A Twitter thread by Jeff Jarvis caught my eye yesterday. “I far prefer blogs to email newsletters & podcasts” Jeff wrote, and I agree with him. I mused about why this was over my morning espresso. I pondered further during a cable internet outage at lunchtime. And now, when I am ready, I am writing a blog post about it.

You might read this because you’re an old style devotee to RSS and still subscribe to this blog. You might see a tweet I’ve written about the post. You might stumble across this post via DuckDuckGo or whatever other search engine of your choice. You might even get this via the email notification system – Mailchimp just mails out the latest post to whoever has signed up, something I have never pushed or promoted.

If you’re really keen you can link to it yourself, comment on it, quote it somewhere. And it might be useful to you on the day I wrote it, next week or next year. Whenever it is useful to you I am happy that is the case. And it is going to be free to access it as well, for however long this blog exists (it’s been running 16 years so far, and I am not about to stop).

All of that, I think, is at the heart of why I don’t like newsletters, despite all the hype around Substack and even Twitter adding its own newsletter tool.

With a newsletter the sender chooses when they want to bother me, not the other way around. And were I to produce a newsletter I would have to produce it to a regular schedule, which is the very opposite of blogging – I am going to hit Publish on this when I am ready, not according to some weekly or fortnightly schedule that is de rigeur for the newsletter as a medium.

If that were not enough, I am so damned overloaded with email anyway, does anyone conceivably want even more of it? And then were I to want to (re-)use something that was in a newsletter I received, do I have the right means for that? And navigation within newsletters remains lousy (yes, looking at you, Politico Brussels Playbook).

Perhaps more pertinently, what collaborative learning potential is there from a newsletter? I could send ideas to you in a newsletter, you could reply to the email, but whatever we together would learn from that would not automatically be public for everyone else to use, to learn from, to built upon, to adapt, to remix.

Stretching it a bit further, am I actually self confident enough to assume anyone would want to hear direct from me? I want and need the accountability of the open format of a blog (and Twitter) to check I am getting things right. It’s better for me, and it’s better for those people reading as well. Yes, trolling on open platforms is a problem (and damn am I sick of it on Twitter), but retreating to an essentially more closed system surely is not the right reaction to that – civilised open collaboration is what was great about blogging, and it remains a noble aim.

Many of the problems of newsletters are what keep me away from podcasting as well. Sure, I have been a guest on plenty of podcasts, notably those hosted by Tim Pritlove, but I struggle to consume them – I can’t fit the regular schedule of podcasts into my very irregular schedule. I can’t know if a podcast is going to be useful before I have got into it, and there are few experts or commentators I so universally appreciate so as to mean I would listen to everything they say. And just as with a newsletter, if I am myself unconvinced by a medium for my own person consumption, there’s no way I am going to persuade others of its merit.

Basically I refuse to make a podcast that would not have me as a listener, and I refuse to make a newsletter that would not have me as a subscriber.

Whatever their downsides, the open collaboration potential of blogging and Twitter, the search-ability, the accountability, their ad-hoc nature suits me better than anything else.

Now where’s the reinvent-hype-Substack thingy for blogging…?

8 Comments

  1. Yup, RSS subscriber here – thank you for continuing to blog. I tried newsletters and they end up unread somewhere in Gmail.

  2. Filip S.

    I don’t quite get the opposition to a newsletter. As a user I find it very difficult to keep myself updated with all kind of blogposts or website additions, even if I remembered to bookmark them. I’m receiving close to 30 or 40 newsworthy newsletters, some on a daily basis other more infrequently, and always feel up to date. If I think an organisation, like (TEPSA, IEP), a newspaper (the same objection as you to the Politico playbook newsletter) or any other institution is worth following the first thing I do is look for a newsletter subscription. With two different e-mail adresses it is quite easy to distinct them from my more serious e-mails, though they do sometimes overlap.

    If I want to interact the majority of those letters also has a webpage or blog which hosts a forum. As a matter of fact I landed here due to the newsletter. With your posts that happens often, but not always (kudos for your posts about solutions for transnational train travel). Before I signed up to the newsletter I visited your blog once in a while, but much more infrequently than nowadays.

    What about frequency ? While of course there are certain rules of thumb how you can keep your readers interested in your messages, but is it really necessary to stick to a schedule when sending a newsletter ? Unless you have a paid readership or market the newsletter in this way, I don’t think so.

    On interactivity I prefer this instead of Twitter (I actually hate Twitter, from the moment I signed up as my first ever and so far only tweet reads) with all it’s clowns, bots, trolls and dumb asses.

    To conclude please keep blogging, I actually do like your contributions, and keep sending them in a newsletter too. I will remain signed up.

    • Thanks for the message!

      I don’t see my email notification tool as a newsletter as such – it simply mails out blog posts. Maybe it might make sense to improve it, but based on the same lines – include a “what I’m reading” section or something like that? Something Twitter-ish?

  3. Gonzalo

    As RSS subscriber, thank you very much for your blog. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t follow yor posts)

  4. White_Rabbit

    RSS subscriber here (for the record). I’d say the “reinvent-hype-Substack thingy for blogging” is everywhere, in the shape of WordPress. Podcasts were invented and are a very good match for commuting, but there is no technical limit to using them like the blog medium, without a fixed schedule. As always, thanks for your blog 🙂

    • Fair comment re. the tech, and WordPress being that. But I miss the community, the network somehow…

  5. It’s the non-linkability of newsletters which makes them so frustrating to me. But maybe that is also part of the appeal — being able to share your words online and having a little shelter from the viciousness of internet response.

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