Immediately after Elon Musk sat down at his throne made of doge and began slashing through everything we liked about Twitter, people began looking for alternatives. Is Mastodon where we go? Is everyone moving to Hive Social? Will we simply be forced to participate in Instagram Notes?
That’s about the time Substack, a newsletter platform, launched its chat function(Opens in a new tab), a space for Substack writers and creators to host Twitter-like conversations with their subscribers. It was — and still is — a space that feels a lot like AOL Instant Messenger or a group chat, and looks a lot like Reddit. It wasn’t exactly a social media substitute, though. In fact, when Chat launched, Substack co-founder Hamish McKenzie told Mashable that he thinks “people are kind of fed up with it all in the public brawl of social media, and the idea of having a space where you can hang out with the people who actually want to be hanging out with you and talking about the things that you have a shared interest in … having that greater control. It’s just more fun.”
Now, Substack is launching a new feature that actually is a lot like other social media feeds: Notes. Newsletter writers can already recommend publications through Substack’s Recommendations feature, but the Notes feature will “give them the power to recommend almost anything — including posts, quotes, comments, images, links, and ideas,” co-founders Chris Best, Hamish McKenzie, and Jairaj Sethi wrote in the announcement. The feature will be available to all users in the coming days.
“Our goal is to foster conversations that inspire, enlighten, and entertain, while giving writers a powerful growth channel as these interactions find new audiences,” Best, McKenzie, and Sethi wrote, adding the incredibly realistic: “Imagine Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leaving a comment on Margaret Atwood’s note about trends in science fiction; or Alison Roman sharing a quote from an amazing recipe developed by a little-known food writer who then gets a flood of subscriptions. Think of your favorite Substack economists nerding out in a deep thread about the latest jobs report; or Joe Posnanski and Molly Knight going back and forth about Major League Baseball’s Opening Day.”
The team admits that Notes will look similar to other social media feeds, but, since the Substack network runs on paid subscriptions, you won’t see advertisements. This, Substack says, “changes everything.” It should be noted that even though Substack isn’t ad-motivated, it isn’t without its problems. Take a look at anti-transgender British writer Graham Linehan, who was kicked off other social media sites but whose harassment, transphobia, and hate speech continue to flourish on his Substack account(Opens in a new tab) to the tune of thousands of paid subscribers.
But the Substack co-founders are steadfast in their insistence that removing the ad-based system will allow for a more nuanced space to flourish.
“The lifeblood of a subscription network is the money paid to people who are doing great work within it,” the creators wrote. “Here, people get rewarded for respecting the trust and attention of their audiences. The ultimate goal on this platform is to convert casual readers into paying subscribers. In this system, the vast majority of the financial rewards go to the creators of the content.”