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The social networks want to hijack newsletters

Hey newsletter creators, editors, experts, nerds and writers, Mark here from Revue with issue #18 of
The week in
A weekly update for newsletter editors and audience managers, sent every Tuesday morning in the US, afternoon in Europe, and evening in Asia.
Hey newsletter creators, editors, experts, nerds and writers,
Mark here from Revue with issue #18 of The week in newsletters 💌
I received lots of great feedback again on last week’s issue about newsletters that have been shut down by their authors. It’s really amazing how much great information an active community can surface. See below for some of the best examples that I had missed last week. And do keep that feedback coming ↩️
While those newsletters are gone, there are lots of amazing new ones created every day. And guess who is trying to join the party? That’s right. The social networks. LinkedIn is beta testing newsletter functionality and Facebook is experimenting. Read on for what that looks like.
But first things first…
More amazing newsletters that were shut down
I had researched last week’s issue quite thoroughly and was happy with the examples I had found of newsletters that have been shut down by their authors: Lenny, Recharged, and Clover Letter.
Then I hit “send” and the feedback started coming in. Honestly, the examples were even better than mine, so I had to include them in today’s issue 🥇
  • Today in Tabs, a snarky daily newsletter by programmer Rusty Foster. It was started in 2013 as one of the earliest adopters of the reemergence of newsletters. It was republished to Newsweek and faded away after 180 issues in 2014. Caroline O'Donovan wrote a great profile for NiemanLab.
  • Links I Would Gchat You if We Were Friends by Caitlin Dewey. “Links” was a weekly newsletter that rounded up the best of the week’s Internet chatter each Thursday. The profile page says “The new Links is currently under construction. Something new is coming soon!”, so maybe this one will come back.
  • Matt Levine’s Top 50, music charts created by a bored teenager and shared on Google Groups with an email notification. Ernie Smith wrote about the entire history of this incredible newsletter.
Can social networks do newsletters?
Apparently they’re trying…
LinkedIn started beta testing newsletters a few weeks ago. It seems that the beta program is invite-only, so I have not been able to test its authoring functionality.
I did manage to subscribe to some newsletters and learned a few things. Here are some links if you want to try out the experience yourself:
The first thing you notice is that readers subscribe via a subscribe button. Super easy, but it also means that subscribers need to be on LinkedIn and that LinkedIn has full control over the audience.
Newsletters are published in the LinkedIn feed as well as by email. The LinkedIn newsletter FAQ talked about email “notifications” only but to me it looks just like a regular email distribution.
Newsletter notification emails make it easier for Newsletter subscribers to access and share articles. You can read the article in your inbox or you can read it on LinkedIn by clicking on the article headline or the Join the Conversation button at the bottom of the email.
Here’s an example of a newsletter I received in my inbox:
So overall my feeling is that LinkedIn is trying to create the impression of a regular email newsletter by sending it to inboxes while maintaining control of the audience as you would expect from a social network.
LinkedIn has had this functionality for a while and it used to be called “Series”. It’s now been rebranded and made look a bit more like a regular newsletter. It will be interesting to see if it takes off, but I know that most newsletter authors are sceptical. If anything they have learnt that ceding control to social media algorithms is dangerous.
While discussing LinkedIn’s newsletter push, I found out that Facebook is experimenting with newsletters, too.
Mike Isaac wrote about Facebooks “New Product Experimentation Team” in the NY Times:
Facebook is exploring the creation of new products such as apps and programs for podcasts, travel, workplace services and newsletter tools, according to three people with the knowledge of the company’s plans, as it looks to expand out of its comfort zone.
There are few details other than an FAQ published by Facebook in July when they created the team. According to the FAQ the objective was to create more room for experimentation than would have been possible under the Facebook name:
We decided to create this separate developer name to help set the appropriate expectations with people that, unlike Facebook’s family of apps, NPE Team apps will change very rapidly and will be shut down if we learn that they’re not useful to people.
The projects of the NPE team seem to be extensions of Facebook’s current apps, and newsletters are clearly an interesting direction:
Early ideas include breaking into the travel industry and planning itineraries and things to do, as well as combining travel activities with the most “Instagrammable” locations in an area, one of the people said. Other concepts have focused on “neighborhood” communities, tools for creating newsletters and fact-checking “fake news,” and apps for vehicles.
So nothing specific yet, but something to keep an eye on.
The week in newsletters
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Mark from Revue

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