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New episode! Rusty Foster, writer of Today in Tabs
Welcome to the Follow Friday newsletter! I’m your host, Eric Johnson.
This week’s guest on Follow Friday is Rusty Foster, the writer of the excellent email newsletter Today in Tabs.
Rusty Foster (Today in Tabs): Giving up on crypto, bear chandelier, Halloween puns
When Rusty Foster started the email newsletter Today in Tabs, in 2013, "tabs" was trendy media slang for the articles open in your browser that you were hate-reading. That meaning has faded into obscurity, but Today in Tabs is going strong, dishing up must-reads, great tweets, and a song every Monday-Thursday.
"I do the sort of thing that you do when you have a job where you don't have enough work to do, and you spend a lot of time procrastinating on Twitter," he says. "I do that professionally. I read stuff on Twitter. I keep track of the good tweets and I keep an eye on what people are talking about."
Today on Follow Friday, Rusty shares four great follow recommendations: Programmer and cryptocurrency critic Molly White (@molly0xFFF on Twitter); musician and comedian Petey (@petey_usa on Instagram, @peteyusa on TikTok); writer and technologist Paul Ford (@ftrain on Twitter); and role-playing game podcaster Taylore Moore (@taylordotbiz on Twitter).
And on Follow Friday's Patreon page, you can unlock an extended version of this interview in which Rusty shares a fifth bonus follow recommendation! Thank you to our amazing patrons: Jon, Justin, Amy, Yoichi, Danielle, Elizabeth, and Sylnai.
ERIC: Today on the show is Rusty Foster, who writes the email newsletter Today in Tabs. Every Monday through Thursday, he rounds up links to everything great and terrible and weird happening on the internet, in the media, and the world. You can find Rusty on Twitter @fka_tabs.
Rusty, welcome to Follow Friday!
RUSTY: Hey, thanks for having me.
ERIC: I'm so glad to have you here. Today in Tabs is one of my absolute favorite newsletters. And the name of it refers, I assume, to all the tabs that you have opened in your browser at the same time. So you are sifting through all this, you're bringing us the best stuff, you're adding your own commentary.
Can you talk a bit about what your process is for making the newsletter? How do you get all those tabs in the first place and how do you decide what makes the cut? Like, what's worth newslettering about?
RUSTY: The origin of the name is tabs, like browser tabs, but in circa 2013 media Twitter, there was a brief heyday where "tabs" was a slang term for hate reads. "Oh, my tabs!" That has passed into history and very few people remember it at this point, but tabs still work as browser tabs.
At the time, I kept struggling with the reputation that Tabs was a roundup of hate reads, which it's not really. There'll be stuff that I didn't like, but most of it is stuff I did like.
Basically, I have a Chrome bookmarks folder called Tabs. And when I read something on my phone or on my laptop, I bookmark it. Basically, everything that I read, I bookmark at this point because there have been too many times where I've remembered something that I thought at the time wasn't going to fit. And then I go to write, and it creeps in and it would be perfect. And then I'm like, "Where did I read that? Why didn't I bookmark it?"
So, I do the sort of thing that you do when you have a job where you don't have enough work to do, and you spend a lot of time procrastinating on Twitter. I do that professionally. I read stuff on Twitter. I keep track of the good tweets and I keep an eye on what people are talking about in my little corner of Twitter. Then I read articles and I bookmark them.
Generally, by about one o'clock in the afternoon on a weekday, I'll have a folder with 40 or 50 things in it, probably. And half of it might be articles; the other half is good tweets that were funny or possible songs that I might include.
ERIC: Right, because you have a song in every edition of the newsletter.
RUSTY: Yeah. So, I sit down and just start sifting through that and thinking about what themes there are. It's improv every day, essentially. Something always emerges. I sit down and I force myself to write, and whatever I write is what I send.
ERIC: I like that method; just see what happens. "Yes and" yourself.
RUSTY: It's kind of like a variety show, honestly. It's like a late night show. There'll be a little monologue up front where I write about something I have more to say about than the rest of them. Then some good tweets, and then some quick links that I link in a joke-type thing. Then at the end, there's a musical guest and then there's a sign off.
ERIC: Oh my gosh. I never thought about it that way. That's great.
RUSTY: I arrived at that format by doing it a bunch of times and then realizing over time that that's what I was doing. So, now I'm aware that that's what I'm doing, but it's because it's a format that works. That's why variety shows work.
ERIC: There are a lot of people on Twitter who complain about Twitter, who act as if it's their job to be on Twitter. I think you are one of the few people who would be justified... it is actually your job to be on Twitter, to be spending all your time scrolling there.
RUSTY: Honestly, that was one of the things that worried me most about bringing it back. I did it from 2013 to early 2016 and then took 2016 through 2020 off. Then I brought it back at the beginning of 2021. One of the things I worried about the most was, do I want to commit to spending all my days on Twitter again?
I've been consciously experimenting with not doing that, or doing that a little less, and it's worked fine. I don't spend as much time on Twitter as I would've expected or as you might think. Discord really helps because Tabs readers essentially feed me half of the links that I read at this point. A couple of the Discords and some friend chats. I do spend time on Twitter, but it's not the sole source.
ERIC: So, you have channels in the Discord server for your readers, where people know the sort of stories that you are interested in. So, when they come across them in their own browsing, they're sending them to you. So that makes it a little bit easier to find things that match that tone.
RUSTY: It's a virtuous circle because my readers are obviously interested in the kind of stories that I'm interested in. That's why they're the kind of paying readers who would sign onto Discord and chat.
And it's funny because it's 50-50 when people post stuff, whether I've already read it and bookmarked it, or whether I'm getting it from Discord the first time. By the end of the day, I've always forgotten which it is. It just confirms to me that I'm getting the stuff that people are seeing and thinking about.