2 min read

The weird thing about newsletters

I'll start by saying that I personally like the newsletter craze.

It gets people writing again. It gets me interested in following writers that I like (ostensibly, more below).

I also have zero issues paying for newsletters and often do, if it's warranted.

But it does seem like the new uptick in newsletters is partly a reaction to the loss of other ways to follow people.

RSS (and Atom later) was a great way to follow people and Google Reader was a great product. Google killed it, of course, and social media killed the personal site for a decade or more.

Thanks to Elon's takeover of Twitter, people are finally interested in "owning" their content again and the ideas around decentralization. Similar issues with other platforms will continue to play out, although the audience on YouTube is hard to ignore. Facebook is for Boomers, nobody goes there anyway. Instagram feels like it's dying. TikTok is probably brainwashing everybody.

So, great, we're back to creators writing long form content on somewhat decentralized platforms (although Ghost, Substack, and the like, really aren't decentralized of course, but it's a little better).

The problem is, I want to follow writers, even the ones I don't feel the need to pay for. But the only option for this is to subscribe, which means their new stuff goes to my email.

I hardly ever read email. So it's kind of a null follow.

This is an issue that is similar to browser tabs.

623 open browser tabs is just another list of things to "process."

As Umberto Eco pointed out: "we make lists because we are afraid to die."

I think this really means that we are afraid to forget.  

There is so much to follow and process and we live in a golden age of access to information. I'd never trust AI to fully curate it for me (although it can help with some of the legwork), just like I don't trust algorithms on social media that control the posts I see.

So, there is still something missing in giving people tools to curate their own lists of things to follow. Newletters are a pointer in the direction people want to go but we're still not there yet.

It does show how much we lost when RSS lost momentum in the mainstream of internet consciousness. We still don't have great alternatives that are being used by enough people.