Over a decade ago, my book publisher told me that it was absolutely critical to generate a social media following in order to help sell my next title. I dutifully followed the advice (more like command) and built up a robust-at-the-time group on Facebook. It took time, attention, some money, and alot of creative output on my part. And yet, I continue to have to feed the beast and hope--as Hamish says--that the algorithm will like me with each continuing day.

There is nothing more empowering than controlling that destiny here on Substack. My following here's isn't quite as big, but I still reach many more people with each post than I do with an average one on Facebook. And it's guaranteed.

So glad to be here and exercising so much more freedom over my fans. Thanks all at Substack!


p.s. I could write another screed on how it's publishers that should be the ones creating their own sizable direct channels to their readers, but somehow that seems a lost cause.

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Quitting Twitter after 14 years has been an odd experience, but a refreshing one. There are things I miss, but ultimately I found that it diverted my attention from things that brought me more joy - writing longer-form content on Substack and in other places, for example. I found that the chemical hit of approval (or disapproval) sent me on an up-and-down rollercoaster that became dangerously familiar. I had a lot of fun there, and got a LOT out of it. If I were a purist I'm sure I wouldn't be on social media at all! Ultimately it helps to whittle down one's presence to the sites that bring one happiness, and that's different for everyone. I'm glad to have more time to focus on writing here and elsewhere. I learn so much from many writers here.

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Currently giving the chat feature a try, and I'm into it

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Suggestions for possible improvements for Substack:

1. Consolidation of Newsletters Option:

One of the biggest issues I find Subscribers have is they find publications are effectively flooding their email inbox, so they have to choose to keep deleting emails (to see their other, important work or personal emails) or unsubscribing from Substackers who are 'too' frequent. It also discourages free subscription expansion, and I imagine bandwidth wise it might be an issue for Substack servers if it goes exponential in adoption.

I think this could be solved if Subscribers got a single email a day (at a time of their own choosing) that lists all of the new Substack articles from their various subscriptions that have been published publicly. That way they get a single email that is a list, it no longer clogs up their inbox, and Substack can reduce bandwidth overheads.

2. De-lineate Likes and Comments Notifications:

Currently Substack have an email notification option that toggles *both* likes and comments. It needs to be separated. Personally, notifications about likes as an author seeking to engage with the public aren't particularly useful, and they become a time drain because they have the exact same heading as comment responses on emails.

This makes it very time consuming to respond to comments in a timely manner, especially if you get a lot of likes and comments, because you have to manually check emails to see which are likes and which are actual comments.

3. Have An "Online Only" Option

One of the biggest issues in journalistic reporting is you may, from time to time, be required to issue corrections or retractions for inevitable human mistakes. The problem with this is, you cannot 'retract' or 'correct' a mistaken or erroneous email, which inevitably means you must fire off another email - thus adding one more email to the spam flood counter - in order to notify users of the error, that might have already been corrected on the online version.

I'm aware emails can't really load dynamic content, so what is needed is an option that essentially shows the title and sub-title of the article, and then prompts the user to read online, that way ensuring they are reading the latest (typo-free) edition.

4. Use Sub-Section Delta Changes Instead Of Entire Article Updates

Currently if you want to correct a section - say you're like me and sometimes make an illiterate spelling mistake - you have to load up the *entire* article to correct one word. Wikipedia solves this issue by allowing individuals to edit *sub-sections* of an article.

There's a number of advantages to this. One, it reduces bandwidth overheads for both server and client, which lowers networking costs. Two, it allows writers to more quickly make corrections and changes, without eating into EG mobile data if you're say, a journalist on the move in remote locations.

5. Tracking Data For Unsubscribes For Specific Articles

Ignoring unsubscriptions is a type of toxic positivity, and knowing what articles the public don't like or aren't interested in can help refine a writers' style. Maybe the article wasn't as good quality as it could have been. Currently, unsubscription notices are sent via email, however the option to unsubscribe is often at the bottom of a newsletter. It can therefore be inferred the specific newsletter, in part or in whole, spurred the unsubscription, and that data would be useful to know.

For example, MrBeast - second largest YouTuber in the world at time of writing - on YouTube uses viewership retention rate drop-offs to work out which part of his videos do not work for the audience, so he can remove those unwanted aspects. So capturing which articles were unwanted can give writers crucial feedback, as there may be a trend or an issue to fix.

6. Prompt For Optional Feedback On Why People Are Unsubscribing (And Give It To The Author)

Another issue is currently Substack has no optional feedback form from unsubscribers to let authors know why they chose to unsubscribe. Were the newsletters too regular? Low quality? Topic too offensive for them? Not regular enough? Did not feature the topics they subscribed for? Perhaps the writer was a fraudster? Or maybe they'd like to leave a comment remarking why?

7. Provide Substack Authors With Access To a CSV File Of Their Metadata

I had to build a tool to manually webscrape metadata from Substack, but it is slow, inefficient and cannot provide real time updates. That metadata allowed me to analyse what readers enjoyed from articles, spot trends, and work out what sort of messages promoted growth.

It would be more practical - seeing as other people don't have access to my tool and I don't intend to maintain it for public use - to be able to download article metadata in a .CSV format (this is a widely useable spreadsheet format that can be ported and used on many OSes and read by many software packages). This would aid writers in making decisions and spotting trends.

8. Provide Article-by-Article Timeseries Breakdowns

Another feature Substack could add is a timeseries marking when likes, comments, shares and other interaction events occurred. One thing I'm still blindly guessing is what time of the day my readers actually interact with my Substack at because I don't know when the majority of likes happen.

This wouldn't require any additional data as knowing when a like was pressed is as simple as recording the timestamp of when that happened; likewise shares, subscribes. Comments already have timestamps. Essentially, an 'engagement metric' that shows time-of-date.

9. Audience Origin Breakdowns

Another missing feature is knowing what country most of your subscribers are from (inferred from IP). I like to tailor my topics to accommodate where my audience is from. Americans won't be interested in British law, and British people won't be interested in American law. Currently, I randomly mix the areas of coverage, but it would be nice to know where most are from so I can infer topics of interest and bring them higher quality reporting for their interests. It doesn't need Subscriber specific breakdowns, just an aggregate data that gives a percentage of how many X are from America, how many Y are from Europe etc.

Some ideas.

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I ended up on here because I wanted to get a message out and a few people told me that I needed to use substack for that purpose. My substack ended up taking off and in the space of 8.5 months I've gotten almost 18,700 subscribers and 1.5 millions views despite having no following prior to entering here. That is an amazing degree of reach and something that I 100% owe substack for facilitating.

The thing I really like about this platform is that it incentives making good quality content and being genuine, which is very rare on the internet (I would not want to spend my time being a content creator otherwise), and has an audience which is also extremely receptive to it. I am also astonished that substack gives you access to your mailing list and makes it easy to export (as that is extremely generous on their part).

You all have a great business model and I hope I can continue to support it!

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in the late 2000s those of us who were blogging noticed a drop-off in the comments sections as twitter rose in popularity. so you are talking about reversing time here. might happen

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Having come to Substack as a Twitter exile, I have been most pleased with Substack's independence from governmental pressures (so far!), as well as the ability to formulate ideas that require more than 2 sentences, or a bunch of disconnected tweets in a thread. A third point that is important is the "dopamine hit" nature of some social media such as Twitter is much attenuated on Substack. In that sense, it feels like a "healthier" platform. We'll see how Elon Musk evolves or restores Twitter. There may well be a place for collaboration between the two platforms in as yet unknown ways

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Agreed. Invest in your own brand, not someone else's.

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I don't really think Substack and Twitter are in the same space (sorry). We need an alternative to Twitter, but Substack is something else. Don't get me wrong, loving it!!

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Looking forward to the next steps. I'm interested in chat function after popping in on Slow Boring last night but it has a bit of a chaotic feel, too. One thing I experimented with at my New York Times #dotearth blog in the early days was inviting my readers to post video greetings in the comment space (the code allowed me to do that with YouTube videos) that served as a calling card. I still vetted them like any comment but they added a humanizing form of connectivity. This was the first one, from Wang Suya in Japan. I can't believe it was 14 years ago! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONKJsYF-dXI Keep up the good work. Glad I moved here.

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Here's what I want to say to potential subscribers: "Look, you can come browse my feed, read my original fiction, listen to my podcast and original music, watch my videos, and even hang out with me online. Substack is like the corner café where the Lost or Beat generation artists would meet to exchange ideas, riff with each other, and move their medium forward. We are the Media Generation, creating and hanging out online. Come spend some time with us. Come to Storyslinger on Substack."

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Free speech is the foundation to your success. If you protect it and empower writers, you will succeed. Big Social is failing because of censorship and lack of transparency. Let one thousand substacks bloom! https://yuribezmenov.substack.com/p/how-to-repeat-history-part-2

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Create a feed of all the latest posts published by Substack writers

on the http://substack.com front page?

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I've never been a fan of the Twitter model with its super short form. There's not enough there to develop an idea, except for certain threads.

Social media algorithms do promote the "rich get richer" scenario as algorithmic popularity begets popularity, much as a snake can eat its own tail.

I've noticed that Substack also goes this route and hope that maybe you will consider changing it up, at least sometimes. What I mean by this is that Substack promotes (in various articles, interviews, etc.) stacks that are already popular, that is to say those that are in the least need of promotion. A similar phenomenon occurs in listings. If at times smaller publications also received some Substack level love, both the creator and Substack could benefit.

However it goes, I'm enjoying the ability to have control over my odd (weird?) fiction and appreciate the work that you've put into the tools that make it possible. I get value and inspiration here, both from the Substack articles and various authors of fiction, essay, and other commentary. Thanks.

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Don't be "a reply guy". Be "yours truly reply guy".

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You're going to have to beef up the platforms content discoverability if you really want to increase engagement to "compete" with social networks. It needs an indexed full text search, the ability to filter results by date, as well as Substack specific attributes like toggling paid vs. free and seeing only results for stacks that have posted within a certain time frame. Nobody wants to browse through an egregious number of newsletters that launched two years ago, and somehow show up at the top of a search/discover even though they have written next to nothing. It makes the platform look like a ghost town.

This is a huge problem with social networks. They want you to find popular people and give them increased engagement and the false notion of being an authoritative voice (blue check anyone). Social networks are not interested in new users building ground up organic followings anymore because it uses up resources that they want to dedicate to accounts that generate clicks and views for advertisers. Discoverability is last on their list of priorities. Substack needs to think differently than that, and get users discovering new content, not people. Flip the script so the content is king again.

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