Reviews by Team: Email newsletters

Less spam, more knowledge

4 stars
Concise and thoughtful, if a bit random, recommendations from the "Cool Tools" crowd

Kevin Kelly is best known as the founding executive editor of Wired and as a former editor and publisher of the Whole Earth Review. A prolific writer about technology, he also edits Cool Tools, a blog reviewing technology that “really works”. Recomendo is its newsletter offshoot.

Each issue (sample) highlights six finds—tools, websites, videos, and so on—with a summary written by a member of the Cool Tools team. There’s no real unifying theme here; it’s just stuff that is of interest to the writers, whether that happens to be a meat chopper, an online piggy bank, or a set of videos about cryptocurrencies. There’s also no strong ethical component (e.g., is it free software? how was it made?), so you may feel the need to do additional research on the items that are featured.

The descriptions are concise and useful, often relaying the author’s personal experience with a given item. While links to are affiliate links, it’s pretty clear that this newsletter is a passion project first and foremost.

If you enjoy stumbling upon useful tools and tech and don’t mind skim-reading to find it, I recommend the subscription, but check out the previous issues to see if it’s for you.

5 stars
Great for keeping up with JS and the web platform

The web platform has many cynics and critics. The litany of complaints includes: incompetent developers (there’s nothing techies love more than being critical of other techies), bloated libraries, framework hell, recalcitrant browser makers, security nightmares, ever-changing specifications, and an unrelenting hype machine. All those criticisms have elements of truth. But there’s also an upside: web development is an open, decentralized, vibrant community, one which seems to inexorably stumble towards making better web applications at least possible.

And it also has open, welcoming subcultures that reject cool, detached cynicism and dominance displays. From projects like Nodeschool to the Recurse Center, there are thousands of people concerned with equipping more of us with the skills to build a better web. I associate Pony Foo with that same culture of learning & sharing. Started as a blog by Nicolás Bevacqua from Buenos Aires, Pony Foo has grown into a larger community that publishes in-depth articles about the web platform (i.e. the JavaScript language, HTML, CSS; various libraries, tools, and frameworks).

Given the rate of change in web development, such resources are indispensable for anyone who wants to do more than maintaining a legacy application. And Pony Foo helpfully provides a roundup of various findings from around the web (courses, tutorials, news, etc.), in a weekly email newsletter, which is just about the right frequency to not be overwhelmed.

While the newsletter highlights Pony Foo’s own articles, they are only a fraction of the content, and the biggest value-add is in the curation of resources from elsewhere. A typical example of a summary:

Error Handling in React 16

Dan explains how error handling works in React 16, which is out on public beta since yesterday. React 16 uses Fiber under the hood, although its async rendering capabilities aren’t turned on yet. It is expected this is enabled at some point in the React 16.x release line.

Dan Abramov

As the summary shows, occasionally the newsletter might benefit from some effort to make technical jargon more accessible or to provide a “why should I care” hook. But the headlines are easy enough to scan for stuff that seems relevant to you.

The newsletter does have sponsored posts in it, which are clearly marked. I don’t find them especially problematic and occasionally even useful. The content is under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA License, which is a bit restrictive (incompatible with Wikimedia projects, for example) but a lot better than conventional copyright. Whether you love or hate the web platform (or love-hate? :), if you regularly build upon it, I highly recommend subscribing (read a sample issue to see if it’s for you).

4 stars
A good way to discover interesting open source projects & resources

The changelog is known primarily as a podcast for the open source community, but it also offers this newsletter that’s generated from GitHub repository data. Unlike its weekly newsletter, this one isn’t curated – it’s just a list of repos that have been “starred” a lot (similar to a “like” on Facebook), with an “all time” and “recently” division.

Yet, I still find myself looking at it more frequently than at other email newsletters or feeds – just because it often leads me to discover some major new open source release by a corporate player, or an interesting new project that is quickly gaining steam. The consistent format and brevity makes it easy to parse. Recommended if you like open source & serendipitous discovery.