Notes vs. Twitter
A new battle in the surveillance social media ecosystem
Updated 2023-04-30: Added a Postscript on the downgrading of an element of the author/editing interface provided by Substack for referencing Tweets. An additional culture section song has been added for the Postscript section too.
The new social media behemoth, Substack, is growing. It all started out innocuously enough:
Here's a publishing platform where you can monetize your content via our "paid subscriptions" mechanism, or not. You don't have to put up with bloody editors, or to put that more constructively, you shall be your own editor. We provide you with at least two notification mechanisms, email and our mobile phone app, and we'll ensure that because you're using our formatting system your article will be viewable in both.
Sounds good, eh? Writers I respect (Hedges, Taibbi, Greenwald, Corbett, and many others) chose to either move to or at least utilize Substack's publishing platform. When I decided to begin writing 22 months ago I thought, okay, I'll give it a shot.
Before I decided to turn on email notification I wrote an article warning the small number of persons who had found my newsletter of the inherent surveillance that is built into the Substack ecosystem. I could see the surveillance via the statistics which Substack provided me as an author.
Its important to hold one’s principles. As an IT professional I'm well aware of the modern version of Zookoo's Triangle, which Dan Geer recast as:
Freedom, Security, Convenience: Choose Two (See sources)
Thus, the warning to the fledgling readership.
The first major expansion of Substack was the provision of "episodes", its audio Podcasting system. This they integrated with other major podcast delivery systems such as Apple Podcasts. I kinda like people being able to listen to a podcast as they wash the dishes, ride public transport to work or whatever. They can overlay the activity with something informative and/or pleasurable. Reading requires visual concentration, whereas listening frees the eyes and hands to multi-task.
So, following the example of others like Caitlin Johnstone and Chris Hedges I began producing podcasts which were readings of the articles. Pretty rapidly I received feedback from friends that they sounded pretty stilted. Oh. Okay. So I moved to two types of podcasts, one which are random rants and the other which summarize an article and expand upon it. Along the way, I've learned a little about audio editing, which has been fun. That dovetailed nicely with my increased appreciation for music recording and production due to having watched hundreds of hours of videos by Rick Beato (God bless 'im).
The latest expansion of the Substack surveillance social media juggernaut is called "Notes", a variant of Twitter within the Substack ecosystem. I haven't really plumbed its depths yet. One has a timeline which is also populated similarly to Twitter by that which Substack's algorithms select as likely to be of interest based upon one's subscriptions and, if one is an author, one's site's recommendations. I've yet to find a hard character limit, but its probably there somewhere.
Anyhoo, Matt Taibbi wrote a short screed on the "Notes" vs "Twitter" battle.
In accordance with my policy of informing my readership of the dangers of the surveillance ecosystems known as "social media" I issue this warning: Substack and its “Notes” is a new kid on the block with the same purpose: convenience and surveillance. Nonetheless, if you're not terribly worried about that, I'll be trialing the use of Notes as an alternate notification mechanism (*) and as a mechanism for posting the odd thought which has yet to generate the passion required to write an article. If you think an idea posted in a "Note" is worthy of an article you're welcome to pile on me. No promises, though I believe in working with a community.
To access Notes one must have an account at Substack (which essentially means being subscribed to someone, i.e. Substack has an email address for your account) and be logged in. Then it behaves similarly to Twitter. Search bar, write stuff, reply to stuff, etc.. Substack's version of "re-tweet" is restack. Same idea.
(*) I noticed that Substack has recently removed the checkbox of "publish to Twitter" when an article is published. It is still available as a post publication option but is less convenient. They are encouraging authors to use their Notes system to bootstrap it.
Over to you,
Postscript (added 2023-04-30)
I have observed and interesting adjustment in Substack's authoring too.
Only a few weeks back, if one pasted into the editing/authoring interface a valid link to a twitter post, the tool would automatically fetch the tweet as an embedded, clean image and hyper-link it to the tweet. All very nice and convenient, though I rarely used the facility.
Just recently, this functionality has been removed. Instead, the text of the tweet link, like
is now just converted to a link, but the image fetch has been removed. The above “link” has been auto-converted by the editing tool even though it is obviously broken.
This is obvious evidence of the little war begin waged by Substack against Twitter on behalf of Substack's Notes system.
It was Dan Geer's presentation at Blackhat in 2014 which brought to my attention the modern version of Zookoo's triangle:
Cybersecurity as Realpolitik by Dan Geer presented at Black Hat USA 2014, Dan Geer (In-Q-Tel; CIA's IT/Cyber investment arm), Blackhat, uploaded 2014-08-08
Flight of the bumblebee by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Russian National Orchestra in the Grand Hall of the Moscow State Conservatory, conducted by Mikhail Pletnev on 2008-09-19, from the youtube channel of bluice01 uploaded 2014-03-27
For the new Postscript section …
Glenn Frey - The Heat Is On (From "Beverly Hills Cop" Soundtrack), Glenn Frey, GlennFreyVEVO, uploaded 2018-05-09
Subscription is optional. Subscribers can expect notifications for most articles. Better is to use RSS (feed), or bookmark the Archive page and visit at leisure. If you use Twitter, following @YesXorNo1 is also a partially effective notifications strategy. This article describes Notes, Substack’s variant of Twitter which will also serve as a patial notification mechanism.
Copyright and Licensing
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