THE BLOG

Forget Social Media, the Real Interest Is in Your Inbox

05/01/2015 14:31 GMT | Updated 07/03/2015 10:59 GMT

There's only two digital routes to information. Once we're on our laptops and tablets we either find information through the generosity of others, via social media or the occasional direct link, or through our own curiosity, via good old Google. We are our own editors, aggregating content via our own efforts and those of our social media peers.

Thus, we're all experts now. Even those who provide editorial expertise to us via the online newspapers, blogging platforms, and providers of the ancient screeds known as listicles are obligated to the sharing information economy and wouldn't exist without Facebook and Twitter's technological generosity in allowing us to view the 17 things we didn't know about Glee or let us test which mammal we most resemble.

This is all fine, dandy and entertaining - but relatively few of us share anything that is taxing or educative. We share our outrage (often manufactured, rather than genuine) and there's little (still) that travels so rapidly online as a video of a cutely bewildered household pet. But such serendipity rarely delivers expertise or wisdom.

Yet expertise, thoughtful, curated, edited content is making it through to audiences. In the most low-tech way. It's the return of the newsletter.

Emailed newsletters seem so 1990s, so small-scale, but they are making a comeback, delivering thoughtful content to an inbox very near you. The turnaround is driven by a number of things.

We're better at email. Our inboxes are no longer stuffed with 'enlargement' products and we're almost wistful about the days when Nigerian Prime Ministers would offer us millions. These days, spam filters, categorisation tools and a zero-inbox culture is making our emails useful once again.

So we can allow finite gobbets of information into those inboxes, without losing productivity. Allow yourself to drift into Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and you're teetering on the edge of infinity - losing yourself in quizzes, lists and gifs. It can never end. An emailed newsletter is short, pithy - it ends, allowing you to get back to what you're supposed to be doing. It's the distraction you can allow yourself.Like the old Milky Way ads, it's the distraction you can have between meals.

That distraction used to be able to be delivered by RSS feeds - but when Google shut down its Reader it was the signal of the end of the RSS technology (seemingly, only the BBC resolutely keeps an RSS symbol on its site). Other readers remain available, but the slow death of RSS, and the failure of any non-social bookmarking technology to really grab our attention, means that our tendency to follow a small group of people based on their expertise, rather than their friendship or conversation is difficult. Follow them on social, and get lost in that spiral of infinity again.

So, like the return of vinyl to music, people are turning to email again as a source of wisdom. By choosing those to sign up to, users are by-passing the issues of provable veracity that dog links on social media, and are hooking up to people they trust. Finite, manageable, and accessible, they offer bespoke information on a range of topics - whether it be the Weekly Genius late-adopters' guide to technology in work and education, Ray Kurzweill's futurology, or Dan Hon's esoteric musings on the digital landscape, the return of the newsletter is the return of curated knowledge, and the best way to go back to the future.