Could Substack’s Notes Be a Great Twitter Alternative? Sure It Could

But it probably won't be a replacement

  • Substack has launched 'Notes,' a Twitter alternative built on its newsletter platforms. 
  • Notes is altogether more civil than Twitter (even if that is a low bar).
  • We may never see another platform as big or as pervasive as Twitter.
Substack Notes


Substack, the email newsletter company, is now muscling in on Twitter's turf with Substack Notes. 

Twitter was never a social network, although it can certainly be used to socialize. It was, and remains, a micro-publishing network, a place to broadcast your thoughts for anyone to read and respond to them. Twitter's problem, which has gotten worse in recent months, is that the level of signal (replies you want to read) to noise (the trolls and misanthropes) is low. Maybe Substack Notes can replace it without all the baggage. 

"The thing to understand about Twitter is that the app was never really the product," Andrew Graham, founder of PR and communications company Bread & Law, told Lifewire via email. "Twitter's product was always [that] the moderation—the rules, norms, and enforcement that dictated how people could act on the platform—was what defined the experience for both users and advertisers. Musk came along, and gutted moderation, which means he killed the product, and Twitter has been operating without a real product ever since."

Substack Notes

Notes works a lot like Twitter. You make posts, and you can subscribe to (aka follow) the posts of others. But unlike Twitter, the discourse is so far quite civil, and that's because it seems to be designed for quite a different purpose. 

Whereas Twitter is built for blasting out any thought that just drifts into your head and for ridiculing others for doing the exact same thing, Notes is built around Substack's existing long-form publishing platform. 

Twitter's product was always [that] the moderation... was what defined the experience for both users and advertisers.

"Getting off of Twitter was very good for my mental health. Glad I can still keep up with some of my favorite experts," writes Substack Notes user Becca Schlichtig in a post/Note on Notes, in a very civil reply to epidemiologist and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Caitlin Rivers. I mention the participants because it's important to how Substack Notes seems to function.

Because it is built around reading long-form articles and then (possibly) discussing them with the authors, it's a much calmer, more considered place to be. There doesn't seem to be a place for hot takes or attacking somebody's credentials because they are not a straight white male. If Twitter is the huge downtown sports bar, then Substack Notes might be the library cafeteria. 

This calm approach continues to the kinds of media allowed in your posts. Text is fine, of course, as are images, but videos are not supported. Other than the calmer atmosphere, the respectful attitudes, the lack of drive-by comments, and the absence of that dirty feeling you get whenever you visit, Notes is quite similar to Twitter in that you can read posts on a timeline, replay, favorite, and repost, and otherwise interact. 

One very nice—and totally obvious—feature is that Substack authors appear as such, with a link to their newsletter right there. It's a form of promotion, verification, and user profile, all in one place. 

Twitter Domination

But can Notes really be a Twitter replacement? That depends. While plenty of people continue to abandon Twitter after Elon Musk's takeover and subsequent changes, it's still one of the biggest micropublishing platforms on the internet and still the one with the biggest mindshare. But that, too, might be changing. 

A screenshot of Substack Notes, where a New Note is being created.

This week NPR quit Twitter. This may be because Musk labeled NPR as a "state-affiliated media" outlet last week, or it may be because of Musk's dislike of the press in general. But it could signal the beginnings of all media organizations leaving Twitter and no longer posting their stories there.

Journalists still use Twitter because that's where all the breaking news is. But there's nothing special about the platform to differentiate it from other news aggregators except that it's popular. Once the sources (like NPR) stop posting, there will be no need for anyone to stick around. 

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