I've been out of full-time technology journalism for a year now, and one consistent complaint I've heard from people is this: there's too much news, and too much of it is rubbish.
If you look at the homepage of any news website, let alone technology ones, you'll know this to be true: there are now torrents of words every few minutes to read, and if you're not constantly checking in you'll almost certainly miss some "big" story as it gets buried underneath the incoming torrent of new stories.
For about two years now I've been mulling an idea: what about the opposite of a technology publication? What if there was a way to get everything that matters from each day at the start of the next one, so you're best informed?
When I looked into this two years ago it seemed like an interesting idea, but not particularly easy to execute on: email tools like Mailchimp are optimized for marketing, not rich content like on the web.
It was obvious I had to build something, but I wasn't sure I wanted to and didn't have the time (back then, at least). Fast-forward to mid-2017, and I found myself with enough free time on a vacation to hack together a prototype: a tiny application that did three simple things:
- Create rich web content, but automagically render it down into an email-friendly format and send it
- Offer user accounts for building a community
- Integrate both of those things into a newsletter that built the community and combined the best of the discussions that are had there
As more and more sites have ditched comments, I've started to miss the nuance that would come from reading them.
Sure, most comment threads are trash, but when you find a nugget of gold in there it often gives you more context than you'd have gotten from the story alone and I think other people enjoyed that too.
I think news organizations missed something critical that's changing when they got rid of comments: community is powerful, and it's not just about the news anymore. People don't want just one point of view, and there's a reason private Slack communities are exploding.
Twitter, Facebook et al are a race to the bottom where followers, algorithms and other things matter. Comments, at least ten years ago, meant nobody online could know if you were a dog — and that element of not competing for attention is what made them so great.
re:Charged is an attempt at making a different way to consume news, free of advertising, algorithms optimizing to trick you into clicking and with an active community of smart people discussing things on a daily basis.
For this, there's actually two components I had to actually build*, since they didn't exist:
- The newsletter itself, and how that would work
- The web application that ties it all together, generates the newsletter and handles subscription/identity
If you subscribe to re:Charged you'll be shown a dashboard with your benefits and a rich web version of the latest newsletters. These aren't crappy newsletter templates, they're full-fidelity and the newsletter is generated from there for these versions.
Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and other newsletter tools are optimized for marketing not content, and it shows. I built an alternative behind the scenes that generates email-friendly versions of rich content, and links it all together with the community.
At some point in the future I'm hoping to open up the platform to other newsletters and content creators who want to build their own subscription model, and the future of news together, but for now I'm focusing on making it the best experience for Charged subscribers.
My goal with re:Charged is simple: save you the mental load of reading news, filtering out clickbait and blocking advertising. I cut through all that noise for you, and put it into your inbox. Along with that there's a rich community, free of trolls, because we're all paying to be a part of it.
That means there's a cost, which I'm aware won't appeal to everyone: lots of people aren't willing to pay for news, but this is a bet that people are willing to pay to get their time back. I don't need 100,000 subscribers, I just need 1,000 to make this thing work.
It's still early, and there's still a ton of rough edges, but it works. I've delivered more than 50 issues to 160+ subscribers in beta, and it's time to take this thing wider.
I hope you'll join me on this adventure, and if you'd like to, you can sign up here today.
* - Ironically, Patreon solves some of these problems with their new developer platform, however I'm not convinced the Kickstarter-style way is always the answer.