Digest rethinks email newsletters

Viewport Industries, co-founded by Keir Whitaker and Elliot Jay Stocks, has announced Digest, a “weekly newsletter for the discerning web professional”. Bucking the trend towards blogs and social networks, Digest is to be an email newsletter, which will be sent out every Thursday. And rather than ranting about industry problems or exploring the minutiae of a specific slice of code, it instead aims to tell stories, based around the themes ‘Object of Desire’, ‘City Guide’, ‘Culture’ and ‘Spotlight On’.

We spoke to Whitaker (KW) about the project and why Viewport Industries is rethinking email newsletters.

.net: On the Digest website, you talk about how exciting it was to wait for print magazines to arrive in the mail. Do you think something has been lost with ‘always available’ digital content?
KW: I definitely think something has been lost due to the immediateness of digital content. To my shame, I will often look at a blog post or article, realise it requires intensive scrolling, and either mark it for reading later or simply click away. It's such a shame as there is so much great content out there. I also find reading online quite difficult. Despite having a large monitor, I still find there are too many distractions on hand to tempt me away from the page.

.net: So was focus an important consideration in making Digest an email-based newsletter?
KW: Focus is definitely something we consider important for Digest. Each week, we will be producing just enough content to keep people interested, but – all being well – not too much, to avoid people ignoring it or reading it later. It is our hope that the rotating themes will help keep the content flowing, engaging, concise and focused.

.net: Digest’s approach appears to be celebratory and inspirational, and sometimes only tangentially related to the web. What was the thinking behind the themes you’re choosing to cover?
KW: Much of the inspiration behind the idea for Digest comes from the great conversations you have when you hang out with like-minded people. As we work in the web, we tend to spend time with designers, developers and small business owners. More often than not, you end up chatting about a new laptop case, a great bar, a cool site that sells bags, and what to do in a city when the next conference has finished.

We don't want to produce another hints and tips newsletter, because many other people are doing great jobs of that already. Rather, we want to celebrate the culture orbiting around the web community, be that people, products, services, bars or co-working spaces. We also feel that the idea of email will make this a little more personal and direct than, say, a blog. You don't have to hunt it out – it comes to you. We'll also be using MailChimp's Time Warp facility to deliver the newsletters at the same time of day, regardless of where you are located.

.net: Is this just a project for the love of it, or are there any plans to make a business out of Digest?
KW: Currently, it's just ‘for the love of it’. The newsletter will always be free to receive and there are no immediate plans to turn it into a business. All the people involved are giving us their time and expertise for free and we are really grateful to Rob Mills, Richard Shepherd and Daniel Howells for so readily jumping on board. A big thanks also to our friends at MailChimp – we couldn't be doing this without their invaluable support.

.net: In your article's comments, you talk about inviting anyone to be involved rather than only showcasing the same names. What's the reasoning behind this, and, if someone wants to contribute, what's the best way they can play a part?
KW: Fundamentally, we really want to highlight interesting, beautiful and creative ‘stuff’. That could range from a cool office space, to an interesting coffee shop or a new online service. In our ‘Spotlight On’ issue, we hope to feature individuals and companies we find interesting. Some you might have heard of, but, hopefully, many you won't have.

We really want Digest to be inclusive, and so if you have an idea for a feature or something that you think would work well, we want to hear from you. We are in the process of building our Viewport Industries website and this will include a submission form. Until then people can get in touch with me at mail@viewportindustries.com.

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