilling.

In our work we are judged on our output, rarely on our input. That’s unfortunate, because low quality input leads to low quality output. I love it when my boss gives our team something to read or watch. I learn more not only about the thing we’re working on but about his inputs and influences.

Here are some suggestions for getting higher quality input into your work routine.

Delete social media apps from your phone. More than any other action I’ve taken this year this has improved my life. I still use Twitter and LinkedIn on my computer and I can log in to the website on my phone if I need to. Not having the apps on my devices means I can’t default to using social media to kill a few minutes. Suddenly I have vast stretches of formerly occupied time available! It sounds like I’m trying to be funny, but I’ve read at least 10 more books this year because I deleted social media apps from my phone.

Read more than one book at a time. This sounds counterintuitive! Alas, most good books are not page turners the whole way through. There are times when I don’t want to read more about being productive, about business, or about anything non-fiction. I make sure I have a novel or two around, and I usually have 2-3 other books in progress at any given time. (A nightstand book, a bathroom book, a book on my work desk, a book on my home desk, and a book in the front room. If there’s a book wherever you go you’ll end up reading them!) Here is Scott Young’s great illustration on how this actually helps you read more.

Source: Scott Young

Read before bed. I remember reading Tim Ferriss’s advice along these lines years ago and have enjoyed this habit since. I tend to read narrative-based books, like novels, historical fiction, or biographies, before bed. Listening to an audiobook works for some people too. (I suggest using a timer on your audiobook app if you go this route so you can easily find your place in the morning if you fall asleep before the book stops.) You’ll be surprised how many books you get through by reading 30 minutes per night. You also have the added benefit of not using a screen right before bed, which many people find makes falling asleep easier.

Put reading time on your schedule. Call it whatever you need to so that co-workers won’t think you are slacking. If you read more you will have better ideas, make broader connections, and problem solve more effectively. It doesn’t matter what field you work in, this will make you better at your job. As Harry Truman said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Get your reading time scheduled on your calendar.

HT to Scott H. Young and Austin Kleon for the inspiration.


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