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New App in the Alms Race | 2210

The Alms Race is the financial expansion of Web2 social platforms. Allowing users to earn directly from other users. Web 2.5 if you will.

Full Show Notes: https://www.thejaymo.net/2022/03/12/301-2210-new-app-in-the-alms-race/

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New App in the Alms Race

One of the many things I haven’t hit publish on in the last few years is a post about the Alms Race. 

Alms as in A-L-M-S Alms Race, not A-R-M-S.

Since 2020 Iโ€™ve been using the term to describe the financial expansion of Web2 social platforms. The development of tools that enable users to earn an income directly from other users. Whilst trying to keep as much of the value generated by said users โ€˜on platformโ€™. Web 2.5 if you will.

The latest development in the Alms Race is this weeks news that Substack have finally released their new reader app on iOS. Hereโ€™s what they had to say about it.

The app helps bring together Substack as an ecosystem, giving you an icon to tap on your home screen that opens up a treasury of quality work by the writers you most trust. It is an app for deep relationships, an alternative to the mindless scrolling and cheap dopamine hits that lie behind other home screen icons. It offers a quiet space to read, where the work itself is given the spotlight and youโ€™re not pulled into status games or trivial diversions.

I first wrote about Substackโ€™s reader app on my blog when it was announced. My thoughts havenโ€™t really changed – theyโ€™ve built the app because people have grown tired of having other people’s opinions in their private inboxes.

To be blunt Substack is a company that has made exactly one technical innovation: Easy financial plumbing. In its simplest terms, Substack is an address book, a community gate and a mail server. Patreon is a similar financial plumbing service. But substitutes the mail server for an expanded content delivery platform.

Like Patron, Substack has become a significant service providing financial plumbing to creators. Their ease of use for both creators and supporters has resulted in both services having big network effects. Substack say as much themselves:

it amplifies the network effects that already exist on Substack (did you know that if a reader is already a paid subscriber to a Substack, theyโ€™re 2.5x more likely to pay for yours?), making it easier for writers to get new subscribers, and for readers to explore and sample Substacks they might otherwise not have found. 

The reason people make more money on Patreon and/or Substack is because they have become theplaces that people supporting other people already are.

I am quite open and relaxed about leaving (quite a bit of) money on the table by not having a Patreon or Substack for Permanently moved. This is because I have no interest in being entangled in their ecosystem at all. If you want to support me, you can do it through my website. Simple.

The Substack app is – by all accounts, an RSS reader with built in ecosystem specific financial plumbing to manage gated Substack content.

On the one hand, it’s encouraging to see a company building a RSS reader from the ground up in 2022. This week a super nice support agent called Kevin confirmed that I’ve been using Feedly as my RSS reader since Google Readerโ€™s demise in 2013. I have chosen my own internet for a long time so to speak.

The Substack app is another signal of the RSS revival. Google has โ€˜advanced followโ€™ in its Chrome labs. Podcasts are asking more and more of RSS too. Yet despite the medium’s maturity we still donโ€™t have a spec for public/private community gated content.

Meanwhile, friends over at channel.xyz are developing web3 native token-enabled RSS and membership systems for creative producers.

The Substack App is a classic example of a strategic Alms Race manoeuvre. Keeping creative value on platform

Substack isnโ€™t trying to capture more economic value with this move. Instead it’s an attempt at the enclosure of the creative value generated by its writers. A re-bundling of the disaporous and promiscuous newsletter ecosystem they facilitated. A re-capture of intangible value it helped create. 

We can look elsewhere and see similar ongoing Alms Race activities. Twitter is expanding on all fronts. It has introduced its super tweet / paid follower monetization program. The recent acquisition of revue and subsequent newsletter integration suggests an expanded media ecosystem. Spaces are developing into hashtag or community hang out spots. And just this week we hear news that Twitter may be adding a built-in podcasts tab

A move that intrigues me by the way, as 301 in its gestation was originally conceived as a small unit of content that would fit perfectly in the Feed.

Elsewhere, Patreon has finally pulled its finger out and begun development on their own video player and CDN.

I do however have some questions.

If Substack is encouraging its readers to use a glorified RSS reader, then why start a newsletter on Substack at all when you can just start a blog

I was also surprised to read that if a user chooses to receive newsletter notifications via the new substack app, substack will automatically turn off the emails being sent to your inbox. 

Nice UX you might think. But if people are no longer subscribed by email and only via the app, how will this effect email list building and data portability? It’s an enclosure that will result in challenges moving away from Substack to a different service. X% of your audience will be Subscribed to your newsletter via an RSS feed endpoint you have no control over.

https://permanentlymoved.online/rss and thejaymo.net/feed are far more useful to me that thejaymo.substack/rss you know?

This sort of thing is why I wish to have no entanglements with web2.5 services where possible. We should be weary of relying on infrastructure we don’t control.

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The script above is the original script written for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in the edit.

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About Author

Jay Springett is a Solarpunk, and consultant strategist, currently specialising in the distributed web, metaverse, and world running. He is currently writing his first public book: Land as Platform.

1 Comment

  • […] my posts about how individuals navigate code-spaces and the way platforms capture value are relevant to WotC going after Roll 20 and Tailspire. They basically came out and said this in […]

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