A few weeks ago I mentioned Craig Mod‘s occasional email newsletter, Roden Explorers Club. I love Craig and his ambitious ideas and attention to detail. He’s a dreamer, but a bloody focussed one when he needs to be.
So that’s why I especially enjoy his email newsletters. I follow him on Twitter and a few other networks (including one he founded, naturally), but there’s something very special about the medium of email that just won’t go away.
Another more personal ‘word-in-your-ear’ email newsletter is occasionally sent out by author Robin Sloan. His emails are well-written, delightfully nerdy, and very embracing of the medium itself.
I suppose it’s quite an archaic medium, and in this current generation of the web and communications tools, email feels like a pretty good analogue to letters and parcels in terms of intimacy and personality.
Of course, email newsletters in the main are often no more personalised than a circular leaflet shoved through your letterbox. But when skilfully and carefully crafted, they can really sweep you up in an idea or a way of thinking and seeing things. It’s like a whisper to one side; as personal a note as you’re going to get from someone who simply wouldn’t have time to deliver such a note personally.
Some email newsletters are more like a blog – public, and written in very much the same way as a blog entry. Indeed, some email newsletters are literally just an alternative way to receive blog updates.
But over the past few months I’ve taken stock of some of the email newsletters that delight me whenever I receive them, and they’re not all alike. And, interestingly, there seems to be a bit of a renaissance in the medium of late.
Likeminded individuals – who are as happy blurting witticisms into the echo chamber of Twitter et al – are increasingly finding the time to pull together some thoughts, images and links that they feel like a smaller audience with the time to digest them might get a kick out of.
Some of the best and most ‘mainstream’ email newsletters are simply a collection of interesting links to recent stuff found on the web. Examples like The Daily Digg and NextDraft are a pretty decent way to stay abreast of recent happenings on the web, all the way from mainstream, headline news to weirdly niche YOU HAVE TO SEE THISes and pictures of cats.
Others, like Alexis Madrigal’s daily 5 Intriguing Things try to surprise and delight in their novelty and height of brow.
Also in this category, and a large part of the inspiration for this post, is one such semi-daily cavalcade of interesting stuff, Etcetera, lovingly assembled by my buddy Matthew. His latest update included stuff on Steve Albini, Spotify and last.fm, which all ticked my boxes – although in general he talks more broadly about topics like science, technology, history and sociology. Smart bastard.
Some other newsletters I enjoy receiving are more in the blog-post-as-email category – but something about receiving it to my inbox means I might give it more than a moment’s glance in my daily swipe-through of a hundred or so RSS feeds.
One final email newsletter oddity that’s well worth your time is the daily updated Listserve. Quite simply, everyone who subscribes receives a daily email from one other subscriber, chosen at random. There’s currently 25,000 or so. Sometimes the variety of senders can be refreshing, and at other times the lives of complete strangers can feel reassuringly familiar.
Recent ListServe senders have prompted me to exchange a few emails with a librarian from Michigan, tell someone from Salt Lake City about my daily routine, and one even made me join them and their buddies’ IRC chatroom for a few evenings. In truth, I’m terrified that one day I’ll be chosen and have to send an email to 25,000 people. I have no idea what I’d say. But until then I’ll just continue to enjoy this little window into the lives of random strangers.