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by Jacob O'Bryant

I'm going to delete most of Yakread's features

How's that for a click-bait title! It is probably true, though. I spent last week setting up a bunch of internal reporting stuff so I can understand how people are using Yakread, and I learned a few interesting things:

  • Most people don't use bookmarks, Twitter/Mastodon integrations, or ebook uploads.
  • The most active users do often set up their email address and use it to subscribe to newsletters; the less active users do that much less.

And anecdotally, the most positive piece of feedback I've received about Yakread so far focused exclusively on newsletters. I quote it on the landing page (thanks Josh!):

I've been using Yakread for about a week now and I absolutely love it. As someone with a bunch of newsletter subscriptions, it's super helpful to have them aggregated, put in feed form, and get a reminder at a certain time to peruse the daily offerings.

So I'm starting to have a hunch that I should focus entirely on people who already subscribe to newsletters. All the other stuff—the bookmarks, the ebooks, the social media integrations, honestly maybe even the RSS subscriptions—is nice to have, but I worry that it complicates Yakread and dilutes the value prop. On top of that, all those other integrations could be handled by separate services. Imagine an app where you could:

  • connect to your Pocket/Instapaper account and forward new bookmarks to your email address.
  • upload ebooks and get a daily email with links to the chapters you're currently on.
  • connect to Mastodon and Twitter and receive a daily email with top posts from accounts you follow.
  • subscribe to RSS feeds and have new posts emailed to you.

In all cases, you could plug in your address, and I think you'd get an experience that's a perfectly good replacement for all the native integrations that Yakread currently does. There are already services for some of these (e.g. Mailbrew can send you tweet digests via email), especially if you're willing to hack stuff together with IFTTT or Zapier, but there's a lot more work that could be done.

I originally built all that stuff directly into Yakread because my explicit plan was to spend the first few months building stuff for my own needs without even thinking about the business side or growth or anything. I have enjoyed using all those features myself. But now that I've turned my attention to how to best make Yakread accessible for other people, I think it would make a lot of sense to move the non-email integrations into a separate service. I'd probably run it as an open-source app and mention it to new Yakread users, but it wouldn't be a high business priority. But since it'd be open-source, other people would be able to add more integrations and polish the existing ones, which is an area of Yakread that I haven't been able to devote much time to.

Show me the mockups

So what would Yakread look like if I went ahead with this? Here's a rough draft for the landing page copy:

The easiest way to keep up with your favorite newsletters

Read your newsletters in Yakread
Subscribe to newsletters with your very own email address. New posts will show up in your Yakread feed, away from the rest of your email.

Let us do the triaging
Hit thumbs-up and thumbs-down on posts you read, and Yakread will adjust your feed automatically so that your favorite newsletters don't get drowned out. Yakread also gives a boost to newsletters that publish infrequently so they don't get buried underneath your daily newsletters.

The app would look something like this (notice all the sidebar links that have been removed):

Resurrecting The Sample

A significant part of the current Yakread Experience™ is that even if you don't add any subscriptions or enable any integrations, you'll still get recommendations for random blog articles immediately. A couple weeks ago in TikTok for reading, I shared some screenshots for what Yakread might look like if I went all-in on the recommendations. That would be a good strategy for going after a very broad audience, I think.

But when you're just starting out, it's helpful to focus on a specific niche with a deeper need, and I think "people who already subscribe to newsletters" is quite possibly a good niche for Yakread. I think discovery will be a valuable thing to focus on after that niche is being served well. In the mean time, I'll at least display ads to new users, all of which are currently for newsletters anyway. I'd probably show a message like "You haven't subscribed to any newsletters yet! Here are a few sponsored suggestions."

That being said: there is another solution here, and one that perhaps I should've thought through sooner. Just use The Sample for discovery. Don't worry about building any discovery stuff into Yakread; instead, just tell people to subscribe for The Sample. The onboarding flow would look like this:

  1. New user signs up for Yakread.
  2. They're shown a prompt that asks them to pick a username for their email address.
  3. The user is dropped into the Yakread inbox with a message that says "You haven't subscribed to any newsletters yet. Sign up for [The Sample]. It'll help you discover plenty of fabulous newsletters."
  4. User goes to The Sample, subscribes, and then sees the "check your inbox for the first email" message. (The Sample sends its first newsletter recommendation immediately after you subscribe.)
  5. User goes back to Yakread and sees the first email from The Sample. They can sign up for the recommended newsletter in one click, and they can view additional newsletter recommendations on demand.

There are a few easy things I could do to reduce friction in that process, like have the user's address be pre-filled in The Sample's subscribe form. I mean, I could even just auto-subscribe new Yakread users to The Sample. However, a benefit of linking to The Sample's landing page is that it gives the user an opportunity to practice signing up for a newsletter with their new address right away. I think that will be valuable for building a habit.

When I pivoted from The Sample to Yakread last August, I stopped developing the former and put it into maintenance mode. The Sample pays all my operational costs and then some, which has been wonderful, but I've hardly touched the code base in months, and I haven't had any plans for that to change.

But with this set up—a smart newsletter inbox provided by Yakread, and newsletter discovery provided by The Sample—I would probably work on the two apps in tandem indefinitely. The Sample would live on! I'd actually be able to justify doing some more algorithm work on it again.

This might be exactly what The Sample has needed all along. As a standalone product, The Sample works OK. But as a discovery service that you plug into a reading app to help new users find stuff to read? That is the perfect use-case for The Sample. For a long time I had wanted to target that use-case directly; i.e. build a discovery API/service for app developers to use. But there's just not enough demand for that kind of thing yet. The unbundled web ecosystem isn't mature enough.

Yakread is the solution: it can be The Sample's first client app, and maybe other reading apps will follow suit later.


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Got feedback?

If you've got an opinion about any of this, now would be a great time to tell me; otherwise I'll probably go full-steam-ahead for better or worse. For example:

  • Do you have a bunch of newsletter subscriptions? If so, does my example landing page copy above resonate? How would you describe Yakread if you were telling a friend about it?
  • Is the discover-random-blog-posts part of Yakread interesting/valuable to you? Would you be sad if I got rid of that for now? Would The Sample be a good substitute?
  • Would you be sad if I removed the bookmarks, RSS subscriptions, Twitter/Mastodon integrations, and ebooks? If I made a separate app for converting those things to email, would you use it (whether with Yakread or with your regular email address)?

I'm also probably going to set up some kind of automated survey for getting feedback. I have in the past (for The Sample and other products) emailed users directly asking for feedback, but almost no one ever replies. I get way more responses if I send a canned email that says "here's a link to a survey, fill it out if you want, thanks!" You're all a bunch of introverts I guess. (Though I doubt any of you are more introverted than me!) Honestly, even if people replied to my non-survey emails, I'd probably start out by asking a couple standard questions anyway, so it seems almost silly in retrospect that I didn't just go with surveys to begin with.

I have often even thrown in a little checkbox that says "Would you want to chat over Zoom some time if I have follow-up questions?", and a good chunk of people say yes. But the last time I did that, I never got around to scheduling any calls with anyone and I felt bad about it. I hope no one who clicked the checkbox felt snubbed. This time I'll just ask if I can send follow-up questions over email.

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Published 31 Jan 2023

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