This morning’s Observer column:
Way back in March, at the beginning of the first lockdown, I fell to wondering what a columnist, academic and blogger under house arrest might usefully do for the duration of his imprisonment. My eye fell on my blog, Memex 1.1, which has been a harmless presence on the web since the mid-1990s and a source of puzzlement to journalistic and academic colleagues alike. The hacks unanimously shared Dr Johnson’s view that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money”, while my academic colleagues thought it peculiar to waste one’s energy writing anything that would not figure in scholarly citation indices. The idea that one might maintain a blog simply because one enjoyed doing it never crossed their minds.
So there it was, with a modest readership, which occasionally spiked as it caught some brief wave of attention. Given that many people were going to be locked down like me, I wondered if the regularity of receiving the blog as an email every morning might be welcome. The thought came from observing how Dave Winer’s wonderful blog, Scripting News, drew an even wider readership after he offered it as a daily email to subscribers. So I began looking for an easy way of doing something similar.
The obvious solution would be an email list service like Mailchimp, but that looked like hard work, so I opted for Substack, which made it really easy. My blog would be published and available on the web every day as usual, but every night the day’s version would be neatly packaged into an email and delivered at 7am the following morning to anyone who had subscribed. The only change I made was to include a daily five-minute audio diary – something I’d never done before.
It was such an obvious thing to do. But the results were surprising – and often gratifying…