The blogosphere

Now with added newsletter-o-sphere

December 30, 2014 — October 6, 2022

Assumed audience:

Nascent producers and consumers of online punditry

Figure 1

Blogging and newsletter authoring for general pundits. Closely related: subscribing to feeds which is a convenient and natural way to read and interact with blogs. These days there is a fashion for email first blogs, because it provides a handy on-ramp for people who do not know how to subscribe to feeds.

A lot of the blog discussion here assumes basic verbal punditry. The technicalities of academic blogging can be a little different; see that page for more HOWTOs on mathematical markup and citations etc.

1 Why

2 Static site

What I currently do. See static site.

3 Wordpress

Classic, and I used to use it a lot. Pro: integrates into other things well. Offers both open-source and hosted versions.

4 Email-first blogs

Email subscriptions are useful for enabling people who do not know how to read feeds.

Also some of the providers (e.g. substack) provide a unified experience of the blogosphere conversation which happen to be on substack; see Richard Hanania’s argument about the virtues of this. Personally I’m not that excited about the unified seamless experience that has Hanania interested. It is essentially a standard feed reader but inside Substack’s pay-to-play walled garden with no API; Avoiding that nonsense is why I left facebook and Instagram. But I get that the nice UX is a battle-tested way of onboarding some idle contributors. Meanwhile, the lack of API achieves vendor lock-in that keeps the writers on board, so it’s commercially savvy to set it up this way.

Anyway, I will continue to read substack blogs inside feedly with all my other blogs (but I will laboriously manually cross-sync my subscriptions between Substack’s walled garden and the wider universe.)

See Alexey Guzey on affordances and effectiveness of several blog-email providers, backed by an open-rate data experiment. Why I switched my newsletters from Substack and Mailchimp to Buttondown, which highlights some points of friction and interest between Substack and some others.

4.1 Ghost

Ghost is a popular email/blog hybrid platform. It is open-source with a fairly cheap hosted option.

Create your own platform on the web. Ghost is a powerful app for new-media creators to publish, share, and grow a business around their content. It comes with modern tools to build a website, publish content, send newsletters & offer paid subscriptions to members.

Don’t settle for another basic profile that looks just like everyone else. Make it yours.

Publish by web & email newsletter. An editor built from the ground-up for professionals. Calm by design, with advanced workflows by default. No more suffering through clumsy toolbars or drag & oops. Immerse yourself in the story with an interface that’s invisible until you need it, and powerful when you do.


Ghost is already open-source, which is the big requirement to get started immediately.…: they plan to stop growing at 50 employees and let other companies take on the growth from there.

(For more about Ghost’s fascinating business model, see here.)

Ghost has interesting integrations, an Open API Documentation and a command-line.

Figure 2

4.2 Substack

Newsletter-style blogs. Intriguing features such as easy monetization and a legal defence fund for writers. As one of their competitors points out, Substack is missing certain features as well; in particular, there is no automatic integration, no API; you need to use Substack as your backend to use substack as your front-end.

My life is busy enough without copy-pasting from my well-adapted, easy blog into the substack author page, but is that roadbump worth it to access the semi-gated substack community? How many social networks do I want to be copy-pasting between?

4.3 Buttondown

Buttondown’s author says:

I had been writing my own personal newsletter for years but struggled with how other tools worked. Simple tasks like cleaning up Markdown, checking links, resizing images, and making sure the email looked right was a huge hassle. It took me away from doing the fun part: writing a great newsletter.

I needed a simple, pleasant tool that took the annoying stuff off of my plate. I also wanted something that was for people like me: not a tool that was really built for big commercial sites or complex editorial teams, but for a small user who wanted to spend more time writing than dealing with an interface.

Third-party integrations Setting up your Buttondown account to work with Zapier, IFTTT, Weebly, Squarespace, Ghost, and more.

Paid subscriptions Buttondown makes it easy and painless for you to get paid for your newsletters. Want to have a free tier? That’s possible, too!

Run by a human Buttondown isn’t a team or a startup or a movement or whatever: it’s just me. I respond to every email personally and deeply care about the problems I’m trying to solve.

Privacy-first Buttondown is GDPR-compliant—and then some. I don’t collect any data about you (or your subscribers), and Buttondown is the only newsletter provider that starts with analytics turned off by default. (If you want lightweight open or link tracking, it’s a single click away.)

Alexey’s review notes:

  • 46% open rate
  • 53% of openers clicked a link
  • looks very nice, a tiny bit worse than Substack (twitter embeds though behave somewhat worse, so my Best of Twitter newsletter stays with Substack)
  • user interface is great
  • $5/month/1k subscribers (with Buttondown branding and without custom domain)
  • add $29/month for removing Buttondown branding and custom domain that does not work
  • price at 4k subscribers when not removing Buttondown branding and not sending from custom domain: $20/month
  • price at 4k subscribers when removing Buttondown branding: $49/month
  • kinda buggy. For example, it very annoyingly fails to send emails from my domain despite my account’s settings claiming that everything is set up correctly and Buttondown simply ignored several of my support emails about this 🙄

4.4 Mailchimp

TinyLetter is one iteration of the hype cycle ago but still seems to be a serviceable platform by Mailchimp. Also there is the mainline mailchimp.

5 Medium

Pretty blogs. The aesthetic is not mine, and I am irritated by their nagging to register in order to read articles. The community reading features are nice, and they go a lot of market share for a while there.

6 Wix

OK I guess.

7 Squarespace

Not a fan of this product. Does not integrate with anything; it is a walled garden. Not especially cheap. Websites look fine but are heavy and menial to create. Suits people who really want to use a word processor that prints to the internet, but also wants someone else to own and operate that word processor. That is not me, although some people might be into it and that is OK.

8 Incoming

Figure 3: maps the blogosphere. a place to find good blogs that interest you.