Is Substack really bad for the culture of Blogging?
Quite the opposite.
The blog post Have you “Moved to Substack”? and a conversation around it reminded me of a recurring theme I’ve been noticing among people who love personal blogs. The theme being that most bloggers deep in their tech world and finely crafted websites don’t realize just how difficult it is for most people to setup their blogs the same way. I’ve been guilty of that too on several occasions so I’d like to take a step back and encourage bloggers to not deter people from starting blogs on platforms you don’t prefer purely on ideological basis.
For example, the article in question has some things to say about you if you have moved your blog to Substack.
Lately I’ve been coming across quite a few abandoned blogs with a note along the lines of “Moved to Substack.” That’s all well and good but when you do that you no longer own your platform (and IMO lose a bit of character that makes you different).
There’s nothing wrong with utilizing Substack (I certainly see the appeal) but why not keep your blog alive as your central home at the same time?
Set up a way for your blog to slurp your new Substack posts (i.e. on WordPress you can use an RSS aggregator plugin to pull in your Substack RSS feed) so they’re automatically archived on your own domain.
On a related note, when I browse from someone’s blog over to their Substack it feels like going from a sweet little neighborhood into a staid corporate park. A little piece of joy dies in me when that happens because it’s another reminder of the corporatization of the web.
Substack: Visiting someone’s office. Blogs: Hanging out on a friend’s porch.
Full disclosure: Both my professional space blog and this general one are on Substack. But I’d argue that’s precisely what puts me in a good position to contest the (misplaced) sentiment.
For starters, Substack supports all major features that makes a blog functional, portable, and own-able. It has:
Easily exportable content
Exportable mailing lists, even with a per category/section option
Ability to not send posts as emails i.e. publish only to the blog and its RSS feed
All that while also sporting a really clean WYSIWYG Editor
Moreover, Substack doesn’t nag you to enable paid subscriptions—their business model—anywhere in the Dashboard or UI. There are no ads anywhere on your blog and newsletter either.
On the other hand, Wordpress is an absolute mess to use, especially in its popular Wordpress.com implementation. Their new Block Editor gives so much friction to the writing process I find it crazy it was ever considered good enough to drop on tens of millions of users. If you have a blog on Wordpress.com, or connect Jetpack to your hosted Wordpress site, your dashboard is littered with ads by WordPress in nearly every section, nagging you to upgrade even if you're already on one of their paid plans.
Further, while you can add any conceivable feature using plugins on WordPress, the often complex plugin settings combined with the monstrous Dashboard don’t make it obvious to non-techies what to do or how to control things. The ever-increasing cruft is what made me leave WordPress after years of sticking to it.
I’m baffled that people who vouch for blogging and its culture continue to promote and laud Wordpress but judge when people use Substack. Substack has its flaws but this particular sentiment of it “not being able to be your blog and home on the Internet” is misplaced.
The other argument I want to make is that many of us “bloggers” are more tech savvy than people on average. We don't realize just how much friction exists for people in general to setup their own identity on the Internet. Substack makes that part ridiculously easy, and that is why I embrace it.
We tend to judge a blog on its architectural foundation so much that we often miss focusing on the words the person is putting out. I say let's judge something on the actual writing the blogging system is enabling people to publish rather than just its visible exterior. Let’s also not forget that merely having a free blog on any blogging platform, even if without a domain, is a huge leap forward for a person’s thoughts and its self-ownership compared to posting on decidedly closed and unethical social media platforms.