One million

What got our start-up to one million users against all odds. Hint: it was curation for the masses.

It took us two years, three months, and five days.

One million people now have a Blendle account. If you’re not one of those yet, you’re only a click away (or, if you’re in the U.S., a click and a short time on a waiting list.) And become one in one million people who read from the world’s most trusted sources, on Blendle, without a subscription, and with a money back guarantee if you didn’t like a story.

When we first started, we wanted to make high quality journalism available for everyone, breaking down the barriers of an ever growing number of paywalls, helping people to find the best reads from quality sources, and giving that quality journalism a chance in a news environment that has become — and to a large extent still is — a clicktatorship.

It seemed like utopia.

If you’ve never heard of Blendle, this is what we’re doing: on our journalism platform, young people discover premium journalism that is hidden on paper or behind paywalls. They can purchase stories they want to read, and get their money back if they didn’t enjoy it. We wanted to do this to make the best work of journalists available to young people. And in the past year, they got even younger: The largest chunk of our users is now 30 years old, down from 35 years. I remember how we first introduced the concept to a publisher. They thought we were crazy.

Two years in, one million people have given us more confidence that we’re on the right track with this crazy experiment. We feel more committed than ever to improve upon what we built.

Helping our users find the best stuff, quickly

The key to our success is not only that we’re offering journalism in a frictionless, beautiful way. It’s curation. Our team of journalists reads a combined forty hours a day, to find the best stories for you. They pick the most compelling, most surprising, most inspiring pieces. Groundbreaking investigations, truly unique essays, and fun, helpful, and beautifully written stories on whatever matters that day, that week, that year. Articles that won’t make this world seem more pleasant, but more understandable.

Before we reached one million readers on Blendle, we invited some of our most active readers into our office to show them something we’ve been working on. We call it the Blendle Premium Feed. The goal is to create the internet’s most interesting, most compelling and most informative stream of stories, tailored to every single one of our users. A stream of stories that are hand selected by our team of journalists and then placed in streams, each compiled to each of our readers’ unique interests and tastes.

Journalists and technologists working together

The reactions to the Blendle Premium Feed ranged from excited to a bit more enthusiastic. But there was one point most of them agreed on. A lot of people we invited told us that they feel uneasy about personalization. The fear being that they get presented articles they agree with, instead of stories that challenge. Articles that don’t help them to understand the world better, but just make them feel better about themselves. Journalism that divides and doesn’t inform. It’s a worry we share.

Journalism was always at the heart of Blendle, and that’s why we wanted our algorithms to work like a journalist. A team of roughly a dozen data scientists and journalists together, built an algorithm to pop the filter bubble. And is mindful of nerds. That creates a stream of stories that will show you the need-to-know stories, but also gets you the stuff that surprises you and stuff that is important to you, but maybe not a lot of other people. Like that super wonky politics story, or that crazy detailed history of the computer chip, or that silly piece about some celebrity.

Right now we’re testing this, and our first results are very encouraging. Sometimes only a handful of people see a story, and often half of them go ahead and read it. Your marketing friend might call that a 50 percent clickthrough rate, and he’ll agree that it’s unheard of.

So in the coming months, we’ll start slowly rolling out the Blendle Premium Feed to all of our users. It sounds, again, a little bit like utopia: A stream you’ll find interesting, compelling, useful, informative — but that still doesn’t cage you in a filter bubble. But at one million users, we have the feeling it’s not the technology that kept this from us. It’s the will to do it.

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