The tenacity of open

· Product · Patrick Smith

Ben Thompson is a writer who focuses on the strategy of technology businesses, and I’ve really enjoyed his stuff for a number of years. His business model is a subscription for three emails per week that form a narrative, with another article made free to everyone that is standalone.

The problem I’ve found is that it’s hard to catch up with these daily updates. They often refer to the last one, with clarifications and expansions, and so once you get off the train it can be difficult to get back on. He’s just launched a podcast version of the daily update, and it’s also subscriber-only.

The reason I find this fascinating is that he talks about ‘Aggregation Theory’, the way that internet-first companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix, by owning the customer relationship directly are able to control suppliers. But then he calls out that his own business model purposefully avoids getting on these platforms, but instead relies on the open nature of two technologies: Email (with SMTP) and Podcasts (with RSS). He’s also not going through a platform like Patreon, which itself could dictate terms. He also considered making his own app, but then people have to explicitly come to the app every day.

Instead he’s going to where people are. The feeds they check every day. That are not controlled by any entity. It highlights the future and reliability of Email and Podcasts as things that will still be around in 20 years. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — any of these might be dead or irrelevant by then. But there will be (hopefully) a plethora of email and podcast clients, any of which I can choose, and to which anyone can send me content.

The other thing I love about the Stratechery announcement is the podcast RSS feed has both the audio and written content in one. If I put the feed into my podcast player, I get the audio content, and cover art will be shown with say a chart or whatever that is being talked about. In the show notes is the entire written content.

Yet if I put the feed into a traditional RSS feed reader, then I get just the written content. Blew my mind that one URL serves both of those purposes.