Email Newsletters vs RSS Feeds

Nov 14, 2016

Instead of choosing one over the other, why not use both?


Looking back, no one ever trolled me on RSS.

I love newsletters, but I hate receiving e-mails. Call me an oldie, but I still use RSS feeds to read my news and e-mails for communication. And I prefer to keep those two separate.

Unfortunately, as newsletters have become popular, there are some great readings that are not available through RSS anymore. Kill the newsletter! exists to fill this gap. This service converts newsletters into RSS feeds.

I subscribe to some email newsletters, but not as many as I used to. Recently, I unsubscribed from several, since I didn't read them. I still prefer to visit the websites directly over reading RSS feeds and receiving email newsletters. But I like the handful of email newsletters that I receive even better than seeing them as RSS feeds.

I enjoy seeing websites. I don't want to read the entire article in the RSS reader, assuming the site published the entire post in the feed. I use as my main RSS reader.

I don't want to use an email client nor an RSS reader client that are native apps that need installed on a machine. I prefer a web-based email "app" such as Fastmail and

RSS is for the information geeks and email is for the masses. Hence the reason why publishers are using email newsletters over RSS feeds.

"I have a script which monitors RSS feeds and turns them into emails. I filter them into a "News" mail folder. I run K-9 Mail, Mutt and Webmail depending on what device I'm using. Thanks to IMAP my "news readers" stay in sync due to the "\Seen" IMAP flag, and the ability to delete messages."

Cool, but I doubt that the general population will do that. They'll use email or read their Facebook feed.

"I have a perl script that checks my "mailing lists" mailbox and turns that to an RSS feed. To each his own..."

Again, that's cool for Hacker News readers. The masses will choose email.

HN comment:

I personally prefer RSS over mailed newsletters. And was expecting that newsletters will eventually die. I was wrong. Not sure why they didn't died and actually grow more popular, but IMHO RSS is probably too complicated for regular Joe, so they probably not even know RSS exists.

Good HN obs:

Yeah, I would assume newsletters have a lot higher chance to be read... everyone I know has an email account, but only a subset bother with RSS. And even if you have RSS, chances are you have a lot of feeds you never read that just end up part of the furniture of your life.

And tracking tech enables the senders to know if the email was at least opened.

Maybe RSS should rebrand as "textcasting" or something. Podcasts are popular, are not considered only for "power users", and are just RSS feeds of audio links.

Dave Winer had a hand in creating both RSS and podcasts.

Many different ways exist to read and receive text-based content. Limited ways exist to access audio, in my opinion. While podcasts may rely on RSS, listening and reading are different enough that I don't think a valid comparison can be made between the two. I still don't listen to podcasts. Maybe someday. I prefer to read. Text is lighter in weight to create and consume, compared to audio.

More from the HN commenter:

Nothing currently wins over the format or ease of use of newsletters. This is why they're becoming MORE popular as an engagement tool.

I think there's a vacant startup space for a tool that can beat newsletters for ease of both entry on the sender side and engagement by the recipients in the many-to-many communication mode.

I would need more explanation about that alleged vacant startup space. It's easy to create and send email and to manage email lists by using Tiny Letter.

I do have an RSS reader, but it has become such a chore to keep up with it that I mostly don't bother. Picking the best content providers and getting a handful of emails a week from them is better than the cesspool of 6000 unread items that confronts me when I pull up RSS.

Chore? 6,000 unread items in the RSS reader? That sounds like his problem. That's not an RSS problem. That's a problem of the information consumer.

I have not found managing the RSS reader to be a chore. It's easy to use. I don't need a ton of features.

Email newsletters are sent/received at approximately the same time each day, which could be morning, midday, or evening. Mostly once a day or once a week per publisher.

People enjoy receiving someone's list of stories or info in the evening or when they wake up in the morning. RSS can be updated throughout the day, which might encourage people to check their RSS readers too often, which could impact productivity.

I would say email newsletters sent once a day per publisher could be a part of the Slow News Movement concept.

More from HN:

I think we are moving towards a descentralized Internet. The RSS feed needs a central server, the newsletter can be broadcasted and then forwarded peer to peer. I'd argue the opposite then: save the newsletter, just maybe evolve it into something better (maybe with schema email??)

Email is definitely push-like notification. What is RSS and RSS readers? Push or pull? Visiting a website directly when time permits is pull.

NNTP ???

Bring back the past.

NNTP is one of the most underrated protocols. It's a distributed superset of email + RSS + twitter.

An RSS feed is just a periodically updated XML file with an URL. If your decentralized internet can't present a file at an address (the use case for ever single web page ever), it's not actually going to be the internet.

lol, rss does not depend on a centralized server. it's a shame you think it does. Read the spec.

Hah, a RTFM response. Maybe the user was talking about push vs pull. Email newsletters get pushed at timed intervals according to the publishers.

RSS readers fetch the RSS feeds, which can be updated at anytime. Some users want to see the latest posts of their favorite sites or writers as soon as possible. Other users are fine with their morning or evening "paper" via email newsletters.

I don't think that either one is right or wrong or better overall. It all depends upon the user prefs, and most users like to receive email newsletters instead of managing an RSS reader (yet another app or website) and RSS feeds.

Obviously, feed readers do one thing: fetch and display RSS and Atom feeds. Email can receive email newsletters, but obviously, users use email for other function. Email fits in to the daily activities of many users, whether they use home email or work email.

HN comment:

I would love to kill the newsletter. I love RSS. I perceive most newsletters as spam. Except: - non tech saavy users don't know what RSS is and often won't use a RSS reader even after tutoring.

HN comment:

You primarily receive newsletters you didn't actually sign up for? (stores you bought stuff off, etc.) That's the only way it's spam. But there are plenty of people who actively sign up for and appreciate them.

Yeah, I was confused by the HN user who called email newsletters spam when newsletters require users to enter their email address (subscribe). Receiving email updates about new offers, etc., can be annoying, but an unsubscribe link normally exists in the email.

I see it less as killing the newsletter, and more as giving people options."

That makes the most sense. It would be better to encourage publishers who use email newsletters to support RSS feeds too.

It's so typical of hard core geeks to want to "kill" that which is popular to the masses.

Interesting idea that could co-exist with newsletters, but as a business person newsletters are the best. Seriously, nothing compares to a good list. Not Twitter, not Facebook, not Ads. It's gold.

It's a shame but unsurprising that this poignant comment displays near the bottom of the HN thread.

This appears to create Atom feeds, not RSS

That's a good way to start a raucous debate: Atom vs RSS. And what to include in RSS: only the title of the post, summary of the post, or the entire post? I prefer only a title. I set theoldreader to display only titles. People should make titles informative

hn comment:

Tangential question here - can anyone comment on the recent-ish proliferation(explosion) of sites thats float an HTML 5 light box a few seconds after the page loads asking people to "Sign up now for our newsletter!" It's a pretty obnoxious practice.

I despise this too.

HN response:

The pop up results in higher conversions (people actually filling out the email address field and hitting "subscribe")

The action of "closing" the modal popup confirms that the viewer of the page is probably a real human and that they genuinely made some kind of movement on the page

Not me. If I'm using chrome, I click the Quick JavaScript Switcher extension button in the toolbar and that disables JavaScript.

One commenter said the pop-overs or pop-ups were made with HTML5, but most that I have encountered were eliminated when I disabled JavaScript. Either way, that annoying intrusion makes me think that other annoyances exist within the site, and that's why I disable JavaScript.

[RSS] feeds also have a (close to) instant notification mechanism in the form of W3C PubSub aka pubshubhubbub.

But many users don't want nor need instant notification. The business person above probably has better things to do with his/her time.

Regular scheduled events make more sense to some people than interruptions by notifications.

HN user:

... for vast majority of real world users RSS is quite misterious piece of technology. Emails are ok, everyone 'knows' what the email is? But 'feed'. Can I save it for offline use? Can I forward it to friends and family?

Silly HN comment:

I would imagine that the "vast majority of real world users" of this email-to-RSS converter know exactly what RSS is

Well, duh. That's the problem. Some geeks don't recognize the difference between Hacker News readers and the rest of the world.

HN user claims:

there are about 2.5 billion email users worldwide. At the same time only around 100 million use RSS. Speaking of vastness of majority.

No links were provided to support those claims. I would have thought that the number of email users would have been higher than 2.5 billion. Facebook is catching up with its nearly two billion users.

And 100 million RSS readers sounds like a lot. I wonder if that number includes people who "use" RSS without realizing that they use RSS?


July 2017

August 2017

Closing in on a year, the company founded by serial entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis now has around 300,000 subscribers across 30 newsletters, and average open rates just above 40 percent.

Email, not Facebook, is the largest social network.

Well, that depends upon the definition of "social network", which, in my opinion, involves discovery, networking, and following. It's unfair to compare the email to social media, since they both function differently. It seems like an apple vs oranges comparison. Email is a communication system.

In my post, a link points to that calls email the original social network.

Back to the Niemanlab story:

“We looked at the way news is consumed today on social media, with Facebook being the number place where all of that happens. A lot of publishers are talking to Facebook right now, but none of them know what Facebook is going to look like — it’s a platform controlled by a public company that has a lot of shareholders and other forces they need to answer to,” Austin Smith, Inside’s general manager, said. “Email will never be controlled in that way, and people are just as engaged with their inboxes as they have always been.”

It’s recently launched its paid subscription options for the newsletters at $10 a month for premium access to one newsletter, or $25 for premium access to an unlimited number of Inside verticals — a paid subscription removes ads and gets you…well, more emails.

HN-related thread

August 2017 story:

The rise of social networks and mobile messaging is supposed by some to have killed email, good and proper. But the statistics tell a different story. More than three billion legitimate emails are sent every hour, according to the latest numbers, and there are more than 3.7 billion email users worldwide. But when it comes to distributing written content, email’s scale is only one of its advantages. What Inside knows, and other savvy publishers are finding, is that email is the most personal, direct, and effective way to reach the readers who want to hear from you.

If your story is in a reader’s inbox, it’s because they have invited it in there, or because one of their friends personally passed it on. As we’re inundated with low-nutrition content from our unrelenting social feeds, inbox presence offers a strong signal that a story is likely to be high quality and highly relevant. Meanwhile, there’s no middleman watching to gather data on how you interact with that story or publisher. By taking traffic incentives and shareability completely out of the equation, the publisher is incentivized instead to focus on what is best for the reader.

What’s more, it ensures they will see every item you publish–or at least that they’ll notice you have published something. Ever since Google crippled RSS by shutting down Google Reader, it’s been difficult for publishers to find a channel that reliably puts every piece of content in front of a committed reader’s eyes. In fact, email offers a useful variation of RSS–not “Really Simple Syndication,” but “Really Simple Subscription.”

February 2018

Jon Gold is a designer at AirBnB. I saw this tweet that he posted last month.

Taking a long break from reading social media because it's awful for our brains. I might post here sporadically* when I have new work to share, but I recommend signing up to my mailing list and quitting Twitter with me :) *via Buffer & the API ;)

His email newsletter sign-up page states:

I'm taking a long break from social media to get quiet and go deep into my research, music & real-world relationships.

More reading at


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