Art Kavanagh

Criticism, fiction and other writing

Substack Notes: a substitute for Twitter?

When Substack introduced Notes a few months ago, I was guardedly hopeful that I might find it useful. This was my first Note:

12 April: I deleted my Twitter account a while back. I’m not sure I need a Twitter alternative but if I do this might be it. Time will tell.

I already had a Substack account because I had started "Talk about books” on Substack in November 2020. I moved the publication to about a year later but didn’t delete my Substack profile. I follow several Substacks. There’s a handful I follow by email and at least 20 that I follow by RSS. (In one case, Ted Gioia’s The Honest Broker, I had been getting both the emails and the RSS feed but recently I finally plumped for the feed.) It’s neater and more convenient for me to read these publications among a bunch of other feeds than in my chaotic email client.

So, when Notes appeared, I thought it was important that there should be a way to follow somebody’s Notes without having to sign up for their emails as well. In most cases I’m not going to want to see a person’s Notes if I’m not also following their main posts, but if I’m already getting their posts by RSS, I don’t want a second copy clogging up my mail client. So a way to follow just Notes alone was what I needed. And for a while that existed:

This is a game changer for me: I’ve found out how to follow a Substacker’s notes without getting their emails too. It’s still an algorithmic feed but it doesn’t seem too bad.

Then, around the beginning of this month, that feature suddenly disappeared for a couple of weeks, only to come back in a new form. It’s now called “Following” and is a bit more user-friiendly. You can now see who is following you, for example. When I thought the feature was gone for good, I was resigned to giving up on Notes and possibly deleting my Substack profile. But, as “Following” now seems to be back with a vengeance, I’m still here.

As a Twitter alternative, Notes is … perfectly OK, particularly for writers. Since it’s based around Substack, it’s to be expected that it has attracted plenty of writers. Margaret Atwood is here, as are Elif Batuman, Elizabeth McCracken, Sherman Alexie, Henry Oliver (of The Common Reader), S J Watson and many others. It’s still fairly subdued but, if an alternative to writers’ Twitter is going to develop anywhere, this seems the most likely place for it to happen.

I’m far from convinced that I need — or that anyone needs — a Twitter substitute. It may be that the time for that kind of forum has passed. But I’m going to hang around on Substack Notes for maybe a few months, and see if anything develops. If not, I don’t think I’ll have lost much.

Posted by Art, 27-Aug-2023.