Upnext is a read later app. No, it’s a bookmark app. No, it’s a content curation social network thing. Even Jeroen Seghers, one of the co-founders of the service, struggles to explain it. “Long term,” he says, “I like to think about what we’re building as a knowledge browser.” But even he admits that doesn’t mean much to anyone right now. Eventually, Upnext settled on “A Reader With Superpowers,” which is close enough.
Whatever you call it, here’s what Upnext is: it’s a place to store and interact with content from across the web. It handles articles and blog posts like Pocket or Instapaper, but also serves as a dumping ground for all those YouTube videos that you want to watch later, those podcast episodes that you’ll eventually listen to, those tweet threads that you don’t have time to flip through but all those PDFs cluttering up your desktop and more.
What I like most about the app is that not only does it store all that stuff in a reverse chronological list, but it acts as a kind of Google TV interface for web content, a tool that takes all your links and tries to give you that right thing to return at the right time. Upnext’s home screen shows you a few categories, a series of curated Daily Picks from the things you’ve saved, and then some of the things you’ve recently added. There’s also a review page that encourages you to swipe through your list with Tinder to keep it clean — swipe right to keep, swipe left to archive.
The app has been in beta for more than a year and I’ve been testing it off and on most of the time. Now it’s launching publicly on iPhone, iPad, and the web — Android is coming eventually, says Seghers, but not anytime soon. The app costs $10 per month or $69 per year, which is steep for this type of app (Pocket and Instapaper both have very good free tiers), but Seghers believes Upnext can build something that will price for the internet’s superconsumers. He also didn’t rule out offering a cheaper or free version at some point, but said that an expensive launch “will give us a clear signal of what the most demanding users want”.
I’ve mainly used it as a simple replacement for Pocket (or Matter, another new read later app I’ve enjoyed) as a basic reading tool. It does a good job of accommodating most text articles, even with images and other media, and makes it fairly easy to highlight text and take notes. When you take notes on a video or podcast, they’re automatically timestamped so they’re easy to find later. (Upnext doesn’t yet have an easy way to sync all your notes to your favorite note-taking app unless you also pay for Readwise, but I’m told that’s coming soon.) The app doesn’t have as many customization options as some other apps – I’d like a way to make the bezels a bit wider on the iPad, especially with Seghers coming – but it’s still a pretty nice reading experience.
Ultimately, however, Upnext’s plan is to do a lot more with your content than give it a nicer font. When you save something to the app via the Upnext browser extension or iOS share sheet, Upnext tries to figure out what it is and automatically categorizes it for you. It works, doesn’t it? Upnext is very good at understanding the difference between a long article and a short article and always places YouTube links in the right place. But if you save an article with an embedded video at the top, it will think you wanted the article. If you find a podcast episode on your website and not in a podcast player, it will be saved as a Short Read and not a Long Listen.
You also can’t manually categorize your content, which is annoying. (I still have a lot of podcasts in my Short Reads folder.) Instead, Upnext wants you to create playlists of content. Personally, I love this feature: I now keep a running list of podcast episodes, articles, and videos on topics I want to learn more about and can dig into them whenever I have time. (In that sense, Upnext is almost like a supercharged bookmarking service.) You can also share playlists with others, including your own notes on various content, and Seghers says Upnext has long-term dreams of bringing many social features to the app.
Higher on the priority list: Better understanding of the content people put into Upnext. The app already saves your progress on all types of content, so you can pick up where you left off. However, according to Seghers, the team spends a lot of time improving the automated categorization system, which would also help Upnext recommend content to users. “You can tell us, ‘I want to read, I want to listen or I want to watch,'” he says. “If you can then also say to us, ‘This is the topic I actually want to move on’ or ‘Here’s what I feel like doing right now’, because our morning vs. evening and weekday vs. . Weekend, it’s all very different.” He’s also excited about turning Upnext into a powerful search engine for all the things you store, but admits it’s hard work too.
The dream for an app like this really is that you spend your days dumping stuff you’re interested in and the app skillfully spits them back at you at just the right moment. It’s not a chore or an inbox, more like your curated version of the web. Upnext isn’t, but that’s pretty close to what Seghers is saying. “You can just throw any link at it,” he says, “and it’s a learning thing.”
Apps like Upnext — and Pocket, Instapaper, Matter, and the others — have always been intended for a specific type of content consumer. I’m very much that type of consumer and have really enjoyed Upnext so far. It’s not a perfect system and probably isn’t worth $10 a month for most people just yet, but I’ve spent years looking for a good app that I’ll come back to later, and Upnext is surprisingly close to it to do right.