Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The evolution of the blogosphere into Substack

On the HBO show Silicon Valley, there's a pivotal moment when VC funder Monica confesses to the protagonist, Richard, that, to her enduring shame, she "passed on Slack," costing her company potential billions.

"I mean, what is it? Is it email? Is it IM? I just don't get it."

"Turns out what it is is a $3 billion dollar company, and I passed on it."

That puzzled image of Monica? That's me with Substack.

  I've mentioned substacks a few times here, but what are your thoughts on them?

What I've learned so far: A substack is an email newsletter that you subscribe to. 

It's like a blog, in that it has a website and you can comment. 

It's not like a blog in that you have to pay for it, usually $60 a year and up, mostly.  Some are supposedly free, although most that I've tried to read has the familiar "subscribe to read more" sticker about a paragraph in. 

It's free to create and write a substack, and Substack provides the platform and an app. Remember the olden days of RSS and bloglines and Google Reader? It's like that.

Remember listservs? It's sort of like those, too.  Like Monica, I'm grasping for analogies.

Substack's had its own problems with content moderation and catering to--let's call them unsavory movements, so many people apparently left the platform.

I've subscribed to one (an academic acquaintance's) and have read several others & the comments. It's a nice community, no question, but it's still a bit puzzling.

Are the posts thoughtful and interesting and well-written? Yes.

Are they more thoughtful and interesting than most blogs, especially at the height of the blogosphere (around 10 years ago)? Not really, because there was (and is, for you stalwart bloggers) always interesting and fresh content to be had in the blogosphere. 

Maybe it's just the natural progression--Cory Doctorow calls it the "enshittification"--of monetizing what was once free on the internet so that someone could make a buck. Case in point: every single link here (except to this blog) will flash you a "subscribe now!" panel after a paragraph.

It seems unduly harsh to say that about the lovely Substackers I've seen, though.

So I'm having a Monica moment here: I don't get it. Your thoughts? 


xykademiqz said...

I am like Monica re Slack. It does nothing that I need that email already doesn't do. And I don't want instant messaging from anyone who's not a close friend or family. So I don't understand what it objectively would do for me that email doesn't already do. There are people who swear by Slack but those people want to be connected with others way more than I do.

Same as you re Substack. They are paid blogs that also generate a newsletter (which any blogging platform worth its salt, like WordPress, already does and sends new posts to all blog subscribers). The operating word here is paid. Substack is paid blogs and nothing beyond it.

I hate that every single morsel of creative release is supposed to be monetized these days.

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Some well-known writers whose blogs I would/did happily read moved to Substack, and I decided that I don't love their work enough to pay basically a book price every month to read a few fairly fluffy article-length pieces, especially when there are other writers still blogging. And if I don't already know the person's work, there's no chance I'll pay to read it. At least for India Knight I thought about it.

I gather Slack is sort of like Teams messaging? LRU uses Teams, but I almost never have the program open except for required meetings. Some people at work seem to use it more regularly. Some people also keep their calendars on Outlook where everyone can see them, but I'm still holding out against that (since I don't have a position where I need to meet with other people very much), and sticking to my paper calendars, which work a lot better for my needs.

benim said...

I am using Substack for a slow read of War and Peace (not as a paid subscriber.) The community is nice. The forum (chat? Not sure what they call it) is sometimes interesting and almost always motivating.
I agree with you, I wouldn't pay for blog posts even when they're written an author I like. I'd just read their (free) interviews and purchase their books.

undine said...

xykademiqz--agree on both counts! WordPress sends emails, and it doesn't nag readers incessantly to subscribe for $$$ to see the rest of the content. As for Slack: my very brief encounters with hearing about it both in person and on Ask a Manager have made me conclude that it's yet another chance to cause Drama among people who love Drama, and that is something that I don't need. Agree also about monetizing creative releases!

Dame Eleanor--well put! "fluffy article-length pieces" that you pay for: I prefer my fluff, if needed, to be free.