Last week I started building a reader app. I expect to have the first version ready this week. I'm calling it "Yakread."

So far I've made this "Connections" page. You can connect to various kinds of content sources, and then Yakread will merge it all into one feed. Currently Yakread supports email newsletters, RSS, and Pocket bookmarks. For my own use, I also plan to add Twitter, Hacker News, Reddit, and ebooks. And then I'll add any other sources that are requested enough by users.

The "Read" page (which I'll add this week) will start out by showing five links, selected from your content sources. We'll use some kind of ranking algorithm to pick the links. The flow will be:

  1. Yakread narrows down the reading choice to five links.
  2. You pick the one you feel like reading the most right now.
  3. Yakread displays the link's contents within the read page, so you can read the article/whatever it is without leaving the app.
  4. Yakread adds some doodads below the article: thumbs up/thumbs down buttons; links to any discussions of the article that Yakread could find (e.g. on Twitter/Reddit/Hacker News); and a little text box where you can write some notes if you want.
  5. Finally, underneath the doodads, there will be another list of five links. Repeat from step #1.

And of course, Yakread will use your feedback—primarily which links you click and any thumbs up/thumbs down ratings you give—to improve its ranking algorithm.

Yakread will combine items or split up items as needed so that each article/whatever ends up being a good size for this format. For example, a single tweet would be too small, so we'd batch a bunch of those together somehow (e.g. "@tim's tweets from yesterday", as shown in the wireframe above). In the case of an ebook, we'd split it up into a number of chapters or sections (and Yakread would make sure to show them in the correct order, so you don't get recommended chapter 10 before you've read chapter 1).

Finally, the History page will show a list of the articles you've read (and any notes you wrote), and it'll have a section to show the ones you thumbs-upped. Should be handy for sharing them later in your own newsletter.

For now, I'm not going to worry about growing Yakread at all in terms of users. I might not even let other people sign up yet. I want to keep my focus on making Yakread a good experience for myself. After I'm sufficiently happy with it, then I'll start growing it. I'll give it a push, but the ultimate goal here is to see if it can grow consistently on its own. I want to make sure that the product is legitimately useful for other people and that it has strong retention metrics.

Only if and when that's been accomplished will I start to monetize it and attempt to speed up growth. I'll probably have one out of the five links be an advertisement. Maybe I'll add a paid plan that has more features and no advertisements. Eventually, if things are going well, I think it'd also be interesting to do some kind of tight integration with paid newsletters. I'm not sure exactly what that would look like (bundles? affiliate fees?), but in general I'd like Yakread to help increase the number of dollars that go to writers. Maybe when you sign up for a paid newsletter we could throw in a subscription to Yakread Pro (or whatever we call Yakread's paid plan).

And finally: I'd like any network-type features of Yakread to be provided by The Sample. For example, perhaps when you sign up for Yakread, your @yakread.com address gets subscribed to The Sample as well. So even if you haven't set up any content source connections yet, you can get newsletter recommendations right away from The Sample. Advertisements could be done through The Sample too.

This would help fulfill my original vision for The Sample, which has been to create a network that's independent of whatever publishing tools or reading apps you use. Google is a good analogy: it's a standalone search engine that works with any website (no matter where it's published) and with any web browser. Often Google is the default search engine in your web browser, but you can go into the settings and switch it out if you want.

In the same vein, I'd like The Sample to be the default "discovery provider" for Yakread. If someone else makes a reader app and wants the same discovery features, they can also use The Sample as a discovery provider. And if someone makes a different discovery provider, you can go into your Yakread settings and use that instead of The Sample. I hope this will bring more competition and innovation to the social media landscape.