Cross-platform RSS recommendations

I wrote up some ideas on Discord + in a blog post the other day; I’m moving that over here.

A feature idea I’m currently mulling over: make it easy for people to share collections of publications that you can subscribe to with yakread (or any other rss reader).

example of how this might look: Add a page at where you can paste in links to newsletters/blogs/etc. yakread fetches the RSS feed for each of the links you paste, if there is one. Then you get a link, e.g. something like… If someone clicks that link, they see a list of all the publications + a checkbox for each one (checked by default). Then there’s a text box where they can type in their email. If they hit subscribe, they’re subscribed to yakread, and all the RSS feeds they’ve selected are added to their account.

more details:

  • if someone is already signed in to yakread when they click on the shared link, then the email field gets prefilled
  • the subscribe page could also have a link to download the raw OPML file. people can download that if they want to subscribe with a reader other than yakread. (it can work with the checkboxes too–the opml file will omit any publications that you’ve deselected)
  • when you create the share link, maybe add a commentary field for each publication. so when people visit yakread’s subscribe page, they can read any commentary you’ve put in.
  • add some stats pages so you can see how many subscribers you’ve referred to each feed. also make it so people can see how many people on yakread have subscribed to/been referred to their own feed. stats could also include # of times feeds have been exported to an opml file–then the stats still work to some extent if people subscribe with other readers.

(As an aside, I’ve been thinking that Yakread should focus more on RSS than on email–and this is a great example of why. It’s taken a ton of effort just to make simple email 1-click subscribes work cross-platform on The Sample.)

If any other RSS readers support it, I’d even be down to add buttons to make it easy to subscribe to the feeds with those instead of yakread without needing to download the opml file. I’m not aware of any readers actually supporting this today, but I’d just need to be able to pass a link to the opml file. e.g. if readwise supported it, I could have a button that leads to something like Readwise

It would be cool if this could recreate cross-promotion network effects that are coming from substack’s recommendations, but have it be cross-platform (and still just as frictionless)

This could also support regular email clients as one of the reader app options. If the user opts for that (instead of opting to subscribe with Yakread or another RSS reader), then Yakread uses an RSS->email service to deliver their RSS subscriptions via email: whenever there’s a new item from any of the feeds, it’s sent immediately via email. It should replicate as closely as possible the experience of subscribing to each of the feeds via email (i.e. for those feeds which are already provided as email newsletters).

In this case, Yakread could provide a way for newsletter writers to export their subscribers. If a writer proves that they own an RSS feed*, then they could export a CSV with anyone who is currently receiving their newsletter via the RSS->email service. Any exported subscribers would be automatically unsubscribed from the RSS->email service, under the assumption that the writer is going to immediately import them into their regular mailing list. Yakread could provide integrations to automatically export subscribers for newsletter providers that have APIs (for heaven’s sake, Substack!), just like The Sample currently provides.

*For example, by signing in to Yakread with an email address listed within the RSS feed as the owner. I see that feeds for Substack newsletters include such an address; feeds for Ghost newsletters do not.

Next step: when creating a share link, provide settings for which publications should be shown before the reader clicks subscribe, and which should be shown after. This could be used to create a signup page that works the same way as Substack’s (and others who have copied the recommendations feature, like Beehiiv): you can select your own newsletter to be shown first, and then after the reader subscribes, the other newsletters would be shown. You could also specify what the default reader app should be. For example, you could select “regular email” as the default for your own newsletter, and then use Yakread as the default for the other publications you’re recommending.

(That’s a particularly good combination IMO since Yakread is great at managing lots of subscriptions that you’re interested in but not able to read every issue of. But in any case, subscribers can always select a non-default reader app. I’m excited for the potential of this to help RSS readers become as mainstream as email clients.)

Given all that, this subscribe page could well be used as the main landing page for your newsletter, if you want. I could make the page embeddable (and highly customizable) so you can put it inline on your own website, while matching your site’s style. This is particularly dope because it would even work on a simple static blog–you could start out by leaving your subscribers on Yakread’s RSS->email service, and if later on you decide to upgrade to your own newsletter provider, then you can export.

And there you have it: a fully cross-platform, recommendations-enabled signup solution for everyone, which puts all participants–both on the publishing side and on the reading side–on equal footing.

To summarize this as a potential standard, I think that:

  • Any RSS reader should have a subscribe page somewhere that takes an opml=... query parameter, containing a link to an OPML file. On that page, the user should be able to select which feeds they want to subscribe to. And if they don’t have an account with the RSS reader in question yet, they should be able to create an account and sign up for the feeds at the same time.

In addition, I am planning to do the following things, which I’d also encourage other RSS readers to do (but as long as they do that first point, that’s sufficient to participate):

  • I am planning to create a subscribe page like that for Yakread which also links to other RSS readers’ subscribe pages. e.g. under the “subscribe with Yakread” button, I’d love to have buttons for “subscribe with Matter”/“subscribe with Readwise”/“subscribe with Feedbin”/“Download OPML”, etc. Perhaps remember people’s choices and make those the default for next time.
  • I’m also planning to set up a standalone RSS->Email service and integrate the subscribe page with it, so there can also be a “subscribe with email” button. The RSS->Email service will allow newsletter writers to take people who are subscribed to their RSS feed in this way and move them over to their regular mailing list, if they want.
  • I’ll provide a page where people can paste in URLs of websites and get back a link to this subscribe page, with the opml parameter set. (i.e. after they submit the URLs, I’ll generate the OPML file and host it).
  • That page will also have some customization options so that the resulting subscribe page can be used in a variety of contexts (e.g. as the main subscribe page for your own newsletter, with recommended newsletters/feeds shown afterward–replicating Substack signup pages).

I’m planning to build all of this into Yakread soon, after which it can serve as a proof-of-concept for any other RSS readers that would like to participate. (I’m also hoping it’ll help Yakread to grow!)