Federated social networks as the future
I found my corner on the internet with Substack. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & co never worked for me. But this is a great place! It feels dignified. I like the people with whom I interact on the platform, I like what I read from other authors, it feels like a space for gown up people. And I feel inspired to write here. What more can I ask?
Thanks for this article, it confirms that I’m for once in the right place at the right time.
The muck and confusion of SEO practices (which will surely be made even weirder by Bard and Bing's AI) has made discoverability for sites on search engines difficult, too. It's hard to generate organic traffic that way (and it's made so many sites worse--it's now impossible to find a recipe for anything without a 1,000 word intro about how someone's great-great-great grandmother from the Old Country once baked such-and-such thing for the Sultan), and with Twitter's problems it's just as hard on social media. Reddit, likewise, had all those issues with third-party apps this summer. I wonder if we'll see a pendulum swing to more in-person writing connections and more localized self-promotion in bookstores and so on. I have no idea. It's certainly demoralizing.
I do think that some current writers will still be read in the future, though. We just likely don't know who they are. The greatest 19th century American novel is Moby-Dick and it was relegated to the dustbin and Melville faded into bitter obscurity for 75 years before it was rediscovered as the classic it is. It's not impossible something like that will happen again (though it won't mean much in terms of salary for whoever gets so resurrected!).
I am thankful for this article. Two lines stand out to me: "So, writers shouldn't worry" and ". . .there can be . . . a space for art here." I feel encouraged by any form of optimism and enlightened view points. Thank you , again.
I wonder what will happen as more and more big name authors start their newsletters. Will they bring in new Substack readers who'll discover lesser-known Substackers? And will the big names participate in the Substack community or just inside their gardens? And, conversely, which relatively unknown Substacker will be the first to have that first Substack-birthed big bestseller in the stores?
I have no animosity towards Musk and no love for Twitter, but it seems to me like he's driving away most of it's core users by making so many major changes to site functionality. It will be interesting to see. Facebook also seems to be in a slow death spiral.
As a writer, I've been spending a lot time this year reconsidering what I want out of my art. I've written very little lately, and as I'm soon having a baby, won't be writing more in the foreseeable future either. Instead I've been designing little chapbooks for my literary short stories that I can share with people. I think having a tangible object, especially a charming handmade one, is a nice way to share things I've worked so hard on. I also like teaching writing because it's one of the few areas of my life where I can obtain a flow state. I just teach community education classes, and it pays very little, but I still hope to go back to it once I get through the newborn months. People need to create and challenge themselves by learning a skill, despite the fact that our entertainment is increasingly dominated by a few globalized companies. I often think how before the internet, the students coming to me to learn writing might have instead gotten a freelance job at a local paper, and gotten paid to learn the skill instead of needing to pay. But the internet has changed the writing economy so much.
Anyway, looking forward to seeing your event at Harvard tomorrow!
I'm curious to hear more of your take about, "It’s always been over, and it’s been over for hundreds of years." Maybe for a hundred years, but it seems like at least some eighteenth- and nineteenth-century names will continue to be carved in stone. In Germany every library has GOETHE and SCHILLER in the marble canon.
What a delicious essay.
It's funny - those who seek the greatest short-term profits end up throttling their long-term profits. Those who seek to brute-force user retention end up losing their users fastest.
We're currently seeing this in video games too: AAA developers are deliberately mis-designing video game features to keep users trapped in meaningless gameplay loops longer. Why? So that the shareholders will see bigger numbers in the annual reports and go "ooh, number go up."
Not a good long-term strategy. Reputation follows with a lag, but it does follow. And then so does revenue, and market share, and everything else.
but Erik I think you end with a false comparison. Plato never relied on viral loops to make money or achieve fame. He didn't need to. Humanity was young enough that one smart dude could contribute enormously with ideas that came to his mind, and had never been written. Today such folks exist, but they toil in obscurity, and if Plato existed today he likely would be doing the same. But I don't think it a consequence of our social landscape.
you are trying to do something very very different than what he did: make a living from the weight of your words upon the written page.
We can make art here. When the gatekeepers shut many of us out of expensive movie making, we made video art. We can make art here.
I'm trying to figure out why my experience of Reddit is so different from so many others. I've heard this claim that Reddit is the new search many times now. To me, Reddit is Yelp: a place full of unfiltered and mostly bad opinions that I occasionally sift through with an extremely jaundiced eye if I want to get a sort of gestalt view of a topic. And on any given topic there is almost always some better article written somewhere that offers proofread, organized information. What am I missing?
Twitter, at its best, was a single comment section for the entire internet. Someone would post a link and then the replies and quote tweets would discuss that link.
Occasionally something would originate on twitter, but mostly things oriented elsewhere. But if you wanted to know how people were responding, you needed to be on twitter.
This is a very helpful post. I’ve found Facebook and Twitter pretty much moribund as far as gaining attention for my writing these days. I used to have blog posts go viral or get shared a couple hundred times. Now I’m lucky if Twitter gets me more than a few dozen views. Meanwhile, I started my newsletter here on Substack a couple years ago; I now have over 3000 subscribers who are excited to engage with my reviews and essays. It’s hugely rewarding. What a difference the right platform can make!
We used to value as a civilization philosophers, poets, political strategists and astrologers. Today the equivalent might be AI personas and clickbait artists. When attention becomes commoditized, what do you expect the value of words to be? When words on a TikTok video are more valuable on mobile, then that article it took you a week to write.
I share your optimism about Reddit and Substack. Would the world be worse off without Twitter or Facebook? Almost certainly not. Perhaps it’s just my age bracket but I think Instagram will be stickier, despite being a walled garden.
In terms of literary greats, as someone else said, time is the great arbiter of the pantheon. Almost certainly too soon to call our own age’s greats, though I have a strong belief Cormac McCarthy will make it onto the roster, and hunch that maybe Salman Rushdie will too.
Having said that, you’ve chosen a hard group to compare to with Homer, Virgil, Plato etc!. It’s unlikely anyone will match them but that’s partly their virtue of being so early. Someone should start a substack which just shares the public domain version of all the old classics, now that I think about it
This is my favorite of Alexander’s illustrations!
As a reader, not a writer, I do feel like it's harder to come across at good content - written or otherwise. It just feels like wherever you look there are "specialists" of some sort, eager to grasp your attention (likes, follows, subscriptions, and so on). It just feels like noise really, it's a little disheartening. That's why I never really used Twitter, it felt like more noise. At least here I feel like more and more I discover new interesting points of view, or experimental writing, inspired people. Like you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.