Story behind: The Lunch Read
The tale of nine 20-somethings and the origins of an experiment in content, curation, and community
Late last fall, Jori and Michele came to me with a frustration: We’re all constantly searching for articles to read.
Jori recently wrote a great post explaining her mindset:
At AOL I got the opportunity to hear (Jonah Peretti) speak in the flesh. While I don’t remember if he actually gave this presentation or not, he discussed The Bored At Work Network in great detail…
As I began my first desk job, I slowly understood the legions of Americans looking for relief throughout their long 8,9,10 hour workdays. In those first few months I had no friends at work—full transparency right there—so I would eat lunch at my desk, as if I had so much work to do. During lunch I would scour the web for something decent to read while I shoved salad into my mouth, something mildly entertaining as I spooned yogurt from the cup. I needed a lunch break.
Scour is the key word.
I won’t spend too much time rehashing a pain point that’s all too well publicized: finding good articles online sucks.
Guess what else sucks? Once we found those articles, sharing them with friends was an even shittier process.
I would read something interesting. I might tweet it. Michele would see it and email it to Jori. Jori would gchat it to a colleague. The whole thing was absurdly inefficient. Each of our social networks ended up reading the same articles (more or less)…but it was a terrible process to get there. And that all only really worked if people were free the moment they saw the tweet/post/email to engage with the article.
The takeaway: We wanted a better way to share and discover articles.
We called it The Lunch Read and we started with a simple solution: Michele created a Google Doc. Nine of us came together to share the most interesting articles that we read each week.
These articles reflected our mix of backgrounds. Consulting, technology, television and media, advertising, fashion, finance.
The document quickly turned into a digital bookshelf.
But the group wanted a graphical interface—something interactive.
So we moved to Branch. Branch was a clean, visual platform. We posted articles and videos; we actively discuss the subjects at hand.
Our project was now a beautiful digital bookshelf.
But then Josh, Libby, and the team shut down Branch’s group feature as they developed Potluck. No hard feelings, guys. I understand.
So we shifted again, back to the Google family and to a G+ group.
Fast forward four or five months—a few friends had heard about our digital book club.
A couple of them sent us articles. Many of these friends asked our media-addicted collective to send them the group’s best finds.
Despite this interest, we were hesitant to change course and make the G+ group public. We worried that a flood of new folks would mean more articles and discussions—a good problem to have—but one that could prove exhausting. You can only read so many articles in a week.
So, the original question remained: How could we share good reads?
People talk a lot about curation: SampleStartup.ly has a powerful algorithm that finds personalized, niche articles for you!
People also talk about the value of platforms: Twitter, Reddit, and Facebook compile centralized feeds of articles and media!
But after talking to friends, we found that the majority of our peers actually disagreed with those views: We aren’t active on Twitter. My FB feed sucks. I barely have time to read let alone find new articles or sites.
We started to develop a few hypotheses about how the majority of our friends discovered (or wanted to interact with) content. But I’ll save those thoughts for another post and skip to the solution:
Send out a list of handpicked articles every week.
That’s it. High quality finds for our peers. Simple. Zero spam. Links to articles, maybe a bit of commentary. Text and HTML-based emails.
I know. This was not a particularly unique idea.
TheLi.st and others do this well—newsletters now seem a bit in vogue.
But we thought, ‘maybe, with our combined personalities, this could be interesting.’ We like media. We like experimenting. We like building.
Let’s see what happens.
Our list started at 90 members strong.
We sent out the first version—a collection of 8 or so articles—and waited. We tweeted a bit. Posted to Facebook one or twice.
We told our friends and family that our Lunch Reads were delicious. That we had tasty crumbs for them to nibble on.
To our pleasant surprise, the list grew.
In just two weeks, we gained 431 subscribers. That’s what hockey stick growth looks like. (I’m kidding — but it’s nice that our friends cared.)
And despite the release of Gmail’s new inbox, people actually opened the email. As a bonus: they clicked on the links.
The Lunch Read is proving to be an interesting way to share, discuss, and digest the world around us. It’s a way to understand what people read and how they interact with content.
It’s a chance to learn together, to tell a story, to spread love of a new author or point people to a fantastic essay that they might have missed.
It’s getting better each week.
And I promise, we’re just getting started.