Future Building The Internet

The Dominance of Newsletters Over Websites

Liked Newsletters by Robin Rendle (

Team RSS all the way!

I do also enjoy the renaissance of newsletters we’re experiencing, but wish it were on blogs instead. Email offers writers a certain perceived intimacy granted by privacy through obscurity. Yet websites can offer that as well, plus so much more control over presentation and access.

As someone who sometimes sends newsletters for work and projects, the myth of email being a means to reach the audience of people who have signed up to hear from you is a lie. It puts that power into Google and Microsoft’s hands to judge whether you’re sending junk. They don’t care that people signed up to get it, their filters “know better” and shunt emails to promotion purgatory or spam hell. The email clients don’t give people the option to elect to receive emails they deem unfit. There’s no way to tell Google, “Hey, I’m a real person and I promise I’m sending good content that people will like! If only you let them see it.” As big corporations, they could care less about the little one-person brands doing their best but lacking the tech savvy to game the deliverability system. But of course it sounds like a system where we have more control than social media with its opaque and ever-changing algorithm, you send an email and people just get it.

I find it somewhat ironic that so many people complain about too much email and yet email newsletters are having a heyday. I think Rendle is onto something with this idea of a browser integrated update and subscription tool. Firefox integrated Pocket for upgraded bookmarking, I don’t see why they couldn’t integrate a rebranded RSS (of course it failed with a non-name like that). I imagine people could be relieved to not get both their work and entertainment and learning all in one box.

I feel the lure of newsletters myself. Something about them feels less daunting than a website, less permanent, less demanding of perfection with lower expectations for design, more of a place you can experiment in a safer version of public, easier to “projectize” and make it an ephemeral of-the-moment *experience* that people can miss out on. It feels more active and participatory that people have had to take the step of giving you their email – it asks for some commitment from the reader. So while I agree with Rendle that the three barriers he’s identified are key, I think there are some psychological differences in how we perceive newsletters that might also need to be addressed to bring more people back to the light of a connected web.

Added: another good point from Craig Mod about why readers like newsletters: they influence writers to write more personably.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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