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by Jacob O'Bryant

Healthy, low-prep information meals

My aspiration for Yakread is to have it be default app you check whenever you have some time to read. Social media apps are good at this, but part of how they do it is by giving you primarily short-form content. Chips instead of salad, to make a food analogy. Tech is good at making things easier, but it doesn't always make the right things easy. How can Yakread give people a healthier media diet while providing the same level of convenience as traditional social media?

To address that, I try to pay attention to my own habits and think about why I'm drawn to do certain things and not others. Recently I noticed that I still had a tendency to open Twitter directly before going to Yakread, so last week I made some updates to Yakread's home feed to fix that.

First, I changed the way that links are chosen. Previously, you always got a batch of five links. They could be anything: articles, book chapters, or bundles of tweets. (If you're new to Yakread, here's an explainer of how that works). Now, the five links will only include articles (both bookmarks and newsletter/RSS posts). If you've connected your Twitter account, then you'll get an additional link that says "Recent posts on Twitter." Similarly, if you've uploaded any ebooks, you'll get an additional link for a chapter to read.

For example, see the last two links on my current home feed (the second-to-last refers to Steven Pinker's book, Rationality):

This way, the home feed is guaranteed to always have a variety of content. If you need your Twitter fix, you can always get it from Yakread with a click or two; if not, there will still be a nice selection of longer-form things to read.

The second change I made is that tweets are selected at the moment you click the link, not before. Previously, when you went to the home feed, the "recent tweets" link would often be several hours to a day old. Now the tweets are guaranteed to be fresh, like when your McFries are prepared right after you place your order. Yakread's algorithm will still show you tweets that are up to 48 hours old, but the pool of tweets it selects from will always be up-to-date.

With these changes, I've found that when I'm in the mood to doomscroll, I'm perfectly happy to do it by opening Yakread first. And after I'm through with Yakread's selection of 35 tweets, my urge to read tweets is usually satisfied, and it thus feels very natural to pick an article or book chapter from the next batch of links. It's like starting out your meal with an appetizer.

Oh, and another tiny tweak I made: the "continue reading" section (shown in the screenshot above) will only get updated when you start reading a new article or book chapter, not when you start reading tweets. So if you're halfway through reading an article and the next day you decide to start out with some tweets, then your unfinished article will still be waiting for you.

That last one in particular is a small change, but it's the little things that make a difference.

Yakread Roadmap

This week I'm going to start out with another handful of small design tweaks for the home feed, in the same vein as above. Besides that, my TODO list is as follows:

Mastodon and Discord integrations (so the Twitter link on your home feed will change to say "Recent posts from Twitter, Mastodon, and Discord", if you so choose). I'm actually not 100% sure that Discord's API lets you fetch all the posts from servers you've joined... but I think it does? We'll see!

Article excerpts/summaries beneath each of the links in your home feed. One problem here is that lots of articles don't provide good excerpts in their metadata—but my spiritual advisor tells me that GPT-3's API is now available to the public and might do a great job at text summarization.

Along with that, I'll experiment with a fancier looking card UI for each of the links so that they're more inviting ("cliiick me!").

Various doodads. I'll add an "Upload PDF" button to the "Read later" page, so you can have PDFs mixed into your home feed. Not sure if I'll include an embedded PDF viewer or if I'll just display a button that opens the PDF in another tab/app.

I also want to add a form to the "Books" page where you can enter in a list of links. Yakread will compile a "book" for you, where each link is a different chapter. Useful if you find a collection of articles that you want to read in order (like this).

I'll also throw in notes and highlights (and a Readwise integration), and a "Download your data" button for the settings page since it was requested.

That'll be enough to keep me busy for the next couple weeks, and then I've got:

  • Notification system. Select newsletters and RSS feeds for which you'd like to receive a notification whenever there's a new post. Also, if possible, aggregate notifications from Twitter, Mastodon, and Discord in one place. Maybe even support search alerts, like "show me a notification whenever one of my articles is posted to Twitter/Reddit/etc."
  • Sharing features, as discussed previously.
  • Growth!

I'm really hoping to get to "growth" within the next month.


What's Really Holding Women Back? (Harvard Business Review). Someone linked to this in the latest how-much-should-you-work Twitter fight. See also Rules of Productivity and Work hard / work smart.

Anti-technical bias (Alex Lynham). "[S]o many guitarists who’ve never bothered to learn how to shred will dismiss playing fast as masturbatory, as un-melodic, or even as unskilled," and "[I often] see folks in tech circles just hand-wavingly dismissing ‘coding’ or ‘tech’ or ‘programming’ skills across the board, in a sweeping fashion." (Unrelatedly, Alex's consulting page is excellent.)

The great unbundling is already happening (Garbage Day). Big social media platforms are out, lots of smaller ones are in. I'm betting on/trying to encourage this trend with Yakread.

On Emily Oster's Covid Feelings Amnesty (Resident Contrarian). A response to this essay. "I’d like to know that I’m not establishing a standard that lets Oster and Co. acquire infinitely reusable get-out-of-trouble-free cards to use working against my interests while I get nothing in return." Being center-left myself, my initial reaction to the subject essay was "seems pretty reasonable I guess?", but RC did make me think about it more deeply. (That being said, RC is a bass player, so you should update your priors accordingly.)

David Shor's Unified Theory of American Politics (New York Magazine). An interview from 2020. "Mitt Romney and Donald Trump agreed on basically every issue, as did Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. And yet, a bunch of people changed their votes. And the reason that happened was because the salience of various issues changed."

Published 14 Nov 2022

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