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by Jacob O'Bryant

RSS is great for recommendations

There are two main open protocols for subscribing to newsletters and such: email and RSS. They each have their pros and cons—they're complementary.

Email has the benefit of massive adoption by end users. Everyone knows what email is and how it works; you can put an email signup form on your website and you don't have to explain what it is. Few people know what RSS is. So if you've got a blog, while an RSS feed is nice to provide and highly recommended, an email signup form is essential if you want to make it easy for anyone to subscribe.

But! Email is a royal pain in the posterior if you're building a reading app. Email signup forms are made for humans, not bots. People go out of their way to make sure bots can't use them (rightly so)! If you want users of your reading app to be able to subscribe to an email newsletter, you can't provide a nice little "subscribe" button in your app. You gotta make them go to the external site, put in their address, then come back and possibly click a confirmation link. Many friction, much drop in funnel conversion rates.

So that's why I've used RSS to build Yakread's fancy new search-and-recommendations feature!

(Right now the recommendations are all hand-picked. Doing something algorithmic theoretically would make sense but wouldn't be a point of leverage at current stage. Search is provided by Feedly's API which surprisingly did not even require me to create an API token.)

This gets shown on a new "Subscriptions" page, as well as during the onboarding flow for new users. The goal is to help people get some subscriptions into Yakread as quickly and easily as possible—thanks to RSS, this can be as frictionless as following someone on Twitter.

Whereas if you're surfing the web and you happen across someone's newsletter that you'd like to follow, it's just fundamentally more convenient to put in your email address right there than to copy the URL and subscribe with RSS. And I doubt that will ever change. Publishers should focus on email, clients should focus on RSS.

Recent threads on the Discord forum (you'll need to join for these links to work):

And I guess another little update is that I redid Yakread's landing page.

Published 10 Apr 2023

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