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The annoying state of Internet subscriptions

I’d like to see something that would make “subscribe” a verb of the Internet, like "go” and “contact”.

It’s 2016. If someone asks you how they can contact you, you will probably share your phone number, your email, your Skype, your Facebook, your Twitter. It depends on your online habits, but chances are that sending you a message through one of these services is a good way to contact you.

But what if they ask you, “You say/write interesting things, I’d like to get what you publish”, i.e. what if they want to subscribe to your stuff? Here are your options and they all suck.

Email (Newsletter)

Yes, it’s 2016, and the best way of subscribing to your stuff may be a newsletter, using email, a technology that predates the Web or even the Internet, depending on how you define e-mail. 

Email newsletters are nice. I have my own, too. And the tools to create email newsletters have evolved and are able to do amazing things. But even so, your newsletter will end up in a cluttered mailbox, full of various types of messages ranging from automated notifications, to personal messages, to business exchange, to spam.

(Side note: Someone should make a “newsletter reader”: an email client/service designed to receive emails, that makes it easy to subscribe to newsletters, read, share and unsubscribe. A special email address, you will use to subscribe to emails. Mailchimp should have already done it. Or maybe Google. And we should probably already have an email format with machine-readable data, in XML or JSON format.)

Social Networking Places*

Or they can follow you on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and the rest.

Which is the equivalent of wanting to subscribe to a music artist, and them telling you to listen to a radio station, or a TV channel: they’ll get ads, they will have to have the channel on when you post something, or they’ll miss it, they’ll have practically no way of going back a month and checking what you published.

For some strange reason, we started with an on-demand medium like the Web, and turned it into something that resembles cable channels — without TiVO.


I loved RSS. It used to be the right answer, when everyone was publishing on blogs, and most of the people who used the Internet were techies. Yes, back in the early 2000’s it would make sense to give someone your blog address and expect them to subscribe to your RSS feed.

But today, RSS is the equivalent to AM radio: nobody uses it (ok, ok, I know some of you do, I do too), and most users don’t know what to do with an RSS feed. Not to mention that most platforms used to publish content, from Facebook to Twitter to Youtube to Instagram to Medium,either don’t provide RSS feeds, or make it practically impossible to discover them.

(I will never forgive Google for dominating RSS via feedburner and GoogleReader and then destroying it, just when RSS could become a widespread technology, to force users to use Google-f****-Plus.)


I can’t believe that 25 years after the invention of the Web, we still don’t have a simple, widespread mechanism of subscribing to the changes of any resource on the Web.

I would expect that we had something that’s implemented deep in the core of the Web, even at the HTTP layer — or even as a separate protocol. Something that would be supported by browsers, operating systems and applications. 

A “subscribe” button that users know what will happen when they click it. One that does not depend to a specific service or company. And a subscription mechanism that would allow new exciting applications to be built.

I’d like to see something that would make “subscribe” a verb of the Internet, like “go” and “contact”.


(*) See "They are social places, not networks"

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