Loose Articles

a blog by Josh Dzielak

picture of Josh

Hi, I'm Josh, an engineer and entrepreneur living in San Francisco. I write about code, companies, and ideas. I work at Keen IO.
Find me on twitter and github.

No FOMO – Why newsletters are making a comeback

Welcome to 2014. The amount of content on social networks continues to explode beyond the capability of tools available to tailor and filter it. The extra noise blocks out valuable signal. Within every block of loosely-relevant tweets hides a highly relevant one, and too often we miss it.

Algorithm vs. Interface

This is frustrating. But what frustrates me more is that most companies are trying to solve this problem at the algorithm level rather than the interface level. Instead of getting tools you get recommendations.

Algorithms are achieving widely-touted local-maximums, like Eugune “passing” the Turing Test, but that doesn’t mean the average person’s life is improving any more than if they tried to achieve Her-like intimacy with Eugene the Chatbot:

Picture of Eugene

Not how I pictured ‘Her’



The increase in social media noise in absence of filtering tools is why I’m happy to see some of my friends going back to the newsletter publishing model. I sign up, and I get an email at some frequency pushed to my inbox, where it remains until I address it.

Keep Calm and NO FOMO

Newsletters are active, not passive. I get the email even if I don’t check my email. Contrast that with Twitter, where not checking means missing. Heck, on Twitter, checking often still means missing plenty.

On the other hand, the email model does require that every message be dealt with. That is work. But for high-signal content like a great newsletter I’ll happily trade away FOMO for the occasional maintenance.

Let me tie this back to my earlier comments.

I’m a fan of giving people tools to control their own information destiny instead of trying to guess it for them. And as the tools and interfaces for working with inbound information get better it’s possible to widen the floodgates; to receive more without losing more.

Achieving inbox zero has gotten easier because of improvements in interfaces not algorithms. I have a swipe-to-act mobile mail app that makes postponing or archiving mail fast and easy. I have gmail filters. As a result I’m willing to let the world fire more at my inbox for the benefit of missing less.

Because email’s interface has gotten more advanced, subscribing to newsletters is proving to be a better system for me than checking Prismatic, creating Twitter lists, or tuning Facebook feeds. (Though I do think Prismatic is excellent for what it tries to do.)

In the long run I’ll bet on algorithms, but if I was solving this today I’ve be picking the low-hanging but very juicy fruit. I’d be hacking on interfaces that allow humans to do what humans are good at – determining relevancy in the blink of an eye.

My recent subscriptions

There are 6 newsletters I signed up for recently that ultimately inspired me to dash out this post. Allow me to acknowledge them:

  • Weissblog – Justin is a friend of mine from college and has been using Ruby & Rails since 2004. His latest post, Tips for Finding Rails Blogs at Your Level, is actually about finding signal in a blogosphere of noise.
  • Jon Gold’s Newsletter – Freelancer Jon Gold is using a newsletter for a totally different purpose: to tell you when he’s ready to take on his next gig.
  • gitat.me – Covers a broad array of open source projects, and the posts are short and to the point. Once a week, curated by my Twitter friend @nealrs.
  • The Endeavor – From the brilliant John D. Cook. Some of the math goes over my head, but the use of clever analogies like jigsaw puzzles makes sure any post is a proper thought experiment.
  • Crypto-gram – This one needs no introduction. Author Bruce Schneier is a premier security expert. Every commentary is clear, consise, and accessible to non-security experts.
  • Mattermark Daily – Hand-curated enrepreneurial content broken out into clear sections so you can quickly jump to what you’re interested in.

I also have subscribed recently to a few personal, private newsletters targeted at friends and family. Their authors see these as an alternative to Facebook or blogging, focused on creating 1:1 replies instead a stream of likes and comments in the semi-public forum. I’ve really enjoyed this format, and I think I’ve replied to every one of their posts so far with something to add.

Day 13 Open Source Update and Keen IO Milestone

Today is Day 13 of my 365-day Github contribution streak. I’m happy to say it’s going well, and I’ve already learned a lot.

Day 13 Streak Picture

I wrote a post yesterday on the Keen IO blog about what happened on Day 12. The post talks about my experience so far and announces a new command-line tool for Keen that emerged out of making just the one commit I needed for that day. (Well, I thought it’d be just one commit.)

Read the post for a quick tour of the tool, or head over to keenlabs/keen-cli on Github and see installation and usage instructions.

I’d also like to take a moment and highlight another post on the Keen IO blog. Today we announced a major milestone for our company. We’ve partnered with Aaref and the excellent team at Sequoia Capital to expand our mission of bringing custom analytics to everyone. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this ambitious, humble, and growing team.

Open Source 365 - Ship Every Day for a Year

Five days ago I resolved to start and maintain a year-long open source contribution streak. After testing the waters for a few days I’m ready to announce my goal publicly and really put myself on the hook.

So baby, it’s on.

From now until June 18, 2015 I will make at least one commit to an open source repository every day.

Links or it didn’t happen

If you view my Github profile page you can see my progress. Follow me on Github and keep me honest. At the time of writing this, my streak is at 5. That’s 5 days down, only 360 more to go.

dzello's contribution streak

Each repository I commit to has to be on Github for it to count. I chose Github because a user’s contribution streak appears on his or her profile.

I really like this feature, but that shouldn’t be surprising given that I work at Keen IO, a platform for providing analytics to your customers. Also because it takes a motivational page from comedian Jerry Seinfeld.

I don’t know what obstacles I’ll encounter, but I’ll try my best to overcome them. Even if it’s frantically tethering over a headphone jack from a remote airport in Southeast Asia at 11:59pm PST. Or in a car on the way to the Grand Canyon:

If I miss any single day, I’ll have to start completely over. 0/365.

Why I’m doing this

I’m fortunate to have a strong alignment between my personal and work goals. So much so that I rarely refer to anything that happens in the office as “work”.

Personally, I’m doing this experiment to gain experience creating, maintaining, and building community around open source projects. I’d be doing that if I didn’t work anywhere.

But that also happens to be one of my “work” goals. The set of things you can build on Keen IO is infinite. But infinity has to begin somewhere, and my job is to create tools and examples that make getting started as easy as possible.

My personal and work goals are also aligned with my larger goals for society. I think the kind of cheap, universal access to information and information technology that the open source movement encourages is important to securing a safe and sustainable future.

Support or join #oss365

I’ll be tweeting my progress, experiences, and support for anyone else crazy enough to do this with me under the hashtag #oss365. Some days will be harder than others, and I’ll appreciate your support on those days even more.

As an added bonus, I’ll be including hashtags of the format #oss005, which indicates my current streak is at 5, or 005, days.

Imagine a world where thousands of developers have made this pledge. Anyone taking the pledge can do a quick twitter search for the hashtag of the day they’re on and find others who started on the same day. That’s a whole new cross-section of allies to develop, debug and ultimately celebrate with on Graduation Day, a.k.a. #oss365.

Hope to see you out there!