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Let’s come to an understanding

Okay, so, we have a thing for newsletters. 

Since we launched our biweekly/bimonthly/fortnightly newsletter in September 2017 at Unbabel, we’ve seen industry-busting open (35%+) and click (9%+) rates, but, being restless creatures, we couldn’t rest on these laurels and wondered how we could make our presence in your sacred inboxes even better. 

So we gathered around (by “we” I mean Matt, Rafaela and I, the editorial team behind The Understanding), lit a fire and poured ourselves a glass of wine to figure out what to do next. 

Disclaimer: What you’re about to read is a reconstruction of not so actual events.

The brief history of email

It was only a matter of time before Rafaela started rambling about the history of email (as she pretty much does with the history of everything else) and how back in 1971, Roy Tomlinson sent the first email, supposedly inspired by colleagues who didn’t pick up the phone. 

Unfortunately, he could never remember what that first message said, but Rafaela likes to think it was something like “Pick up the goddamn phone, John”. 


But as we dug deeper into the internet’s history books, we discovered all sorts of relevant fun facts regarding this exquisite form of messaging others, including the beginning of spam as we know it. 

It was a man called Gary Thuerk, now officially known as the father of spam, who sent the first unsolicited mass email way back in 1978. 

20 years later, and spam was added to the Oxford Dictionary, replacing its former definition which, believe it or not, was “trademark, a tinned meat product made mainly from ham”. 

Personally, I think we ought to thank Mr. Thuerk or we’d be eating egg, bacon, and spam, spam, spam for breakfast (a Monty Python reference upon a suggestion of Hugo Macedo, our VP of Marketing, who had just made an appearance at the campfire). 

Now back to the future

Meanwhile, all these years have passed, all these emails were sent, inboxes were absolutely filled with junk nobody cares, as demonstrated by the monstrosity of unread emails that we all have, and still, we stared at the fire looking for answers. 

Our newsletter simply wasn’t good enough to cut through the noise. We were going on and on about ourselves, subscriber growth wasn’t increasing as we wanted, open rates weren’t as impressive as they were in the beginning, and we realised that maybe the format was not ideal.

So we started thinking about what we wanted to achieve with the newsletter. 

We want it to be the thing that gets the conversation started, that builds loyalty, and email is still the best way to do that. 

Half of the world’s population has email accounts, and it’s definitely an efficient form of messaging. As this study shows, 90% of people said that newsletters are their preferred medium to get updates, opposed to the other 10% who preferred Facebook.

But social media is really not the ideal place to do any of this, because you’re building your brand in someone else’s land. And nobody wants that. We want to keep our subscribers interested and engaged. 

Everything they want to know fed directly to their e-doorstep. A medium we can control: No spam, no intrusion, no bullshit — a direct route to get their attention.

The newsletters we loved

And that’s when we opened another bottle of wine and started talking about the content we loved. 

We started looking at all these newsletters we liked, trying to figure out what’s it about them that keeps us opening as they reach our inbox.

Quartz Obsession, Read this thing, the Exponential View, Tedium, MIT Technology Review. All these newsletters were great. But they all had something in common. Relevant content, content that educates, that gathers resources, that gives you unique insights and points of view.

And so we thought: ‘Okay, how do we want our newsletter to be?’ 

Well, it’s gotta be weekly, it’s gotta be modular, it’s gotta be thematic and it’s gotta be interactive.

And that is why we put the fire out, came back home, and created this weekly dispatch that takes a deep dive into the themes we’re already exploring on The Understanding: the ambiguity and complexity of the human language, the exponential technologies augmenting human intelligence, and everything in-between.  

Newsletter, the sequel, is here. A place where the art and science of language and technology meet. 

We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we’ll enjoy writing them. 

Now go and take a look at the first one that made its way to our subscribers inboxes last week, and subscribe if you like what you see — there’s a new one coming out tomorrow so you may want to do that before then.