Things have been pretty chaotic since Elon Musk took over Twitter. With thousands of staff fired, many are waiting for it to collapse. As the apocalypse unfolds, other platforms have started capturing this opportunity to lure in Twitteratis.

Mastodon, a decentralised social media platform built on open-source software based out of Germany, appears to have grabbed the limelight so far.

On November 20, it said: “Mastodon has just passed over 2 million active monthly users.” The tweet added, “The future of social media doesn’t have to belong to a billionaire, it can be in the hands of its users.”

Likewise, Substack too is quietly introducing social features into its platform. Started in 2017, Substack helps you create a blog or an email newsletter and monetise your content. While it’s free to use, Substack earns a 10 per cent cut only when you put your newsletter behind its paywall.

Listen | Substack grabs creators amid Twitter’s chaotic ride  Listen | Substack grabs creators amid Twitter’s chaotic ride  

The company claims that it has over 1.5 million paid subscribers. Poynter reported, “Its top 10 earners together take in $25 million a year. Substack has raised $82.4 million in venture capital, implying a valuation of $650 million.”

The company started Substack Chat that allows you to directly engage with your readers. It even released a ‘bestseller badge’ that came out when Twitter’s $8 verification fiasco happened. Other features introduced include cross-post, recommendations, and mentions.

This March, Co-founder of Substack, Hamish McKenzie, announced on Twitter that they have launched an app for iOS. The company then extended the service to Android phones in October.

Rise of newsletters in India

In the last few years, Substack has gained interest among creators in India as well.

One such person is Rohini Kejriwal, a Bengaluru-based writer who runs ‘The Alipore Post’, a weekly newsletter on poetry, art, music, photography, and all things creative that has over 8,000 subscribers.

Rohini Kejriwal, a Bengaluru-based writer, runs ‘The Alipore Post’

Rohini Kejriwal, a Bengaluru-based writer, runs ‘The Alipore Post’

In a chat with businessline, Rohini says that her newsletter started first on her Gmail. She would send poems or essays she read online and mail them to her family and friends.

After a point, her mail list grew bigger and that was when she stumbled upon Substack. “It changed newsletters and the creator economy altogether,” she tells, adding that the simplicity of Substack’s design and user experience made it easy to use. The writer has leveraged the power of other social media platforms too to build a community.

The Alipore Post has a following of over 73,000 on Instagram. Rohini believes that her content is consumed by people who prefer different platforms; those who love to read her emails and others who love to read the posts she shares on Instagram.

While Rohini is yet to monetise her newsletter, she informs that it still helped her develop her writing style, gather a large audience to read topics she cared about, and has even opened doors to conduct offline events like workshops or poetry readings.

Controlling the platform

As digital rights advocates express concern over Musk’s handling of Twitter, there has also been a spike in the debate over online freedom of speech, content moderation, and advertisement.

In a blog post titled, ‘The problem isn’t that Elon Musk owns Twitter – it’s that you don’t’, Mckenzie wrote: “We believe that the next era of the social internet will be about deep relationships over shallow engagement; signal over noise; and ownership over serfdom.”

Mckenzie added, “When people have the power over platforms, rather than the other way round, we can have more rewarding social experiences and healthier discourse, where we seek to understand our neighbors rather than score points against them. When the network is funded by paid subscriptions, not ads, trust relationships trump viral content.”

While Substack has been well received by creators in the last five years, tech pundits have also raised concerns over its content moderation. They argued that what if someone, say a conspiracy theorist or someone prolific, uses Substack to share their content for spreading hate speech or misinformation?

On this, Substack said: “We commit to keeping Substack wide open as a platform, accepting of views from across the political spectrum. We will resist public pressure to suppress voices that loud objectors deem unacceptable.”

It added: “If you look at Substack’s leaderboards today, you’ll see writers from the left and the right, the populist and the elite, the low-brow and the high-brow, the secular and the faithful, the activist and the academic. We’re proud of this range and strongly believe that this breadth strengthens the discourse.”

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