Lately, I find myself admiring HEY World, a new tool from the makers of the collaboration platform Basecamp. Here’s how it works: If you use HEY, their (paid) email service, you can write an email, send it to a specific address, and publish it for the world to see. The published email is distributed to readers, who either sign-up for receiving email updates or use a more traditional RSS feed.
What Hey World is doing is nothing novel — and yet, it is.
The platform I use to publish pretty much everything, WordPress*, has offered this publish-with-email feature for over a decade. It allows folks to sign-up for getting email updates of an individual piece as soon as it is published. (You should sign-up here to get my updates.)
While WordPress offers a cornucopia of features (If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be powering nearly 40 percent of the Internet’s websites), what makes Hey World attractive — for a subset of people, at least — is that it has pared blogging and distribution down to the essentials. As long as you pay for the Hey email platform, you don’t need to put any thought into finding a distribution mechanism and getting started.
My friend and writer-turned-founder of Trucks VC has a simple concept he calls “time to value.” How long does it take for someone to start using a product and find value? It is a great way to evaluate products, and I use this approach all the time. Its short “time to value” is one reason why media people love Substack, the great white hope of media.
I have been blogging for just about two decades. Over time, more and more people have picked up the habit. All the behaviors that were once part of a blog are now entities in themselves. Each of these entities has succeeded because it removed friction from both the creation and the distribution process.
Sharing our thoughts with the help of distribution platforms and algorithms triggers a deep narcissism in all of us, creating an addictive loop. The ability to feed this addiction explains why certain platforms have become so outsized. Facebook is a blog with social distribution attached to it. Ditto for Instagram and Twitter. While it is geared toward a new generation, at its core, Snap is no different than what LiveJournal was for the young and restless of that generation.
There is a good reason why WordPress and Squarespace are used as publishing platforms (to publish websites) instead of blogging platforms. Not every writer needs a dedicated website (like the one I have).
I once quipped that even the blogging’s essence — a singular blog post — will eventually be decoupled from the blogging platforms themselves. For some, it is not important to have a homestead on the web. For others, things like search engine placement aren’t that important. Many aren’t running businesses. They want to write every so often — without the hassle of maintaining a website.
Medium found many takers for its publishing platform because it was relatively simple to use, well-designed, and took away any need to have a dedicated website. It banked on the writer using her existing social media presence — Twitter, for example — to find an audience. In time, it helped her find more readers on the platform. LinkedIn did this even more effectively. It had a great publishing tool, the audience, and the network dynamics to funnel attention.
Substack, the new hotness, offers a different approach: a simple way to use email newsletters as a distribution channel. In other words, you can build your audience and get paid for it. The bigger your audience, the more likely you are to get money for your efforts. For many media stars, this is a godsend. For some others, it’s a bit much.
When blogging started, it was all about niches and micro-audiences. It was all about who was part of your community, not how many. Somewhere along the way, it all changed. Blogging, like everything, else became a game of scale.
The Achilles’ heel of online publishing, scale as a tool for both gathering and monetizing attention is one reason we find ourselves in a world of shock-and-awe. Advertising (in most cases) works on scale. Subscriptions are also part of scale-based thinking. This mindset is what creates the need for tools to measure your audience and how they interact with your content.
But ultimately, the truth is that it doesn’t matter how you express yourself. Discussions and worries about platforms and tools are distractions. CJ Chilvers is quite right when he says, “Publishing online is all about relationships.” Kevin Kelly, the legendary author and founding editor of Wired magazine, argues that 1,000 true fans are enough. I would say that even one is good enough.
And that is why I believe that HEY World is a whole different beast.
Hey World is all about blogging as a philosophy. It recognizes the inherent value in sharing and expression. It tips its hat to blogging’s past and focuses on its essence. If I were starting a newsletter today, it would be on the top of my list.
I have revived my (now long retired) 7 Things to Read this weekend newsletter as a daily link newsletter on Hey.com. Here is a link to sign-up. It will allow me to get a better understanding of Hey World.
*Disclosure: True Ventures, where I am a partner emeritus, is an investor in Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com, among other things. I am also a close, personal friend of Automattic founder and CEO Matt Mullenweg.