17 Oct 2022

It's Working [Anakin emoji]

I'm Jacob O'Bryant, maker of Yakread and other tools for online speech. I write about practical ways to make the internet better.

I'm writing this post on my phone with a bluetooth keyboard that my wife has had laying around forever and it's awesome. Makes it super easy to write blog posts and such while I'm sitting on the couch watching my daughter.

Downside: sometimes I shift position and my phone slams forward onto the keys. Also I need to see if I can swap the caps lock and control keys (I use ctrl-backspace a lot for deleting words).

This is extra relevant since our second daughter will be born in a couple days (it's a scheduled c-section), after which being able to write stuff while supervising the offspring will be even more useful than it already is.

My reading-thinking-writing workflow has improved a lot over the past six months or so. Since building Platypub, I've had a convenient place to do all my publishing with 100% control of all the details.

For example, I tried getting into Ghost, but no single-opt-in is simply a deal breaker for me. I started out using double opt-in for The Sample, but around 30% of people never clicked the confirmation link. I use invisible reCAPTCHA for bot detection, so I can filter out automated signups without forcing people to click on pictures of tractors and such, and that's been working great. If you publish on Ghost or any other platform which only supports double opt-in, might I suggest submitting a feature request so you can at least see how many people fill out the sign up form but don't click the confirmation email? I know many people feel strongly about using double opt-in, but even so IMO you should at least be able to see the statistics. See also Why Single Opt-In? (Mailchimp).

So yeah, the reading-thinking-writing workflow thing: I'm super happy with Platypub for publishing, and Yakread has had a similar effect on my reading. I actually read stuff now! It's awesome! Even books! I mentioned last week that I've started using the TFOS forum as a place to write down notes in public, and that's been marvelous for helping me to develop my ideas before I'm ready to sit down and write them up in a blog post. (Maybe this is how a lot of people use Roam/Obsidian/et al? I've never been much into note taking previously, but maybe I just needed to find the write format.)

For instance, the other day I read an article which I had previously bookmarked (!): The Age of Algorithmic Anxiety (The New Yorker). It's highly relevant to my work and IMO gives a fair critique of algorithmic recommendations instead of spreading FUD. (I appreciated that the author actually uses the term "recommender system"—I believe it's the first article I've read in this genre to do so.) Prompted by that, I started writing up some notes for a blog post I've been wanting to write for a long time (working title is "In Defense of Recommendation").

Yesterday I started thinking that perhaps the next step is for me to get into a habit of periodically (once per month?) writing a blog post that's intended for a wider audience beyond just all of you who have already bumped into my work in one way or another.

As a little background—several months ago whilst pondering how my marketing funnel thing should work, I decided that I'd prefer to reach new people via my products first and then show this weekly newsletter to them afterwards. In other words, my writing is focused on building a deeper connection to people who have already tried out The Sample/Yakread/any other stuff I build; it is not currently focused on trying to introduce people to those projects in the first place.

(If you're reading this, I hope you've felt a connection, or something!)

But now I believe it's time to do both. I think it would be very helpful for my work/career in general if I can develop a writing habit which continually brings new people into my little tools-for-online-speech universe. If I can get that running more-or-less on autopilot, then the time I spend building things will be much higher leverage. I'd love to be head-down building stuff and writing stuff all the time without pausing so often to think about what I should do to market my work.

That's also important because growing my own products isn't my sole end goal: I also want to influence the development of other peoples' products and help them to grow. Public goods and all that.


Last week I mostly got sucked into working on infrastructure, so no big new features. I did tweak Yakread's algorithm so it recommends book chapters more often (if you've uploaded any ebooks) and so it's a bit more biased towards picking newsletters/feeds that you've liked in the past.

Notes I've written last week in the TFOS forum:

Yakread Roadmap:

  1. Add Instapaper integration
  2. Support PDF uploads
  3. Handle non-English recommendations
  4. Take a look at commonly recommended items; tweak algorithm if needed
  5. Merge Findka Essays
  6. Add cross-platform recommendations; use as growth strategy
  7. Work on writing habit for use as top-of-funnel marketing (as discussed in this post)
  8. Set up ad system (like The Sample's paid forwards, but for Yakread)
  9. Set up referral system (like The Sample's cross-promotion forwards, but for simplicity it'll just give you advertising credit)
  10. Start advertising Yakread in other newsletters

Below you'll see a button which links to a Discord invite. It no longer works; I disabled it because it started getting abused by a spammer. I can't yet be bothered to update the button, or set up some kind of request-for-invite form, but in the meantime, reply to this email if you'd like to join and I'll send you the link. (And if you subsequently post invites to NSFW Discord servers, I'll put coal in your stockings.)

Practical steps towards a better internet.
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