It’s honest to say that Substack has had a dramatic week and a half or so, and I talked to their CEO Chris Greatest about it. The corporate introduced a brand new function known as Substack Notes, which seems to be fairly a bit like Twitter — Substack authors can publish brief bits of textual content to share hyperlinks and kick off discussions, and folks can reply to them, just like the posts, the entire thing. Like I mentioned, Twitter.
Twitter, beneath the route of Elon Musk, didn’t just like the prospect of this competitors, and for a number of days final week, Twitter was taking aggressive actions in opposition to Substack. At one level you couldn’t even like tweets with Substack hyperlinks in them. At one other level, clicking on a Substack hyperlink resulted in a warning message concerning the platform being unsafe. And eventually, Twitter redirected all searches for the phrase Substack to “e-newsletter.” Musk claimed Substack was one way or the other downloading the Twitter database to bootstrap Substack Notes, which, nicely, I’m nonetheless undecided what meaning, however I no less than requested Chris what he thought that meant and whether or not he was doing it.
It’s tempting to consider Substack like a rival platform to Twitter, however till the arrival of Substack Notes, it was way more like enterprise software program. With Substack Notes, the corporate is in direct competitors with social networks like Twitter. It’s delivery a shopper product that’s designed for use by Substack readers. It’s not only a software program vendor; it’s a shopper product firm. And that carries with it one other set of content material moderation issues, that, after speaking to Chris, I’m simply undecided Substack is prepared for. Like, I actually don’t know. You’ll simply should hearken to his solutions — or actually, non-answers — for your self.
This can be a wild one. I’m nonetheless processing it. Let me know what you assume. Okay, Chris Greatest, CEO of Substack. Right here we go.
This excerpt has been flippantly edited for readability. The total transcript will probably be accessible shortly.
Was it meant to compete with Twitter?
What was it meant to do in addition to publish suggestions? As a result of it feels such as you need writers placing extra content material within the app so individuals use the app extra, which I completely perceive. Once more, that’s our motivation for our product and our website [The Verge]: we would like our writers to take part extra, be extra current, construct extra viewers, construct extra group.
I believe that the motivation construction of the social media enterprise mannequin pulls in a sure route. It pulls on this route of being maximally cheaply compelling, maximally addictive, and attempting to get you to spend an increasing number of of your time there, no matter how a lot you worth it. And I principally assume that the truest instantiation of that right this moment is TikTok. And I believe that each firm that has this enterprise mannequin goes to get pulled within the route of getting nearer and nearer to TikTok after which no matter comes past TikTok. TikTok however every part’s AI, or TikTok plugs into your mind, or no matter it’s. I don’t know.
There’s some gravitational pull that’s pulling each platform that works that strategy to be that method whether or not they wish to or not. And I believe that opens up a chance for one thing that’s in opposition to that that works a completely totally different method. That claims, “Hey, over right here, you’re the buyer. You’ll subscribe on to stuff you care about. The job of this app, of this inbox, of this feed is to not maintain you right here in any respect prices. It’s to seek out you issues that you just worth a lot that you just may wish to pay for them.”
And so, my psychological mannequin of that is principally that everyone’s going to both have to show into TikTok or flip into Substack. We’re already Substack. Within the broad sense, that creates a substitute for the eye economic system. Substack, as an entire, is a substitute for Fb, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, and over time, we expect this different mannequin will develop. But it surely’s simply clearly not the case that we’re going to launch one function and all people from another factor goes to leap over. It doesn’t work that method.
Simply to be clear, the customers of Notes predict that. Simply shopping Notes for the previous couple days since I’ve had entry to it, there’s numerous hope that everybody will simply transfer over from Twitter. Clearly, there’s some Twitter-related drama that we should always get into very immediately. However proper now, trying on the customers of Notes, who’re a bunch of Substackers, they’re saying, “Hey, this seems like early Twitter. I hope we are able to maintain this going and this replaces Twitter.” Do you assume that’s a good or acceptable expectation?
I’ve seen the meme that you just’re speaking about. That’s not the story that we’re telling, and that’s not the best way that we consider it’s going to work. We don’t assume that something goes to be the brand new Twitter. And we expect, even when that had been doable, that’s not what we’re attempting to do. We’re not attempting to construct the identical factor.
I can perceive how individuals, particularly writers who actually wish to have a dependable platform for his or her work, a dependable place to share, may very well be feeling the warmth and searching for alternate options. I believe that simplistic understanding simply doesn’t maintain water.
Let’s discuss that a part of it for only a fast second. The final time we talked, you mentioned that you just had been maintaining monitor of varied writers’ Twitter followers as you had been contemplating recruiting them to Substack, and there have been numerous totally different offers that recruit writers to Substack. However the concept that individuals with numerous Twitter followers had been enticing targets to recruit to Substack got here via loud and clear.
I’ve definitely heard from lots of people in Substack over the previous two years that their major supply of conversions to paid is Twitter. Twitter is their finest advertising engine. Substack perhaps monetized Twitter higher than Twitter ever monetized itself. This has been an actual relationship that we’ve seen play out. And now, Twitter’s going via no matter it’s going via. I believe there may be numerous worry from that group that their single finest top-of-funnel community goes away or will probably be inhospitable to them in some significant method.
And Notes is perhaps the alternative, or Mastodon is perhaps the alternative, nevertheless it’s definitely not going to be TikTok, and it in all probability isn’t search. Are you considering, “Okay, we’ve acquired to construct one thing that appears like the highest of the funnel for Substack writers”?
I believe the proper method to consider that is we’re attempting to construct methods in Substack the place you should utilize the ability of the Substack community to develop, to achieve new audiences, to have a spot, in a Substack-y method. An instance of that is the advice function we launched, the place writers can advocate one another. Due to this fact, readers can uncover new issues they could like, not via a machine that’s simply predicting what you’ll click on on however any person that they’ve chosen to belief saying, “Hey, that is value testing.”
We’re extending that ethos into how Notes works. It’s only a method which you can advocate much more issues. And on the identical time, we would like individuals publishing on Substack to have the ability to publish in all places. We wish individuals to additionally share on Twitter. We wish them to additionally share in TikTok, additionally share in all places. We expect writers ought to have the ability to share their work broadly in all places that it may well go. We expect that’s good.