January 18, 2012, 8:22 AM — As a blogger I scan a lot of newsfeeds, press releases and RSS feeds every day. Most of what I see I just skim past, some of it I stop to read immediately, but then there's the in-between: that "read later" category. This is stuff that's interesting but perhaps not germane to the task at hand, or longer than I have time for.
There're a number of ways to deal with saving content for later. I could just bookmark it, of course. But I prefer to use a service that'll take a web page, strip out the ads and other distractions, and deliver that content to a handheld device that I can read in comfort later. Instapaper is one such system and a great choice if you use iOS. ReadItLater is another option and it supports iOS, Android and the Kindle Fire. I actually use both of these and recommend them both.
But today I want to talk about newcomer Spool which is still in beta. Spool saves webpages in the same way that Instapaper and ReadItLater do, but Spool goes one step farther by saving video, too. I've been testing it for a week or so now and while it's still a bit rough around the edges, so far I'm liking what I see.
Fundamentally Spool works like those other services. You install an add-on for Chrome or Firefox, or you can use a bookmarklet. Then you install a Spool app on your mobile device (of course you can also visit your account via web browser). When you're on a page you want to save, click the Spool icon to save that content to your account, and the content then gets pushed to your mobile devices. You can set this to happen automatically (with separate options for WiFi and data) or on-demand, and you can set a maximum cache size so Spool doesn't fill up your device's storage.
For regular articles, Spool once again performs in a way very similar to the other services, though in all honesty it doesn't do as good a job of 'cleaning up' the text (yet...this is still a beta we're talking about). But it's when a page has embedded video that Spool really shines, because it'll pull down a local copy of that video and cache it on your device.
That means you can watch the content later without having to wait for any kind of buffering or (if you're off WiFi) using up your monthly data allotment. Want to show off a video to everyone you meet? There's no bandwidth overhead for doing so.
For me, the video stuff is the 'killer app' for Spool but it has a few other nifty features worth mentioning. First, once you get the plug-in installed you'll see a Spool icon next to links on some services, such as Google+ and Google Reader. Using these icons you can Spool a page without ever visiting it. Second, you can link your Spool account to your Dropbox account. Once you do that, you can add content directly to your Spool by dragging it into the Apps => Spool => queue directory that will be created when you link accounts. For instance I dropped a PDF into that directory and it got cached on all my devices running the Spool app.
There are still a few little quirks to work around when you want to save video. I've found that when a web page has an embedded video I get better results by clicking through to the site that hosts the video, and Spooling from there. In other words, if a page has a YouTube video embedded, click "View on YouTube" first, then Spool the video from there. It seems like you get a cleaner copy of the video that way. Again, this may be a beta issue. Spool also has problems with 'mature' content on YouTube that requires you to log in. Again, I expect to see that addressed in an update. Lastly Spool seems to decide for itself what resolution of a video it's going to save. When I tried to Spool a 1080P YouTube video, Spool gave me a 360P version! Now granted there was no reason for it to cache a 1080P file on a device that can't display 1080P, but it would've been nice if it defaulted to 480P.
If you want help beta test Spool and help them iron out some of these rough spots, you need to sign up on a waiting list at https://getspool.com/. When I signed up I got in later the same day, though perhaps I was just lucky. If you watch a lot of videos then I really think the service is well worth it. Oh, and Spool is free, both the service and the apps.
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