Some thoughts on Threads + AMA about software design, social systems, etc.
Another point: Substack Notes is a great example of the power of network effects. It's an interesting product not because the software is special, but because writers I like are already there. It's all war of the networks imo.
(PS: Do a growth bro a solid and make the share to Notes comment checkbox default-on)
I'm not a person who jumps on something when it first comes out.
I like to watch it a while, then stick my toe in, almost as if it's water in a pool
Then again, I've had dealings with being banned from Facebook and Almost got banned from Insta for saying that men can't be women.
When you can't tell people the truth, there is no reason even gracing them with your presence.
Did I say the thing you foot@‘d me about? I don’t remember
Would you ever consider giving Taegan MacLean the power of short form video on Substack Notes? Would you consider him being given access to something like Reels in this space to be a net positive or negative for the entire world, the future of humanity, and our hopes of one day becoming an interstellar civilization?
nice threads, Mills 🙏🏼
Apparently, you have also been recommending The Beginning of Infinity. I picked it up almost by accident in a small English-language bookstore in Tokyo years ago and have raved about it to whoever would listen, which is a much smaller set of folks than yours, I’m sure.
This has nothing to do with your post, and I’m okay with that.
Do you use ML to derive connections and make recommendations on Notes? I remember reading somewhere that the algorithm that drove feeds on Twitter and Facebook was no longer completely knowable by engineers. I realized it had to be ML and some form of AI at that point. It's no longer a simple set of conditionals.
Between myself and another software engineer at work we own the knowledge of about 20 services and it's nearly impossible to remember what they all do exactly. I can't imagine at the level of social media without automation.
Hmmm I don’t know, I struggle with this in a few angles:
1. I don’t think software is that commoditized at the quality level we are playing. Sure, anyone can do a B2B software because the software doesn’t matter much, but consumer social engineering is still very hard from a product POV. (Substack can create a twitter clone or an X clone, but finding a superior offering – however defined – seems hard)
2. Perhaps the difficulty is moving upstream. With TikTok or Can of Soup, there are serious engineering challenges (of the FB type you describe) in creating the feed and the mechanism for content creation. This is akin to the DD “I don’t think about heating in Oxford but I’d die without it dynamic”
3. It is yet unclear whether these variations on a product (twitter clones being the zeitgeist example right now) are going to be adopted at all! If the big network players still own 99-95% of the market… can you say no more winner-take-all?
Potential sperg post incoming.
How much or how often do you “look to nature” for your design inspiration in social media? For instance the construction of the wing and airplanes. Those obviously aren’t the same as birds but you can track the progress if you squint.
Be curious as to how you think about it on the “friend” making front and the moderation front. We have things we do in meat space today that don’t have clear analogues on social media.
Tacit permission to ask Mills questions about social network design as related to software… I am here for this! I will probably come back to this all throughout the day to add new questions.
Do you feel that Substack should consider some type sorting algorithm (beyond the existing— you follow this person, they recommend that publication, etc.) as more and more platforms adapt ML-powered For You as a way to determine what users want to see?
To me it seems like an ML-powered version of For You could not only surface more content people want to see, but do so in a way that conforms to Substack’s use of the limited ‘Follow-stack’ algorithm you guys currently use as a form of quiet moderation. Am I wrong? Do you have thoughts on this?
So helpful, Mills, I haven't ventured to THREADs for fear that it'll suck me in as another social network that I can barely understand let alone use; e.g. still trying to understand Instagram--I guess that makes me a dumb dumb in this age of the Internet. Notes, on the other hand, has been fab for me--as has Substack. I must tell you how much I've loved this platform and I'm no biggy here. Kudos to you and your colleagues, Mills. I guess I have to at least take a look at THREADS??? OMG and xo. So glad you did decide to post this essay. ~Mary
I have an issue with your analysis. You seem to presume that Threads has staying power, but I doubt it. It's funneling a bunch of Instagram whores into a twitter-like environment. Get back to after it's been around for a few years. Everybody is always interested in the new, shiny toy, but will they stay and will the platform survive over time? Verdict is still out on that one.
As far as Twitter goes, it is what it is and it's not my cup of tea. But some people still seem to like it, and I don't see the ones that do moving over to Threads if Threads starts to be a ghost town after a while. We've seen this before with other platforms that launched, got a lot of hype, then died off slowly as usage dwindled. I wouldn't write Twitter off just yet.
I've been reading the comments here and some of the conversations on Notes the last few days and I've come to the conclusion that Threads has been a blessing. I sort of took Notes for granted before. Having played around on Threads, I’m more convinced than ever that Substack is doing something unique and profound.
I was never a Twitter user, but I got really into Instagram when it first launched on Android in 2012ish. Long story short, I gained a few thousand followers, which is nothing in the grand scheme, but for a 25 year old who couldn't get it together long enough to write more than a caption, it was a huge motivator. That experience both lifted me up as an artist and, later, destroyed my creative confidence for years.
Not because it went poorly, but because it went well. Every social media space has a vibe, and IG, especially early on, was sickly sweet. Whatever one did was met with praise.
I enjoyed snapping photos and writing up little stories to go with it. I called them storygrams. Example: https://www.instagram.com/p/PIYVKmDptd/?img_index=1
While they were creatively fulfilling, I began to find answering comments anxiety-inducing. Within a year, I stopped wanting to post because I’d have to answer 20 or 30 comments, which would take up an hour or two of my time. Also, the meaning dissipated from the effort.
By the end of my time on IG, I would create something I found no meaning in and be met with instant and unrelenting praise. That feedback loop completely disillusioned me for years.
There's lots of talk about how social media influences communication, but less so on how it influences creativity and art. Maybe it’s implied, but I view the creative mindset as different than, say, tweeting about politics or snapping a photo of brunch and writing “Breakfast with Bae.”
I can only talk about my own experiences here. Most of what I would call “the creative work” I’ve actually finished has been done because of a social platform I was using at the time. And I consciously adapted the creative work for the platform.
For example, I wrote little stories on Instagram along with a photo because that’s what the platform demanded. On Substack, I write long-form pieces because the audience is here to read them. Once I learned Substack had a burgeoning video feature, it influenced my decision to try to create videos for the written memoirs.
This might not even be a novel idea at all. Maybe the artist always starts with the platform — with the space an audience will congregate?
Either way, older platforms — magazines, zines, newspapers — had a person at the helm. Algorithms are the gatekeepers of today and, most likely, tomorrow.
So, if Substack did add vertical 60 second video, I’d use it differently than YouTube Shorts, Reels, or TikTok because this platform and its algorithm demands a different input from their artists.
TLDR; If I had to boil all this down to a question for Mills, it would be something to the effect of: Do you think about how the platforms you work on effect the output of the artists who use it? Does creative work you experience on the platform ever push your designs into new directions?
Sucks to be you
I am utterly clueless as to design, threads etc. Just came here to say OH MY GOD that Martha Stewart profile !!!
What did you love about working at Quora? Any elements of that platform that you'd like to see added to the Substack platform?