Substack: Recommendation gone wrong

I have been a vocal critic of “newsletter as a service”; when you devote millions of dollars to creating a “newsletter” with a subpar CMS in the backend. It may have “improved” since I last checked it last year, but I am not holding my breath.

What I find intriguing is the “insights” that randomly drop in from unknown people about describing the product’s strategy in detail. Recommendation algorithms are in any way incentivised to create maximum value for the owners, not the readers, as a product. If you are hedging your bets of livelihood on a VC promoted service that hasn’t shown meaningful revenues, you will be in for a rude shock.

In the light of these, I’d like to share a good blog post here:

The Risks When a New Walled Garden Emerges

I think in many ways, decisions like these early on helped to bring social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram much of their growth, but at the cost of the broader Web. I think that, while Substack does not control the email inbox, it does have deep influence on a key part of the ecosystem, and by not making recommendations open to outside publications, it eventually raises the walls of the walled garden that everyone complains about when they’re already inside.

Substack uses an external third party service designed to work with as many inboxes as possible. What happens when Google wants to launch a similar service? They can blacklist the IP addresses from where substack emails are sent out. Your newsletter may be mislabelled as spam or worse, go to trash. The “pandemic-fuelled” ideas were great in theory, but bad in execution. The attention spans to handle emails are ridiculously low. Would you rather prioritise your work email or read something that deals with the new “onslaught of liberalism”? The Substack business model assumes users have unlimited time buckets to “catch up with their favourite authors and reward them in the process”. In reality, Substack has a leaky paywall which can be easily bypassed.

Why even bother?

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