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Can Substack Notes Replace Twitter?
How is this even a question?
Notes on Notes
If you’re actually reading this via Substack, this won’t be news to you. For everyone else, you may not have heard that Substack recently launched a sort of status update/microblogging feature called Notes.
Its launch caused a bit of a stir because it seems like Twitter may have taken it as yet another sign that Substack is trying to position itself as a serious competitor. If you want more background on the beef between Twitter and Substack, you can listen to the segment I wrote about that for the Techmeme Ride Home podcast on Monday.
When I recorded that, I personally still did not have access to Notes; however, by the next morning Substack had made the product available to all users. After trying it out, I decided to write a quick update for Techmeme Ride Home listeners, but ultimately cut the segment for time.
So now you get the segment here! Why not?
To be perfectly honest, now that I have access to Notes… there’s not much to report. Despite Elon Musk’s fears, I have trouble seeing how this could truly be a Twitter competitor. Maybe for the (admittedly hefty) journalist side of Twitter, but Substack is so writing focused that I don’t think Substack Notes could replace Twitter for many other types of people and companies––and so many of the journalists have already gone to Mastodon anyways.
On Notes, you can post short-form text updates with Rich Text, photos, GIFs, mentions, “restacks,” quotes, and embedded links. Their official line on the character limit is “we dare you to try to figure out the character limit.” I hit it at 4,146 characters, which is quite long for a “microblogging” feature.
There is an edit button, but it doesn’t appear to show that a Note has been edited (a feature I personally think is a must with edit buttons, as John Green learned all too well on Tumblr in 2014). No video or audio capabilities yet––though they “may” be coming. There’s a Home feed and a Subscribed feed. The Home feed is made up of writers you're subscribed to and writers that they recommend.
There’s a lot that’s still being rolled out and considered based on early feedback, but the bare bones of blocking, following, and notifications are there.
Again, I just don’t see this being a full-on Twitter replacement, or even a great reach strategy for Substack writers. Personally, I use Twitter and other platforms to try to get more eyes on my Substack from people who are not already on Substack. Substack does offer more discovery and community features than other newsletter platforms, even before Notes and Chat were added recently (that’s why I picked it, even given my concerns about the leadership’s ethics), but ditching Twitter entirely for Notes if a Substack newsletter is your main product will not grow your reach beyond Substack.
Vancouver-based artist Nishant Jain told the Washington Post, “I think [Twitter and Notes] serve different purposes… Twitter has a reach that’s global. Almost every big store and government department has a Twitter account. I don’t think everything will become a Substack account, but there’s a lot of communication you want to have with people who like to follow your work, and I’ve increasingly found that Twitter is not good for that kind of thing. The Substack ecosystem is richer, and it’s more honest engagement from me to my readers and my readers to me.”
So, good for writers who want a smaller community with less noise. Not good for blunt-force reach. Maybe it’ll grow into something more. I don’t think Musk needs to be worried.
A few (unintentionally queer) recs
On Trans Day of Visibility, I was lucky enough to attend a screening and Q&A with the filmmakers for Framing Agnes, a genre-breaking documentary about trans people who were a part of a UCLA gender clinic study in the 1960s. The filmmakers discovered the pseudonymous transcripts from the study and cast trans actors to bring the stories to life in a unique and spell-binding blend of art, academia, and activism. It picked up a ton of awards on the festival circuit, ending with Best Documentary at the GLAAD Media Awards last month, and is currently available to screen on-demand. I’m such a huge fan of all the people involved with this film and it was awesome to see them collaborate on this beautiful and super meta project.
In a pretty baller move given the context, Daniel Radcliffe teamed up with The Trevor Project to host the first episode of their new roundtable series, Sharing Space. The series provides a platform for LGBTQ+ youth to voice their perspectives and experiences. In the episode with Daniel Radcliffe, he sits down to talk with six trans and nonbinary teens.
A couple weeks ago, The Northern Boys dropped their latest music video, “Give It To Me.” This extremely NSFW track takes the one viral line about a transgender man in their previous song and dials it up to a full-on Pride anthem with a trans inclusive chorus and lead singer Norman rocking a sparkly dress and heels. Stand out lines include “Raising a glass to the gays and the bi’s and the trans and the girls and the big bald men” and “You better not assume my pronouns / You ain’t got a clue what I feel inside.” Norman ends the song with a message straight to camera, “This is a video of me expressing myself and if you don’t like it, you can f*** off.”
And if you’ve missed the buzz around these old British drill rappers, I did a segment on them on the Cool Stuff Ride Home last September. (start around 15:30)
What I’ve been up to
As I mentioned above, I’ve been guest-hosting the daily news show the Techmeme Ride Home while regular host Brian McCullough is on a well-deserved family vacation. Three episodes are live so far with two more to come Thursday and Friday. So far I’ve tackled topics like the threat of generative AI to video game illustrators in China; Apple’s latest strategy to prevent their retail stores from unionizing; the latest from the Winklevoss twins; and so, so much about Twitter. The only downside to this gig is having to pay attention to what Elon Musk spouts off everyday.
I just got back from an amazing trip out to the Pacific Northwest (which is why there wasn’t a newsletter last week). A big part of that trip was attending the book launch for Oakley Rae Phoenix’s book The Gender Friend. In the book, Oak goes on a few imaginary coffee dates with the reader to have an open, casual conversation about gender. I replicated this format in the foreword I wrote for the book, imagining Oak and myself grabbing coffee together. So when we manifested that rhetorical device and actually got coffee in-person last week, you know we had to take a photo of it:
Another thing I did on that trip was visit the largest transgender archives in the world, housed at the University of Victoria. I got to physically put my hands on newsletters and pamphlets I’ve long read about, while brushing shoulders with some of the trans elders who were around when those life-saving works were being circulated around the world. I’ve been working on a couple of trans history videos that I’m excited to share soon.
At the end of this month, I’ll be rejoining The Infinite Wrench. Come out Fridays and Saturdays April 28 - May 20 to see me and the other New York Neo-Futurists perform thirty original plays in just sixty minutes!
Also, it hasn’t been officially announced yet, but we usually do a big Pride show in June so keep your eyes peeled for more on that… 👀