Jacob O'Bryant
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App idea: casual curated newsletters
15 June 2021

A few weeks ago I wrote about how you can cobble together a few small apps to create an email/RSS-based social networking solution. It was interesting as a proof-of-concept, but it would be really nice to have something purpose-built for this. I think it would make a compelling product, and it would even be complementary with The Sample. I'm planning to build this at some point but am currently focused on growing what I have. If anyone else feels like taking a crack at it in the mean time, I'll be your first user!

The MVP

Let's call this app "Kevin" for now. Kevin would be a combination of a bookmarking app and a newsletter service. It should be very simple. First, you need an extremely convenient way to bookmark things, which Pinboard nails.

creating a bookmark with Pinboard

Then, you get a landing page where people can subscribe via email (or RSS, for power users). It would look like a social media profile page, but with an email form instead of a follow button.

As a user, you would never explicitly send out any emails. Instead, you just bookmark anything you find that's worth sharing. Once per week, your subscribers get an email with everything you bookmarked that week. (Unless you don't bookmark anything that week—there should be no pressure).

To monetize, you could at least charge based on number of subscribers. Have a free tier of, say, 300 subscribers. Ta-da, there's the MVP. After that's launched, there are a handful of improvements I would make next.

After the launch

If you subscribe to multiple Kevin users, then the emails you receive should be bundled together. All the bookmarks from everyone you follow are put into a single feed, and you get an email whenever there are at least (say) 10 bookmarks AND it's been at least N days since your last email. N should default to 1, but make it configurable.

In addition to your main newsletter, you should be able to add more newsletters for specific topics. I might have a "Clojure" newsletter and an "LDS" newsletter. When you bookmark a page, by default it goes only to your main newsletter, but you can adjust that with check boxes:

[x] - Main; [ ] - Clojure; [ ] - LDS

The subscribe form on your profile page gets the same set of check boxes. There's also a separate RSS feed for each topic.

As in the Pinboard GIF above, there should be a description/commentary box where you can (optionally) say some stuff about whatever you're bookmarking. If you add commentary, it gets included in the emails.

And as with any other newsletter service, you should be able to export the list of people who subscribe to you. Then you can switch to a different email service provider if you so desire.

Findka/The Sample integration

Kevin helps people make curated newsletters. The Sample helps newsletters find an audience. So we have Kevin export all of its newsletters to The Sample automatically (then I don't have to import them by hand, thank goodness).

We could do a deeper integration too. I'm already (still... but it's almost done!) setting up a single database to hold preference data from both The Sample and Findka Essays. That database could also store the bookmarks—then the bookmarks you save will teach The Sample about your preferences, and it can use that to send you more relevant newsletters.

The most exciting part about this is that it could help to bootstrap communities. For example, I wrote a bit last week about software invention. I'd love to make a software invention newsletter with Kevin and then let The Sample help me find other Kevin users who are into software invention. (Ditto for "Mormons who like reading Scott Alexander").

More about monetization

Build in some kind of marketplace for sponsored bookmarks (ads). Let people indicate on their profile that they're open to advertising. Then if you want to advertise something, you can pay people to bookmark your site. Kevin takes a cut. Make it low-friction.

Does this not spark joy?

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