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How Substack Became Milquetoast (nintil.com)
24 points by calebmontiveros 4 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 3 comments





A lot of good insights here, particularly on how Substack's network effects and incentives push authors towards a milquetoast homogeneity.

But the author's self-admitted unfamiliarity with Substack leads the article away from pointing out the true value of the platform, getting stuck instead in a thicket of contradictory takes:

> [Substack] can become a full fledged aggregator, build network effects and community, personalized content and so forth, but risk the moral purity of being one of the last ad-free algorithm-free corners of the internet [...]

> [I]t is still worth speaking the obvious truth that having someone who is not your spouse feed their thoughts to you 5-days-a-week, thoughts that they themselves have only had a day to work on, thoughts which would likely go refined or unexpressed in a publication with longer-time horizons, is probably not good for your brain. That’s not a “weekly update”, it’s a parasocial relationship, it’s the same poison you get from every other one-sided social media platform.

I can't wrap my head around the idea that Substack is both good (because it avoids many of the things that poison the well of social media) and bad (because it's social media and thus still poison). Not all social media is bad, just the forms we've invented to date. Some of the positive things I see in Substack are shaped by the same incentives that could lead to a future, better generation of social media:

Because it's missing the algorithmic distortion of social media, even with Substack acting as a forcing function towards topic-of-the-day Twitter-chasing homogeneity, it's very hard to find things in the world that let one do:

  from smartfriend import mental_models
for only $10 a month! To me, it's a potential antidote to social media: not only is there the mildly pleasurable pornlike imitation of socialization, I can get trained to think like a variety of intelligent people whose social circles I otherwise wouldn't be able to break into. That's a form of digitally enhanced socialization (read: social media) I'm happy to pay for.

Even with the homogeneity on the platform today, there's still a lot of great thinkers you can watch in action. Perhaps the author of this blog is intelligent enough to come up with these mental models without watching others think. I'm not so lucky.

Tech has already given us assortative mating via online dating, and people seem to like that. But for everything else, we get trapped in filter bubbles. Substack lets me finetune my social simulacra to deliver maximum benefit.

I wish they also realized this potential themselves.


The article does not mention this, so for anyone else wondering, according to to Wikipedia:

> Substack is an online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters.


I don’t know what “milquetoast” is. Googling it it appears that the author means that Substack is “bland”, is that a correct interpretation?

Anyway, I found the article very uninsteresting. A lot of words and intellectual quotes to justify their reasons to prefer blogs than paid newsletters, while specifically targeting one company (while paid newsletter is larger than just Substack). I left the reading without learning anything interesting. A quite milquetoast reading if you will.




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