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NextDraft's Dave Pell on why email is still the killer app

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NextDraft's Dave Pell took some time to talk to The Verge about email's stability and appeal, the need for smart aggregation, and how he fulfills his role as the "Internet's Managing Editor."

dave pell lead
dave pell lead

You may know Dave Pell from his excellent collection of essays over at Tweetage Wasteland, but he's also been hard at work recently with NextDraft, an email newsletter summarizing the day's most important news. Last week, the newsletter made the jump to app form with the launch of NextDraft for iOS. He took some time to talk to The Verge about email's stability and appeal over the years, the need for smart aggregation, and how he fulfills his role as the "Internet's Managing Editor."

Where are you?

I am where I almost always am. In front of my MacBook Air. At the moment, I am at my office in the SOMA section of San Francisco.

What are you doing right now?

I am waiting for my friend Mordy to finish proof-reading Friday's edition of my NextDraft newsletter. I am pretty amped on coffee and a bit anxious. Even after pressing publish buttons on the Internet for more than a decade, I still get excited to do it again. It's my drug.

What's your first memory of the internet?

"I used to periodically send out bound volumes of my writing to twenty or thirty of my friends."

My first memory of the Internet was creating a personal site that featured a cork board background pattern and thumbtacked index cards that led visitors to the various sections of the site. During the years before the net, I used to periodically send out bound volumes of my writing to twenty or thirty of my friends. The second I FTP'd the first version of my site onto the Internet, I knew I'd be saving money on postage and my friends would be reading my missives a lot more often (whether they liked it or not).

How much email do you get in a given day?

Although I work and play on the Internet, I really don't get that much email. I'd say I get about a hundred a day. I feel a bit sad and lonely admitting that.

Why an email newsletter (and app), when everyone's constantly screaming email is dead?

I wrote NextDraft about a decade ago and then stopped. A friend suggested that I relaunch it. At first, I was dubious that people wanted another news source and yet another item in their inboxes. But I gave it a shot. And I've been surprised on the upside. The inundation of news, tweets, and status updates has left people feeling overwhelmed. Email is a tried and true, old school way to communicate with people. In the app, I've tried to add some benefits to the reader, while maintaining the good things about email. It's easy to read and it's about the content. Email has always been a great medium. It's the content of most emails that's problematic.

"Email has always been a great medium. It's the content of most emails that's problematic."

How does email have such staying power?

Email is still the killer app. It looks great on all your devices and the user experience is always exactly what you've come to expect. Look at the rise of Instapaper, Readability, and Pocket. People love plain, glorious, readable text. Email is also a technology that everyone understands, and it's personal (if someone wants to respond to me, all they have to do is hit reply). Tweets and status updates flow by and disappear into the black hole that is the Internet of five minutes ago. Interesting links and stories you find in an email newsletter are always right where you left them.

What are your go-to sources for great, newsy stuff? Do you spend all day on Twitter and running through select RSS feeds?

I do get some good leads from my Twitter feed. But most of my stories are found the old fashioned way. I fire up my laptop and open about sixty tabs' worth of news sites. I then spend the next four hours trying to fulfill my role as the Internet's Managing Editor.

Do you have a specific angle that you're looking for? What's your filter?

I try to have a mix of important, interesting and funny material. Ultimately, my taste is the only filter. If I am interested, I assume NextDraft readers will be.

There are so many really good aggregated digests of good reads these days. What's the value in this kind of curation? Where does it fall flat?

'Web 3.0: The Humans Strike Back'

NextDraft is less a traditional aggregator and more of a column with links. I'm not just cutting and pasting material. I am anchoring the day's news. In a lot of ways, the increasing number of aggregated digests have added to the clutter. One digest might make things easier. But two thousand of them can leave people in same state of overwhelmed distress. Ultimately, the goal should be to pick one or two voices that you trust. People need some kind of algorithm to help them cut through the clutter and I've realized that, for some folks, I am that algorithm. The next iteration of the web is going to be all about humans filtering information for each other. "Web 3.0: The Humans Strike Back." You just need to make sure you end up following the humans who will lead you to places where you want to be.

What's the best thing you've seen on the internet this month?

Brett Cohen wanted to better understand our celebrity-obsessed culture, so he hired paparazzi, bodyguards, and assistants to follow him around New York City. The results were absolutely amazing. His video combines a lot of what I love about the Internet. It's entertaining, it makes a clear point, and it's funny as hell.

Why is Twitter so funny?

If you think it is, then you are following the right people.

What's the best book you've read lately?

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips. It's an incredibly creative book about a guy who discovers a Shakespeare play. And for good measure, Phillips actually wrote a three-act Shakespearean play that is included in the book. Hard to find a tweet to top that kind of talent.

What’s most exciting to you about technology at this moment?

I am taking care of my two kids alone this weekend, so at this moment, the most exciting technology news is that our family iPad is fully charged. Aside from that, I'm pretty excited to see what comes of this 3D printing stuff.

How do you stay focused?

"Lack of focus has never been much of a focus."

The Chicago Bears' Dan Hampton once said, "Strength has never been my weakness." I am news-obsessed, Internet-addicted, and a slave to the publish button. Lack of focus has never been much of a focus.

Any plans for more essays on Tweetage Wasteland?

Definitely. I got side-tracked with the NextDraft app. But I am working on a few new pieces.


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