Unraveling “the aspirational side of backup”: Pocket VP Matt Koidin on the art of a good recommendation

The Internet we have today is the one we have unknowingly asked for over the last decade and change: since Facebook was introduced like 2009, we have captured countless likes, retweets, views and various other nudges to entice the platforms algorithms to give us more of what we want. Or at least what we think we want. Somehow we’ve arrived at today’s chaotic hellscape of online content, where there’s more of it than ever before, but it’s just as difficult, if not more laborious, to sift through it all and find the good things. So it makes sense that Pocket, which launched as the humble bookmarking service we know today in 2012, has remained a place where people can store their favorite links and discover new ones. What’s less obvious is how the platform managed to do this while remaining remarkably…enjoyable?

It all started, like so many other Web 2.0 favorites, as a side project: In 2007, a young, self-taught coder named Nate Weiner designed a Firefox extension that could save articles, which he naturally dubbed Read It Later. Within four years, Weiner had turned down an offer from Evernote “in the few millions” to acquire the company she had become, opting instead to raise enough venture capital to build a founding team and rebrand itself as Pocket from here. 2012. Since its launch, users have saved more than 6.5 billion pieces of content on Pocket, or about 50 million links per month, according to the company.

These days, Pocket not only continues to serve as a repository of trusted links – for reading later, yes, but also for shopping, planning meals and giving gifts later as well – but it’s also a powerhouse of underrated recommendation via its Discover and Collections Features. Plus: Talk to some type of online media outlet, and they’ll likely gush about the spike in traffic associated with landing a coveted spot on the “Pocket Hits” newsletter – which has 3 million monthly subscribers – before complaining about how Pocket players aren’t playable. are compared to their counterparts on Facebook or Twitter.

Around the 10th anniversary of the humble bookmarklet I spoke with Matt Koidin, one of the founding team members and now Vice President of Pocket at Mozilla (which acquired Pocket in 2017), to get a sense of the strategy behind the platform’s enduring position in our current online ecosystem . Speaking on Zoom from his San Francisco office, Koidin spoke about the value of saving versus clicking, the “algotorial” approach to blending machine learning with personal tastes, and, of utmost importance to any superuser from Pocket, his last statistics end of the year. Below is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.

Vanity Lounge: Let’s start with your journey. I know you studied computer science at Stanford in the late 90s, which must have been an exciting time and place for anyone getting into tech. Is that where you started?

Matt Koidin: I was the proverbial computer in your neighborhood. My first Atari 800 was the first computer I owned and loved. I think I always felt like computers were the solution. You don’t always think of programming as a creative expression, but for me it was.

I did some internships at Microsoft; there’s a world where I’m in Seattle right now and maybe we’re talking, maybe not. But I took this introductory high-tech entrepreneurship course with Professor Tom Byer in 1999, and it changed my life. We did our final project actually with Jon Bruckwho would later become part of the founding team of Pocket.

How did you end up at Pocket?

I asked Jon, “Hey, I’m looking for a front-end developer to work with me on some stuff”, and he was like, “Oh, I just saw this guy’s website. He has l looks pretty good. Turns out it was Nate Weiner. And so Nate and I worked together at the startup I used to work at called Team Rankings. He had a few other projects going on; one of them was Read Later. We worked together for about a year, and then he was like, “You know what, this Read Later thing is kind of interesting, I’ll see what I can do with it.” We had lunch every few months, and we always thought, oh, we should work together again someday.

Around this time, 11 years ago, we had one of these lunches. It was at the American Grilled Cheese Company, just down in SoMa [South of Market, San Francisco]. Nate had started talking about maybe raising some money. I remembered that I liked working with Nate, so the human part was there. The product was something I used. And then once he added in the vision, I went home and said to my wife, “I have to quit my job and go work with Nate. I’m going to sleep on it but I have to.

What was so exciting for you about this vision?

From the beginning, we had this idea that content consumption was interrupted in many ways. I think it’s changed a bit since then, in terms of How? ‘Or’ What it’s broken.

Yeah, it’s still pretty broken.

Back then, the product was kind of like, hey, there’s this time lapse: I come across things that interest me, but it’s not the right time for me to consume them. There’s so much out there, so how am I going to remember to come back? It was the first iteration.

It’s that period from 2011 to 2012 where Facebook and Twitter – all things like and retweet – start to grow a lot more. This led to a smash of “Wow, there’s all this shit that these platforms are pushing.” How do I cut through the noise – endless stream after stream, title after title? We were trying to be something a little different. How do we create a content environment where you feel like your time is well spent instead of walking away feeling sad or sad?

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