The smart newsletter and a return to the curated web

A few years ago, it seemed that email was on a slow and irreversible decline. Beset by high levels of spam and cookie-cutter email marketing, email looked to be taken over by social networks and go the way of the pager and other outdated technologies.

These days, however, email is back and stronger than ever. With there being too many websites to remember, it seems almost quaint to type in a website address and go to a “home page” instead of arriving at through a link. Rather, we seem to be returning to the curated web of the early days, when Yahoo was just a set of links that Jerry and  David liked.

This has given rise to a whole slew of “smart newsletters” that have the potential to eliminate mindless web surfing by providing both a summary of key news of the day, as well as a set of curated links to interesting articles elsewhere. Most days, I could read just these and their links, and still get very close to a full picture of what’s going on.

If we look at the providers of these, Slate was a pioneer, with its beloved Today’s Papers. It was unfortunately replaced by its successor, The Slatest, which unsuccessfully tries to update the format. However, a number of the new media outlets produce fantastic smart newsletters. Quartz might be the best one, with its Daily Brief, which manages to both distill the key news, as well as provide links to interesting, more peripheral stories. Vox recently launched its Sentences, which aims to do the same thing. FT Alphaville was another early mover, and the power of the model can be seen in that they’ve now relaunched this as FT First.

A number of other publications have launched their own, which are all decent, even if they don’t reach the level of Quartz and Vox. These include QED from the New Republic, The Morning Email from the Huffington PostBloomberg View, and Mic. The NYT is jumping on the trend by separating the news roundup from the links to curated content into two separate emails. This still works pretty well, however, with the latter email called What we’re reading.

This trend might be a response to the social news that we thought would take over news delivery, but with Twitter now putting in more and more sponsored stories that I don’t want to read, and Facebook endlessly tweaking its algorithm, but still not showing anything interesting, I think the smart newsletters show that we still need curation from actual journalists.

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