This week marks the 5th anniversary of WARPED, that funky little newsletter of mine. A total of 172 editions later — and yes, I clearly didn’t always make it to that weekly deadline — I still enjoy putting it together. Get it here if you’re not subscribed yet: http://getwarped.io/
With 5 years on record, I also figured it would be good time to answer a question that many have asked over the years which is: how do you do it, where do you even find the time? It’s a good question because even though I don’t find it all that hard to do, it does require some structure & organisation to make it happen. And I promised many times to write it down so here we go.
Everybody has their own habits in how they scroll through the internet and catch up on things. Different social media platforms are a constant source of good things, but the main place to go for me is my RSS reader. Yes I’m on of those people that can’t let go of RSS. And why would I, it’s perfect really. Scroll through dozens of websites and a multitude of articles all in one place, all without ads… what’s not to like? And every website either has an RSS feed or there are really easy tricks to make your own if needed.
I did try Flipboard and all the other cool apps as soon as they came out, but nothing ever came close to the simplicity of a good RSS reader. Which presents another challenge, because good RSS readers are a bit hard to find. Google Reader was amazing… until they shut that down. Then I moved to Digg Reader that picked up most of the Google audience (they made sure the product resembled the Google Reader quite a lot as well)… until they shut that down. Today we’re using Feedly and I like it quite a bit. I’m still on the free version, works cross-platform so I can pick up reading wherever and whenever I have a few minutes to spare. Beats endless scrolling through Facebook, I can tell you that much.
Important sidenote, I don’t read through all the RSS just for the newsletter. I was doing that anyway. Seeing & reading so many cool things that I didn’t see being shared a lot. Things that deserved more attention — at least that’s what I thought — than what they seemed to get. Inspiration from less typical sources or about unusual topics. It’s what got me thinking about sharing those in the first place.
Probably the most difficult part and also the easiest one… again once you found the right tool for it. Long long time ago it started with del.icio.us, the first real platform to collect URL’s. But just like bookmarks in your own browser, collecting URL’s has a major problem. You collect them for the content, but can only search on title. So over time I switched to other solutions like Pocket — when it was still Read it Later — and others like Instaper, but never finding what I really wanted.
Eventually I set on the perfect solution which is Evernote. I was an avid user already but purely for the note-taking before and when I discovered the Evernote Clipper I must admit that changed a few things. Clipping articles — in the smart setting so just copy & images, no ads — makes you not only save the URL, but the whole article. And with now over 10.000 articles in Evernote, that makes a huge database of content that is fully indexed and searchable. Like I mentioned earlier, one of the problems with bookmarking tools is that it doesn’t really save the content for which you saved it in the first place, Evernote does. And even more interesting, even if the article is taken offline later or goes behind a paywall you still have it in full in your collection. This might seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference for me.
PS — I also dump every PDF in Evernote, as they are also all fully indexed once you do that. As well as scans from handwritten notes, again all fully indexed. It all adds up to a pretty interesting searchable personal database of interestingness I must say.
So I save all interesting — or possible interesting — articles into a ‘WARPED // Newsletter’ folder on Evernote. Way more articles than what ever end up in the newsletter end up in that folder. And then when I start putting together a new edition I’ll start by adding the headlines of all new links into a my ‘editorial’ note:
This is a bit of a tedious job to be honest, one that I should try to automate somehow. Anyway, I’ll add the headlines in here together with all those that I’ve added before and aren’t being used yet. They’re added in there per section of the newsletter which makes it easy for me to chose which ones I want to use this time for each section. I’ll mark them in bold and that gives me a good feel of that edition.
Finally I’ll select the words from those articles that I think should be in the subject line. Pretty random approach I guess, I just want to make that subject line a mix of words that look interesting and yet also a bit odd.
Making the email
As the reading & preparation described before is something that happens throughout the week and is updated whenever I can and want to, the actual making of the newsletter is the one moment I really need to find time for in the week. Collecting content happens all the time, whether I’m on holiday or whatever, I’m just curious and want to keep reading. Making the darn thing, that’s something else. It’ll take me 1 hour to 90 minutes to make and that just requires me to sit down in front of a computer and get on with it. I’ve made this newsletter in airport lounges, in front of the tv, before work or after work, during the weekend, … any possible time.
Key platform here: Mailchimp. If it weren’t for Mailchimp and the ability to develop a newsletter based on a template style structure, I wouldn’t have started this to begin with. Much like how I started blogging once on Wordpress, it’s by playing around with the platform that I learned how easy it was to make a newsletter template. And how easy it is to fill that template with content every week. It’s very intuitive, drag & drop, makes all the difference. The template on its own hasn’t changed all that much from #1 either. Someone helped me out clean up the design a bit, mainly how colors are used. And I used to have a ‘What I’m reading’ section at the bottom where I would take a quote from the book I’m reading right now, but I guess I couln’t read enough books to keep that going. It’s all about time isn’t it.
Get all the content in, send a test email, check if all is right. And hit SEND. That’s always the most rewarding moment, another one out the door.
I am a bit of a data geek so will always keep track of the email stats in the Mailchimp app after sending it. I don’t change much in how I make it or which content goes in or not, but I am curious to see which content attracted to most attention. In the meantime we’re already working on the next one ;-)