20 Dec 2022

Cross-platform RSS recommendations on Yakread

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 have just added an RSS-based recommendation feature to Yakread. If you sign in and go to the share page, you can select a few of your favorite blogs/newsletters. Then you'll get a spiffy recommendations page you can share with all your friends (wink wink):

Those are screenshots of my own recommendations page over at yakread.com/u/jacob. When someone subscribes, they'll be signed up for Yakread, and the publications they've kept selected will be added to their subscriptions. For anyone who already uses a different RSS reader, there's a "Download OPML" link (more on that below).

Currently you can recommend publications by copy and pasting in their URLs. At some point I'd like to add some search functionality to make this easier, at least for things that you already subscribe to.

It works with any publication that has an RSS feed, which means you can recommend pretty much anyone, no matter what platform they're on. My recommendations above include one hosted on Ghost, one hosted on Substack, and one which is self-hosted.

You can also see how many new subscribers you've referred to each publication and how many of those subscribers were new to Yakread. Out of a desire to get people to refer their friends to Yakread pure gratitude, I'm planning to give people advertising credit (and/or perhaps premium Yakread subscriptions? Or stickers?) in return for sending referrals. Cross-promotion, in effect: if you refer new subscribers to Yakread, you can advertise your newsletter (or whatever) for free to other Yakread users. (This will go into effect after Yakread actually has ads + premium plans in a week or three.)

Besides these two obvious motivations—I want to help people share writers they like, and I want to get more users for Yakread—I had a third reason for building this recommendations feature: I want to persuade the developers of other reading apps to do the same.

RSS for everyone

As I discussed last week, I think the world needs more and better reading apps. These reading apps shouldn't care where a piece of content is published—you should be able to subscribe to anyone, on any website. Email can do this, and it's already mainstream. That's a big reason email newsletters have become so popular. However, email has some technical limitations that make it difficult to work with if you're trying to develop a reading app. RSS is a much nicer foundation technically speaking, but RSS readers don't have anywhere near the level of adoption that email clients enjoy today.

To help fix that, Yakread recommendations provide a method of growth which can be implemented by any RSS reader:

  1. Let your existing users create recommendation pages with their favorite RSS feeds.
  2. Let new users sign up for your app and subscribe to the recommended feeds at the same time.
  3. Send new users a daily digest email to help them transition their reading habits from their inbox to your app.
  4. Kickstart recommendations by rewarding users for the new signups they send you.
  5. Do all this without requiring users to know what RSS is.

Will this actually move the needle? I sure hope so, and I'll publish my results in the future. I can at least say that a similar cross-promotion feature has driven 20% of signups for The Sample.

There's a 6th step which won't directly contribute to growth but which I hope anyone who implements this does anyway:

  1. Provide a smooth experience for those who want to subscribe to recommendations with a different RSS reader.

As mentioned above, Yakread recommendations include a "Download OPML" link for this purpose. It respects the checkboxes, so the file will only include feeds which haven't been deselected. Honestly, that's probably all that's needed—but as an experiment, Yakread's recommendation pages also include some metadata that looks like this:

<link type="application/recommendations+xml" href="https://yakread.com/u/jacob/feeds.opml" rel="alternate" title="Jacob's recommendations">

Any app that lets users open/do things with arbitrary web pages (e.g. via browser extension, mobile app share menu, copy and paste...) can detect the OPML file and display it on the app's own recommendation page. Yakread supports this already as a proof-of-concept. Fun fact for fellow nerds: https://yakread.com/u/jacob is actually just an alias for https://yakread.com/subscribe?opml=https://yakread.com/u/jacob/feeds.opml!

Maybe the right approach is to replace "Download OPML" with a "Subscribe with a different app" link. That page would then have a "Download OPML" link along with some instructions, like "here's an example of how to open these recommendations in [some other RSS reader]."

Discuss this post on the tools-for-online-speech Discord server.

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