Using Known and RSS to Power an Email Newsletter

I’ve busted out Known on a new subdomain. I used it in the past as a way to reclaim my tweets. At the heart of Known is the idea of syndication. It really is a very powerful application for those who wish to deploy the POSSE (publish on own site, syndicate elsewhere). One app to power all the other apps. Thus, I can orignate a status update and then send it to my social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And when I finally give up on Facebook (it’s essentially already happened… and, Twitter, you aren’t doing yourself any favors), one can turn off that channel and not worry about having to export their content. Something new comes up and you want to syndicate there? Hook it up to the hub and syndicate away.

I’ve decided that, while I liked that approach, I want to use Known a little bit differently this time around. It’s going to be more of a space for me to file articles I’m reading and jot quick notes and thoughts. While many applications are focused around blogging or micro blogging, Known has support for photo, audio, video, and bookmark syndication as well. So you’ll now find notes.adamcroom.com as my primarily space to see my public filing cabinet and adamcroom.com will serve as my space for concerte, long form writing (this will syndicate to WordPress for instance :-) ).

Shortly after firing up notes.adamcroom.com, Jon Becker sent out a tweet that may or may not (probably didn’t) coincide with that announcement thinking about Known as a bus for newsletters.

This is a really interesting idea that I was willing to play around with. I’m actually pretty fond of email newsletters (email is dead, love live email). Mostly because i don’t spend that much time in front of Twitter and miss a lot of the activity (if only someone could algorithimically feed me what I wanted! ;-) ). So I appreciate Stephen Downe’s OLDaily and Audrey Watters TinyLetter and Maria Popova’s Brainpickings weekly digest. To me they are sort of like magazines, which was and still is one of my favorite mediums.

Known has a hearty amount of RSS integration at various levels across the platform, so subscription is fairly easy. You can subscribe to my entire Notes RSS Feed:

http://notes.adamcroom.com/?_t=rss

Or by content type such as Bookmarks:

http://notes.adamcroom.com/content/bookmarkedpages/?_t=rss

Or even my specific hashtags:

http://notes.adamcroom.com/tag/hashtag/?_t=rss

Once upon a time, one of my job duties was to create a daily newsletter for our department that featured important news and, in fact, I did this with a combination of both RSS and Mailchimp. At the time, I was working for the Economic Development department so I pulled together a list of 50-or-so publications on my RSS Reader (Google Reader and then later Feedly) that spanned local, state level, and national level news that related to higher education, technology transfer, economic development, and policy. I then leveraged an If This Then That trigger to move everything I favorited into a Delicious feed. The point of this was to create ONE mega RSS feed of my Feedly favorites.

Then I used Mailchimp’s RSS-Driven Campaign feature to fire out a daily email.

Every morning Mailchimp would crawl the RSS feed and, in the event anything new had been added since its previous crawl, it would spit out a nice little email like this:

While this was simply a department level newsletter at first, we started to quickly have other folks around the institution subscribe to it as well. Which was pretty cool.

From Known to Mailchimp

Anyways, the new question is what does this look like with Known? I decided I would play around with setting up a newsletter based on my bookmarks, so one could get a sense of what I was reading if they really wanted to. Because I’m already curating, this removes any need for a fancy IFTTT hook. So I’ve gone ahead and generated a new Mailchimp campaign and plugged in my Known Bookmarks RSS feed as the feed source.

Mailchimp provides a few basic templates that populate items based on the RSS metadata and Mailchimp provides a nice page of their RSS Merge Tags. I’ve chosen a basic template for the newsletter:

I’ve made a couple of edits (such as remove the company logo) as well as changed one merge tag from “CONTENT_FULL” to “CONTENT” to make it a little easier on the eyes.

Now I move into Preview mode to see if it all populates and whadya know, we got a fully working automated newsletter:

So, as you can see, with bookmarks, |RSSFEED:TITLE| is what shows up as the title of the article. That works. I can also confirm that it properly pulls the link. Thankfully, Known’s RSS feed properly pulls the link to the original article. So if you click “READ MORE,” which corresponds with the Mailchimp RSS merge tag |RSSITEM:URL|, you will be directed to the original post and not my post on the post. In fact, it doesn’t look like Mailchimp has the capability to link to the Known post itself as nothing matches up to the RSS Tag <guid>. On the flip side, looking at the RSS feed, Known doesn’t seem to carry over any info from the original article other than the title and the link. Thus, the publish date is equated to when you publish on Known and the author is the Known author (not the original author). Thus, I recommend removing the author field from Mailchimp as to not confuse the reader on who wrote the post itself.

I’ve gone ahead and mocked up what gets added to the Known RSS feed as well as the Mailchimp RSS Merge Tag equivalent:

It does looks like |RSSITEM:CONTENT| pulls the Known content text box (not content from the original post). I use the context box to pull out quotes I found interesting, but one could also use it to contextual something, similar to what Stephen Downes does for the OLDaily.

Jon also brought up a very valid point on the “humanness” of an approach like this:

And I totally accept that. There is something about receiving this newsletter that feels a bit… sterile. As opposed to Audrey’s newsletter which is clearly “hand” written and specifically curated for that audience. Yet while the idea of getting a weekly well-written letter from Audrey weekly is infinity better than robots, I still see value in the automated process as well if only opens up another choice for the end-user to decide the medium in which they consume the media. And to that end choice is, ultimately, the broader value of syndication. This is why data flow and interopability is so important (again–Twitter. Let’s be honest that you only got off the ground because your open API allowed users to interact with Twitter in places such as mobile apps three years before you built your own acquired one). So, please, engage with my content however you see fit, be it via coming to my website, subscribing to the RSS feed, or the low tech approach of email. Or don’t engage. :-)

For those of you who really want an autogenerated weekly email sent to you based off of my Known Bookmarks (or just want to see it in action), have at it!

Subscribe to Adam’s Weekly Notebook Email

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