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gwern comments on Open thread, February 15-28, 2013 - Less Wrong Discussion

5 Post author: David_Gerard 15 February 2013 11:17PM

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Comment author: gwern 20 February 2013 10:07:52PM 7 points [-]

It's been suggested to me that since I don't blog, I start an email newsletter. I ignored the initial suggestions, but following the old maxim* began to seriously consider it on the third or fourth suggestion (who also mentioned they'd even pay for it, which would be helpful for my money woes).

My basic idea is to once a month compile: everything I've shared on Google+, articles excerpted in Evernote or on IRC, interesting LW comments**, and a consolidated version of the changes I've made to gwern.net that month. Possibly also include media I've consumed with reviews for books, anime, music etc akin to the media thread.

I am interested in whether LWers would subscribe:

If I made it a monthly subscription, what does your willingness-to-pay look like? (Please be serious and think about what you would actually do.)

Thanks to everyone voting.

* "Once is chance; twice is coincidence; three times is enemy action." Or in Star Wars terms: "If someone calls you a Hutt, ignore them; if two people call you a Hutt, begin to wonder; and if three do, buy a slobber-pail and start stockpiling glitterstim."

** For example, my recent comments on the SAT (Harvard logistic regression & shrinking to the mean) would count as 'interesting comments', but not the Evangelion joke.

Submitting...

Comment author: gwern 06 December 2013 05:06:38AM 2 points [-]

After some further thought and seeing whether I could handle monthly summaries of my work, I've decided to open up a monthly digest email with Mailchimp. The signup form is at http://eepurl.com/Kc155

Comment author: jsalvatier 23 February 2013 08:37:25AM 2 points [-]

I would turn the email into an RSS.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 23 February 2013 05:03:42PM 1 point [-]

I'd be a lot more willing to consider a somewhat larger single payment that gets me a lifetime subscription than a monthly fee. I'm pretty sure I don't want to deal with a monthly fee, even if it's $1, it feels like having to do the buying decision over and over again every month, but I can entertain dropping a one-off $20 for a lifetime subscription. Of course that'd only net less than two years worth of posts even for the $1 monthly price point, so this might not be such a great deal for you.

Comment author: gwern 23 February 2013 09:57:30PM 1 point [-]

I wouldn't do a lifetime subscription simply because I know that there's a very high chance I would stop or the quality would go downhill at some point. Even if people were willing to trust me and pay upfront, I would still consider such a pricing strategy extremely dishonest.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 February 2013 04:33:30PM 0 points [-]

How does an annual fee feel?

Comment author: gwern 24 February 2013 08:18:44PM 0 points [-]

Better but still too long a promise for the start. (Interestingly, patio11 does seem to think that annual billing is more profitable than monthly.)

Comment author: curiousepic 22 February 2013 09:33:10PM 1 point [-]

Why do you not blog? The differences between it and this newsletter are ambiguous.

Comment author: gwern 22 February 2013 10:15:35PM *  4 points [-]

Reasons for 'not a blog':

  • I don't have any natural place on gwern.net for a blog
  • I've watched people waste countless hours dealing with regular blog software like Wordpress and don't want to go anywhere near it,

Reasons for email specifically:

  • email lists like Google Groups or MailChimp seem both secure and easy to use for once-a-month updates
  • more people seem to still use email than RSS readers these days
  • patio11 says that geeks/Web people systematically underrate the usefulness of an email newsletter
  • there's much more acceptance of charging for an email newsletter
Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 23 February 2013 08:49:58AM *  4 points [-]

Might be worth noting that the customer base patio11 is probably most familiar with are people who pay money for a program that lets them print bingo cards. They might be a different demographic than people who know what a gwern is.

For a data point, I live in RSS, don't voluntarily follow any newsletters, and have become conditioned to associate the ones I do get from some places I'm registered at as semi-spam. Also if I pay money for something, then it becomes a burdensome Rare and Valuable Possession I Must Now Find a Safe Place For, instead of a neat thing I can go look at, then forget all about, then go look up again after five years based on some vaguely remembered details. So I'll save myself stress if I stick with free stuff.

Comment author: gwern 23 February 2013 03:51:55PM 3 points [-]

They might be a different demographic than people who know what a gwern is.

Maybe. On the other hand, would you entertain for even a second the thought of paying for an RSS feed? Personally, I can think of paying for an email newsletter if it's worth it, but the thought of paying for a blog with an RSS feed triggers an 'undefined' error in my head.

Also if I pay money for something, then it becomes a burdensome Rare and Valuable Possession I Must Now Find a Safe Place For, instead of a neat thing I can go look at, then forget all about, then go look up again after five years based on some vaguely remembered details.

Email is infinitely superior to RSS in this respect; everyone gets a durable copy and many people back up their emails (including you - right? right?). I have emails going back to 2004. In contrast, I'm not sure how I would get my RSS feeds from a year ago since Google Reader seems to expire stuff at random, never mind 2006 or whenever I started using RSS.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 23 February 2013 04:46:34PM *  3 points [-]

You're right about the paying part. I don't care to even begin worrying about how setting Google Reader to fetch something from beyond a paywall might work, but e-mail from a paid service makes perfect sense, tech-wise.

And now that you mention it, if I were living in an email client instead of Google Reader, I could probably get along just fine having stuff from my RSS subscriptions get pushed into my mailbox. Unfortunately, after 15 years I still use email so little that I basically consider it a hostile alien environment and haven't had enough interesting stuff go on there so far that I'd ever really felt the need to back up my mails. Setting up a proper email workflow and archiving wouldn't be a very big hurdle if I ever got reason to bother with it though.

An actual thing I would like is an archived log of "I read this thing today and it was interesting", preferrably with an archive of the thing. I currently use Google Reader's starring thing for this, but that's leaving stuff I actually do care about archiving at Google's uncertain mercy, which is bad. Directing RSS to email would get me this for free.

Did I just talk myself into possibly starting to use email properly with an use case where I'd mostly be mailing stuff to myself?

Comment author: chemotaxis101 23 February 2013 06:19:54PM 2 points [-]

I'd recommend using Blogtrottr for turning the content from your RSS feeds into email messages. Indeed, as email is (incidentally) the only web-related tool I can (and must) consistently use throughout the day, I tend to bring a major part of the relevant web content I'm interested in to my email inbox - including twitter status updates, LW Discussion posts, etc.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 25 February 2013 04:26:17PM *  3 points [-]

I don't have any natural place on gwern.net for a blog

How about "blog.gwern.net" or even "gwernblog.net"?

I've watched people waste countless hours dealing with regular blog software like Wordpress and don't want to go anywhere near it,

If some people are willing to pay for your news, maybe you could find a volunteer (by telling them that creating the blog software is the condition for you to publish) to make the website.

To emulate the (lack of) functionality of an e-mail, you only need to log in as the administrator, and write a new article. The Markdown syntax, as used on LW, could be a good choice. Then the website must display the list of articles, the individual articles, and the RSS feed. That's it; someone could do that in a weekend. And you would get the extra functionality of being able to correct mistakes in already published articles, and make hyperlinks between them.

Then you need functionality to manage users: log in as user, change the password, adding and removing users as admin. There could even be an option for users to enter their e-mails, so the new articles will be sent to them automatically (so they de facto have a choice between web and e-mail format). This all is still within a weekend or two of work.

Comment author: gwern 26 February 2013 09:50:12PM 0 points [-]

How about "blog.gwern.net" or even "gwernblog.net"?

I meant in my existing static site setup. (If I were to set up a blog of my own, it would probably go into a subdomain, yes.)

If some people are willing to pay for your news, maybe you could find a volunteer (by telling them that creating the blog software is the condition for you to publish) to make the website.

How would that help?

And you would get the extra functionality of being able to correct mistakes in already published articles, and make hyperlinks between them.

I don't often need to correct mistakes in snippets, month-old LW comments, etc. I do often correct my essays, but those are not the issue.

Comment author: knb 24 February 2013 03:35:17AM *  0 points [-]

I've watched people waste countless hours dealing with regular blog software like Wordpress and don't want to go anywhere near it,

Have you considered a Google Blogger site? They aren't quite as customizable as WordPress, but you can put AdSense on your site in like 5-10 minutes, if you're interested. Plus free hosting, even with your own domain name. I've used blogger for years, and I've never had downtime or technical problems.

Comment author: gwern 24 February 2013 08:17:15PM 1 point [-]

Have you considered a Google Blogger site?

Those incredibly awful sites with the immovable header obscuring everything and broken scrollbars and stuff? No, I've never considered them, although I'm glad they're not as insecure and maintenance heavy as the other solutions... (I already have AdSense on gwern.net, and hosting isn't really a big cost right now.)

Comment author: insufferablejake 21 February 2013 07:29:11AM 0 points [-]

I enjoy your posts, and I have been a consumer of your G+ posts and your blog for sometime now, even though I don't much comment and just lurk about. While I would want some sort of syndication of your stuff, I am wondering if an external expectation of having to meet the monthly compilation target or the fact that you know for sure that there is a definite large audience for your posts now, will affect the quality of your posts? I realize that there is likely not any answer possible for this beforehand, but I'd like to know if you've considered this.

Comment author: gwern 21 February 2013 04:00:41PM 0 points [-]

I don't know. I'm more concerned that reviewing & compiling everything at the end of the month will prove to be too much of a stressful hassle or use of time than that I'll water down content.

Comment author: satt 21 February 2013 01:46:31AM 0 points [-]

I voted no, but think a Gwern Email Digest is a worthwhile idea regardless. I just don't sign up for email newsletters generally.