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by Jacob O'Bryant

I am still alive

Welcome to my sporadic newsletter about improving the information environment... and whatever else I happen to be thinking about. I'm Jacob O'Bryant.

Hey! It's been a while. My weekly writing habit didn't survive my getting a job; on the bright side, my bank account has been faring much better. I've decided to start drafting posts on my phone while my kids take their bath in the evening.

So my tools-for-online-speech work has been on hold. It turns out I have time for exactly one side project, and that's been Biff. In the mean time I've been mulling over various schemes for how to make progress on all my projects. I thought about paying other people to work on my apps, but ultimately decided to wait until after I have a paid-off house before I go into that territory.

Currently I'm hoping to be able to work on Yakread and other apps in tandem with Biff. Since Yakread is built with Biff, it would make a pretty good real-world example/showcase project for people learning Biff. On top of that, since my full-time occupation no longer consists of working on my own apps, I think it's important that I find some time to keep building things with Biff instead of just working on Biff itself, for the sake of dogfooding. And besides, what's the point of making a sweet web framework if you never build anything with it?

So I'm confident that sooner or later I'll be able to squeeze in some time at least for Yakread. And of course there's always the wait-until-your-kids-are-slightly-older-so-you-have-more-time strategy, which I am pursuing in tandem. (They're 1 and 3 currently).

Having already written a handful of think pieces on unbundling social media, I haven't yet felt much need to write more. I still like the vision I've already outlined—I'd just like to spend more time on implementation, as discussed above. I think about this from two angles: what do I want for myself, and what do I think has the best chance of actually growing? What do other people need?

Yakread is certainly in the first category. I use it every day and love it, even though there are still a bunch of improvements I'd like to make. However, while I'm not the only user[1], I no longer think that a better reader app is the best next step towards bringing an unbundled social media ecosystem to the masses.

Instead, I think a better discussion app is the way to go. It's 2024, and all the options for setting up an online community still seem... not great? The one I like the most is Discourse, but it still doesn't match up super well with all my needs.

First of all, there's no free version (its single-tenant architecture makes that impractical), and it has a ton of knobs and dials. Maybe not a big deal for my own community—I've already set it up—but I also want lots of other people to start communities that I can join, so the ideal discussion platform has to have an easy-to-set-up free plan.

On top of that, it feels a bit "heavy"—creating a post on Discourse feels like a more significant action than it does on most chat apps, and that limits the number of posts that get written. Same goes for the sign-up process.

Ultimately, I want something that:

  • is lightweight enough to be used as an alternative to posting on social media, yet powerful enough to handle large communities
  • encourages any type of communication, whether it's quick back-and-forth chat or ongoing async discussion
  • works great with email: sends out automatic email digests like Discourse, and lets new members sign up and leave their first comment at the same time by putting in their email address
  • lets you export a list of your members' email addresses, same as you can do with any newsletter platform

Will I start building this in the foreseeable future? No. But it's fun to think about!

Thanks for reading. Hit reply or chat with me on the forum.



[1] One of my favorite pieces of feedback I've received: "I love Yakread. So much better than the old Google reader, and it was good."

Published 20 Jan 2024

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