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by Jacob O'Bryant

Complaining about Substack for fun and profit

Welcome to my weekly newsletter about practical ways to make the Internet better, focused on my own work in that space. I'm Jacob O'Bryant.

The new version of Yakread has been officially released. Phew. I have a number of additional improvements to make (backlogs are never finished), such as ongoing improvements to the recommendation algorithm, typography settings, dark mode... I'll be working on all that on the side.

A higher priority for me now is marketing Yakread. As an overly technical founder, this has never been one of my strengths. Yesterday I was thinking about various channels I might focus on, and I was struck with inspiration: perhaps I might try my hand at some good old beef marketing. In the same way that Substack has relentlessly criticized Twitter while simultaneously using it to grow their own business, maybe I can use Substack to find an audience for Yakread. Substack has a habit of proclaiming their own moral superiority over their competitors while being blind (whether intentionally or not) to their own shortcomings, which makes them an easy target.

This will all be done with a heavy dose of humor—I find genuine beef marketers like DHH and the Substack founders to be fairly irritating, so I'd prefer to dilute my own beef marketing with satire, making it clear that I'm not taking myself too seriously. Besides, I don't think Substack is bad per se—just annoying. Less good than they could be, I guess.

In the best case, this will not only help get some visibility for Yakread, it will package up my ideas about the unbundled web in a format that's likelier to reach a broad audience. The ultimate goal here is to help the tech/(social) media landscape become more competitive: lots of small-and-medium-sized businesses, with constant death, birth, and evolution; instead of a few VC-funded monoliths that only get replaced twice a decade. I intend Yakread to simply become one those medium-sized businesses.

So stay tuned. I'll start up a separate publication for this. It'll be on Substack, both because it will be funnier that way, and because the whole point is I'm trying to target readers (and to a less immediate extent, writers) who are in the Substack ecosystem. This newsletter—Tools for Online Speech—will remain relatively beef-free.

We'll see how it goes. Maybe I'll lose interest after a few weeks and it'll fizzle out.

Published 22 May 2023

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