I started writing poetry on Tumblr under an anonymous account. I had some blogs I'd follow, primarily people sharing their thoughts raw and unfettered. It was a different type of social platform, a bit of earnestness in its personal connection. Then again, it started the image sharing craze. But after Yahoo bought them and the service began to die.
Then there was Medium. Which writers loved for the anonymous boost to their readership, which was enhanced by "claps" but the subscription was too confusing.
The problem was Medium had no loyalty from the best writers. The brilliance was the ease of publishing. You can understand the idea and how it spawned, i.e. "Make it like Twitter, but long-form."
Then, as all social networks do, make it easier to publish. Drive algorithmic traffic and it will become sticky for new users getting their first reads.
Except the best writers left because the algorithm leads to clickbait. People wanted to game it and so we got listicles.
But they totally missed newsletters, which were pronounced dead until we realized they were the only platform in which the creator still had control.
Sure, the mail software is expensive and delivery can be hit or miss, but at the end of the day you can export your audience to any platform you like. So there's no platform risk, unlike Twitter or Facebook.
And while there are those that win on SEO, it only rewards a certain type of content.
SEO obsessives always talk about how you have to solve a problem. You have to meet someone with intent. And in a Google world, this is true, but it misses the entire point of the art. It gives you the Google framework, which rewards keywords, which effectively means you are writing to satisfy the rules... Which means the focus is purely on utility. And art is the opposite of utility.
And now Substack has helped writers go direct and monetize directly with their fans, giving a new type of tool to creators. They entered the market subsidizing the sending, making it free to publish, but taking a cut on the subscription revenue. They know that the future is having the creator at the center of the tooling. Whereas Mailchimp has gone upmarket, to B2B, which need marketing features whereas Substack lives and breathes on word of mouth. It's the creator that drives the sign-ups off of social, hence the Twitter integration.
So if you want to be an expert today the irony is that you can own a keyword. But not via Google.
Via cultural credibility. Via publishing. But not via SEO.
That's the beauty of newsletters, so many of the best ones are still word of mouth. Either via the forward feature or via social.
And if you love it you pay. Even though it gets so confusing what all you're subscribed to we need entire services like Unroll just to unplug from the deluge of newsletters.
There is no inbox-zero in my pocket account. Only a massive archive. With 99% not read a second time. Except for the truly great.
Which, funny, the best writing I can think of has never been the writing the wins the SEO battle. It's moving, simple pieces that have a staying power.
You can publish timely pieces that react to the news, but you can also publish ideas that can swim their way through the web, and become referenced ad infinitum. Even after you pass. It's the ideas that stick. Like Kevin Kelly's "1,000 true fans" or Paul Grahams "Do What You Love."
But publishing is what gets other people to understand the world around them by reading what is going on in someone else's head. Never before have we had a better view of such a diversity of thinking.
Collectively we can all can gain alpha via the direct thinking of those on top of their fields, and we can do so for $10/month. Those that advance pay for information as an edge, or gain meaning by doing so. Either way, the writer is rewarded for their contribution, even if the number of writers is ever increasing.
And each newsletter can act as a focal point for a community.
So Writing today is either about expertise or soul. If you have neither you will be archived.
And If you have the expertise, your writing doesn't' need to be perfect.
You don't need an English degree, you just publish.
And if you're new, but interested in the expertise department, you can curate.
And if you are a writer with soul, you can't think twice, you just go for it. You have to be honest, and as raw as possible.
People think it's all about signaling. About feigning wisdom. Or gaming the algorithm. But readers today know better. They want substance.
And writers today know that the medium is not the message.
They own a topic and create their own staying power by generously pushing the conversation forward. If you do that you build your own voice, and not for the algorithms but for the reader.
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