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The Evolution of the Bots + Beer Newsletter

by Michael Szul on tags: digital lifestyle, artificial intelligence, chatbots, machine learning, virtual reality
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What a difference a year makes. It was roughly a year ago that I was sitting there, surfing the Internet on my phone, and thinking about potential projects, when the "bots and beer" phrase jumped into my head. I thought it was catchy, so decided to look up "" as a domain. It was available, so I immediately registered it. I had no idea what to do with it, but I was busy working with chatbots, and I loved craft beer, so it made sense to register.

"Bots and beer" sounded like a great name for a meetup as well, so I was curious about potentially putting together some meetups at craft breweries to talk about chatbots, artificial intelligence, etc. Something like that would need a mailing list though, so the Bots + Beer Email Newsletter was born.

I had no idea what to put in it. In fact, originally it was mostly going to be programmer focused, and have a lot to do with Microsoft's Bot Framework, which I am intimately involved in. I would cultivate local email addresses, and then eventually have a meetup. The first email had several articles in it, and was focused on ethics. It was an easy topic to cover. Each successive email jumped around a bit--a little of this, a little of that… some craft beer pictures. I had one email about chatbot programmers. I had another email that was redacted as a joke about NDA agreements. It was mostly guest-and-test.

One thing that I tried to do was refrain from making it a newsletter that just dumped links. I wanted to provide value, so many of the articles mentioned included a short commentary.

I realized that I was putting efforts into Bots + Beer, but little effort in the Codepunk mailing list. In fact, I never sent a Codepunk one. I decided to kill that list, removed it from the web site, and inserted a menu navigation link at the top of the site to go to the Bots + Beer web site. It was a passive inclusion. Bots + Beer became the official newsletter of Codepunk, but something that added value instead of links.

When I decided to do the email on autism and technology, I put a lot of effort into the content because of how I felt about the subject matter and neurodiversity in general. It was with this issue/email that the format of the newsletter really emerged: a single, almost mini-blog post about a theme, and a few supporting commentaries on related articles. We'd then finish with a craft beer entry.

This format remained for the last several months, as the newsletter continued to grow. In fact, it grew a lot more than I anticipated, so it forced me to take a look at whether or not it needed some changes. The first thing I did was make some UI adjustments to the web site, including changing the copy to better reflect that it's a "narrative" newsletter, and that the subject matter is way more than Bot Framework-related. I also added an "about" page for more context.

The next thing I did was make subscribing more prominent on the Codepunk web site (just look at the beginning of this article). If you did an organic search, and landing here helped you solve your problem, maybe you'd consider subscribing. I wanted to make it easier.

After that, I reached out to a newsletter designer, and had them make some tweaks to the newsletter to improve the design. The December newsletter will have a nice refresh. It'll also have some guest commentary by Avantika Mehra, who reached out to me on Twitter after the last one went out.

All of this is to say that the Bots + Beer newsletter is evolving. It's growing. It's no longer a thing on the side, but a major part of the Codepunk platform--a way to continue to cultivate an audience of like-minded individuals and provide them value.

I look forward to what the next year brings.