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by Jacob O'Bryant

How to deal with short-form posts?

Welcome to my weekly newsletter about practical ways to make the Internet better, focused on my own work in that space. I'm Jacob O'Bryant.

Last week my mind was sucked into wondering how my ideal social media ecosystem would handle short-form posts. For a while my thinking has been that short-form posts simply don't need to be syndicated to a wide audience. Keep them within small, siloed communities like Discord servers, Slack workspaces, etc. If you want to reach a larger audience, write a blog post.

In this model, short-form posts are like bicycles (nimble and quick to get going, but only good for traveling short distances) and long-form posts are like airplanes (takes longer to get where you're going, but you can go a lot further). Email and RSS are like the network that connects airports. It's a nice model because email is already widely adopted and good at disseminating long-form content, and the messier problem of back-and-forth discussion can be swept under the rug.

I do still think that it's good enough if discussion—e.g. comments/replies to top-level posts—is handled within closed apps, tied to specific communities, with their own moderators. However, I am starting to think that there should still be a place for top-level short-form posts that are sent to an individual's audience, in the style of Twitter et. al.

So what's the simplest way to handle that via open protocols? Mastodon and Bluesky are relevant, but they're overkill for what I'm thinking about since they handle discussion instead of just one-way publishing.

I previously proposed that discussion apps like Discord etc. could publish RSS feeds, and your blog/newsletter publishing app could aggregate the feeds from all the communities you're in. Finally, RSS readers could auto-discover these feeds based on the newsletters you've already subscribed to, and they could be presented in some format amenable to short-form posts. I still think it's an interesting idea to work towards, but it introduces a heavy coordination burden: it requires new features from three different kinds of apps, and end users have to connect their discussion communities to their publishing app.

Last week I arrived at an idea which I think is a bit more realistic: publishing apps should support short-form posts natively and bundle them into regular newsletter posts for you.

So in the same app where you'd normally write a blog post, there's also a "compose tweet/toot/skeet" box. Short-form posts will be published to your website + RSS feed immediately whenever you write them, and they'll also be asynchronously sent out to your mailing list. For example, every Thursday your publishing app could take all the posts you've published during the past week and send them out in a single email. If your subscribers click on any of the posts, they'll be signed into your website at which point they can reply etc.

I love this idea because it works with email and RSS as they are now, so reader apps don't need to do anything different. People who subscribe with Gmail will get your posts weekly, and those who subscribe with Yakread or other RSS readers will get them more frequently. Only publishing apps need to support additional features. And even then, early adopters don't have to wait around: you can always just copy and paste links to your short-form posts—wherever they may be—into your weekly newsletter. Here are some of my recent posts, to demonstrate (you'll need to join the Discord forum for most of these links to work):

Another Yakread overhaul. Gary Chou on self-sufficiency Explaining tech's notion of talent scarcity by Nadia Asparouhova. Short-form postin' and does microblogging matter (pre-cursors to this post). Institutions for supporting exploratory work. The annual productivity post. Why the answer is so often ads. Matter inbox updates.

And finally... what would Yakread look like as a full social media client? Perhaps a good subject for next week's newsletter.


Published 1 May 2023

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