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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Newsletter startup Substack has scooped up the team behind Cocoon, a subscription-based social network for connecting with close friends and family.

Why it matters: As newsletters grow along with the wider "creator economy," companies like Substack are looking for ways to help subscribers feel more like a community and interact with one another.

  • According to Cocoon co-founder and CEO Sachin Monga, his team will work on "all the different types of connections between readers and writers,” going beyond the simple bond created by a reader signing up for an email newsletter.

Background: Founded in 2019 by Monga and Alex Cornell, two ex-Facebook employees, Cocoon is one of a number of startups that have tried to build a "smaller Facebook" focused more on close relationships than on other content.

  • While previous attempts — Path is the most famous — failed to challenge the biggest social networks, Cocoon's team bet on two new trends: consumers' willingness to pay for subscriptions and their dissatisfaction with Facebook and its big rivals.
  • "Back when Path launched, Facebook was still a pretty good place to be for staying connected to friends and family," said Monga.
  • As for his former employer's flagship app, Monga said he realized "how many things the app is simultaneously trying to solve for — if you’re trying to do everything, you’re not doing anything really well.”

Cocoon also believed that subscriptions would have to be the business model for a social network where users have a small circle of friends.

  • "15 to 20 people are never going to create enough content to build, to aggregate enough attention to build an ads business," said Monga.
  • That's also why Cocoon's team was more interested in how often users opened the app per day and whether they remained users than in how much time they spent on the app.

Details: While Cocoon's team is joining Substack, its app is not. The startup is working on finding it a new home, although Monga declined to share more details.

Go deeper: Small social networks are having a moment

Go deeper

Big media strikes back at Substack

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pressure from new publishing platforms has finally pushed newsrooms to create programs that give writers more pay, autonomy and flexibility. Those changes are attracting some independent writers back to traditional news companies.

Why it matters: The Substack threat to newsrooms was overblown. Newsrooms have been quick to react to the idea of the independent-operator model while journalists have been sharing its challenges or detailing why they decided to return to newsrooms.

Updated 22 mins ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Concerns grow over CDC's isolation guidelines — Experts warn of more COVID-19 variants after Omicron — WHO recommends 2 new treatments — What "mild" really means when it comes to Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: America's vaccination drive runs out of gas— Puerto Rico expands booster shot requirements— Supreme Court blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for large employers.
  3. Politics: Vivek Murthy calls SCOTUS vaccine mandate block "a setback for public health" — Focus group says Biden weak on COVID response, strong on democracy.
  4. Economy: America's labor shortage is bigger than the pandemic— — CDC COVID guidance for cruise ships to be optional starting Saturday — The cost of testing.
  5. States: America struggles to keep schools open — Youngkin ends mandates for masks in schools and COVID vaccinations for state workers.
  6. World: Beijing reports first local Omicron case weeks before Winter Olympics — Teachers in France stage mass walkout over COVID protocols.
  7. Variant tracker