cag ⇄ anne

you were the first user here :heart: can i open a public discussion thread for us?? one idea for how I wanted to make use of this site is to have ongoing correspondence threads, just between groups of two, to start.

if you’d prefer just to lurk, no problem at all! lmk

Of course!!! That would be fun. I’ll love to see how this works.


ok! this is a public thread now!

so I don’t really know what I’m doing with this website, it’s a sorta direction-less experiment. but I’ve been interested in forum software for a long time, and all the affordances it offers.

partly i want to think about internet-forms, here :slight_smile:

you are very much tracking the newsletters and subscription world right now — right? what is most interesting to you there right now?

also: I just got a feature working so that when you get a notification in your inbox, you can actually just reply to that email and within 5 minutes it will be posted to this thread — no need to log in, etc.

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Hype around newsletter-as-a-business, for individual writers/creators, fascinates me.51%20PM

Screencaps is from Ghost, I’ll append another from Substack in a separate post. (Tech note, "new users can only include one image.)

An extension of this thinking shows up in this post by VC Li Jin, 1,000 True Fans? Try 100. My hypothesis is that there is a very small universe of one-person enterprises with hundreds of paying readers, or even one hundred.

When Substack has talked to the media, they say that they’ve got 50,000 paying subscribers and “thousands” of newsletters. Back of the envelope? After 2 years in business, 50,000 paying subscribers, doesn’t look compelling. (Even if they FRACKING 10X IT, lol)

IMO when someone puts their money down for a newsletter, they’re engaged. As a newsletter writer, my business challenge is, how do I connect with people who care to engage? And that’s not something that a newsletter technology can solve.

(And it’s not something that Mailchimp, Ghost, Revue, or Substack are building tools around – like, how can I track referrals so that I can thank people who grow my list by recommending the newsletter?)

Also – adding this on Sunday, what are you seeing around this topic that interests you, @cag?

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Here’s the Substack screencap.

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Sorry for the delay in getting back to you here! I’ve had a response in my drafts for over two weeks – and then… what a terrible whirlwind of global proportions it has been.

(Though still I guess sort of bad form, after asking you to join a whole new website just to talk to me :joy:?? Anyway HELLO! Hope you are well and staying safe in these strange times.)

Ahhh. I have been turning these features off where I find them. Discourse is FULL of rule-based moderation. I actually like these features in principle. I think they try to alleviate the burden on moderators of a large forum, by gradually rolling out privileges to new users over the course of their first few posts, while disallowing spammers from taking free reign.

What other kinds of things do you want, that aren’t provided? I am very curious!

Did you ever use Measuremap? It was an analytics service particularly for bloggers. Google acquired and sunsetted it in/around ~2006. I loved the idea of analytics for regular people instead of people who do analytics all day everyday for work.


from a blog post by Andy Clarke quoting Jeff Veen, who founded Measuremap:

It is an experience that offers meaningful insight into the effects caused by small changes in how you blog, rather than the overwhelming complexity of most web stats tools with their query/report-style analytic methods. Measure Map provides understanding by refocusing the difficult problem of web statistics and solving it just for blogs.

I’m still kind of obsessed with some ideas bumbling around on this…symmetrical analytics, calm analytics. I wrote about this a bit in my thread with my friend aaron, on here:

something else you said

reminded me of this tweet:

AND — omg — have you read this by Darius Kazemi? I feel like you might love it. It reminded me to come back here and tend to my forum, even with all that’s going on.

I hate to think of newsletters this way! As a failed meta business. I’m reminded of Tinyletter’s fake-demise. Is it still here? Seemed like it had something to do with business consolidation.

I was going to say that nobody I know writes a newsletter out of the spirit of 10x-ing. Then I remembered that for many it is a personal business.

Fun fact: out of several subscriptions (though probably less than 10 or 15 total?) your newsletter is the only one I pay for. :slight_smile: I guess I support several Patreons with regular email updates, so that kind of counts?

I get the sense from Anne Helen’s newsletter that her readers are incredibly engaged. Even never having engaged myself, the newsletter feels like a back-and-forth between all these other people who are responding to her every week, which is kind of interesting.

The nicest interaction, for me, of a newsletter, is the ability to hit reply and reach the author. I also like email as a delivery mechanism and reader.

Otherwise, it’s funny, I haven’t been that into newsletters. I feel like there’s a lot of “tone” that doesn’t suit me personally. Of the newsletters I receive a lot of them I actually don’t like!!! One thing I like the least is when people introduce themselves and say: PLEASE UNSUBSCRIBE at the top. It’s like, uhhh hello I’m obviously hate reading! anyway, I digress.

I recently read Lurking by Joanne McNeil (who also has a wonderful substack). Her descriptions of things like what blogging was and how it worked are so good. It’s already gone! Newsletters are definitely having their moment, tone-wise.

This gives me lots of thoughts, that I will try to dig up. I think you follow this a lot more closely than me so you’ll probably have seen most of my links. I agree that it’s froth.

I guess where my mind goes in terms of the effect of newsletters and patreons on imagination are that it is encouraging everyone hawk themselves to their niche of 100 or 1000. And I wonder about apps for 1 or 4 people.

I think I’m rambling non-sensically here, but I just finished reading The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, by Sarah Schulman. And I guess, to me, newsletters feel a bit like gentrified blogs?

OK GOODNIGHT! :upside_down_face:

Lol I have an entire deck on that, which our poor friends at Orbital show and tell have been subjected to more than once. Basically, the last time I updated my worldview, it looked like this.

None of the newsletter providers offer all of that. And obvi, this is predicated on the idea that the paid newsletter is a good thing. That’s a many-tentacled thing, but imo yes it is. As a freelancer, right now my only income is coming from my newsletter, lol. My primary goal with this is not total world domination, ha, but something more like “Make My Own UBI.” I’ll come back to this thought.

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To your first point, VC is investing in the likes of Substack. They won’t be around forever if they can’t 10X it.

Interestingly, I got a note from someone yesterday who canceled her paid subscription, a very nice note that she loved what I was doing. She was in the process of cutting back on her subscriptions. With what’s happening out there, I expect to see more of this as people see that the $10 a month (times X) is money they don’t have when their paychecks stop.

This is going to hit Substack and the other PNAAS businesses.

And to your second point: for me, right. More my goal is, can my newsletter pay my health insurance premiums?

Lol I just started doing this. Someone (Dan Oshinsky?) suggested this as a best practice, and I agreed with it.

“Intro yourself.” I am signed up for a million newsletters, and sometimes people don’t use their names. At all. Um, thanks, author of “Newsletter from Outer Space,” but I don’t remember who you are, or why I signed up for your probably very good newsletter based on a tweet or rec from a friend.

“Make it easy to unsubscribe.” If someone doesn’t remember me, like me, whatever, I don’t want them to stay on the list. And onbrand:tm: for me to say it upfront. From an engagement point of view, I am glad when people unsubscribe. If it’s not for them, it’s noise for all of us.

ABSOLUTELY. Funny, you once said something to me to the effect of, “Why aren’t you more famous?” Lol. You were complimenting me, and saying, why didn’t more people know about the ideas I put out there.

Assuming that I have do have something useful to say, the reason is “platform.”

Example: the excellent Anne Helen Petersen. Buzzfeed and the other large publications put her work out there for scrutiny and to be seen as excellent. By having her on staff, they fund her ability to do the work that we can read for free. And therefore, we know who she is, get her newsletter – and so do enough other people that it seems like she has an engaged community of people in conversation with her and her ideas. And those conversations enrich the work she does, hence her upcoming book on burnout.

I once saw what was probably a tweet thread by a dude who was writing about the fact that he had eleventy billion Twitter followers because he was an early and prolific Twitter user, and early on the algos recommended that new followers follow him, and then they shared his tweets. The way I took his point was that he was saying that he could have been anyone. (Of course whoever he was, he wasn’t an idiot!)

This goes back to the notion of “sponsorship,” which I feel we’ve discussed. It’s the Sylvia Ann Hewlett coined/researched/demonstrated idea that the reason that people advance beyond the pack in corporate life is because powerful people noticed them/their work and put them in positions where they could prove themselves capable.

Donald Trump is the apotheosis of platform as sponsor. First the reality tv, then twitter and fox news (and beyond) have given him a platform that so powerful that I listened to an interview this morning with an Indiana senator – a state where people are starting to die! – who was afraid to say that “we have to listen to scientists/medical experts” without also saying “but we have to do this something something entrepreneurship something something balance.”

A piece of advice I’ve been given over the years is that I should write a book. In the meantime, one of the things that the publishing industry looks for when someone pitches a book is “platform.” They want you to bring your own platform. Measured by social media followings…size of your newsletter list. Etc.

I’m looking forward to reading Joanne’s book, and hadn’t heard of Sara Shulman’s book at all, so yay. That said, to the idea of newsletters as blogging, yes. Gentrified, maybe? But also protected. Newsletter growth over the last 5 years was partly sparked by women, because women were subject to harassment online. (Not my observation, maybe Ann Friedman has written about this?) And there’s an intersection with “platform” too, as the platforms Free SPEECH values stopped them from responding to the abuse in any meaningful way for such a long time.

And it’s funny, I’m a longtime reader of Fred Wilson’s blog, and used to be an active part of the community there, until it became unbearably toxic. I started getting his posts via RSS, basically as a newsletter. Fred recently turned off comments on his blog. And there was a long slow slide from toxic comments section to no more comments, even with a couple of people who served as moderators.

I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here, but Fred is the opposite of vulnerable, and the work to protect his blog discourse from toxicity was beyond the effort it would have taken. Which says something but I’m not sure what.

At any rate, now I’m ranting. Lol. I’m sure there’s more in your post to respond to…as always, we have more to discuss!


Also PS Discourse suggested that I put everything into one post, rather than several quote/reply posts. Then, as a new user I was only allowed to put 2 links in the (gigantor) post.

So, here’s a link to Dan Oshinsky.

Yeah :weary: I hate that though. Makes me remember that I believe so much more in protocols, open source, distributed/federated services. (Part of what drew me to setting up this site just [quote=“anne, post:9, topic:78”]
She was in the process of cutting back on her subscriptions.

Yeah, where I see this bubbling up is in subscription streaming too. Around the time Disney+ launched I saw a bunch of tweets doing the math on how streaming services, when you add them all up, are now more expensive and offer less than cable :joy:

LOL. This acronym. Cannot unsee.

That’s cool. I’ve heard “sponsorship vs. mentorship” informally but didn’t know about her work. Will check it out.

Totally. I hadn’t thought about “moderation tools” for email newsletters. I guess there are lots of approaches as email is an old (and kind of advanced?) protocol: fake/spam accounts, filtering rules, list management. But yeah the 1:1 interaction does seem to make it less trollable, vs blog comments!

I clocked this! Was a very weird transition, I thought. He seemed pleased? I’ve read for a long time via RSS but have never participated.

I loved your post. Thank you! Especially the few paragraphs on platform feel like a post in the making of they haven’t already been published somewhere :slight_smile:

My apologies for the robot moderation! I should prolly, for my purposes, just switch it off entirely.

When you say “robust stats” what would be the helpful indicators? Did you see the post just published today walking through substacks analytics?

I have never had a bounce on Substack. NEVER. So there’s a key missing stat that’s affecting all of the rest of my stats, potentially my deliverability (if the bounces are to gmail) and (color me cynical) also one that’s inflating the company’s overall numbers in their pitch decks.

You also can’t see who your most engaged readers are, except post by post, sort of manually. Early on, I asked about some more detailed stats and they put my numbers into what I think was some kind of third party service and invited me to open an account there. I do think their impulse was to be helpful, but ouch #privacy?

In brief, Mailchimp is thinking about users who sell stuff, so they have detailed stats about how people interact with mails on both a mail level, and on a reader level. So I could, for example, create a segment of “super-readers” and send them separate mails. Or, I could send a “would you like to unsubscribe” note to people who have never opened my email (per the stats) which would keep my list clean – maybe get some people who are reading with pixel trackers turned off to direct my mail out of "promotions – and again be sure I’m more deliverable.

The uber platform in all of this is gmail.

Yeah, there were 3-4 people there who routinely and actively highjacked posts (with sexist, racist, partisan, xenophobic, every awful-ism bs) and he never wanted to outright ban them. Or if he did, I was gone from comments by the time he did. He routinely wrote about how upsetting this was to him, that people couldn’t just get along.

Some good stuff from her used to live online at HBR. Executive Presence is very good on this topic. The best thing I’ve seen from her is a private research study/report on Sponsorship that she/her team did for a bunch of large companies in the early '10s, which used to cost ~$300. I had a copy of it in my cubby at Orbital, sob. If I can figure out how to scan it I will send it to you.

Sigh. I wish I could remember the name of the guy who started a paid email newsletter service maybe 5-6 years ago, at the outset, to support his who sister had this weird/cool email. He wrote a great “goodbye” email that’s somewhere in my inbox, he never took venture. Mailchimp grew organically focused on not-sexy small businesses.

Then there’s the gumroad guy who has written about the problems with taking venture and being a cool startup.

I mean, look, I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about this before, re: crowdfunding. Substack et al are basically financial services transactors Their revenues are based on earning 10% of the revenue from their paying newsletters. If they hadn’t taken venture they’d probably be gone by now.

Otoh, though, they’re not incentivized to build stuff that helps someone like me get to X paying subscribers over 5 years. Instead, they’re out there looking for people who already have platforms to 10X it.

I think this is my own thought, have a blank scrivener doc open, but haven’t dug into who else might be writing about it.

No worries about robot moderation, I’m not complaining just letting you know fyi!

@anne EXTREMELY RANDOM QUESTION (that you might’ve already answered somewhere?): what are your thoughts on MBAs? :troll_face: And, I guess, in general how people do (or maybe should?) learn about business today?

also… some replies to the above:

(have been basically offline for a few weeks, in [mental] hiding from everything going on.)

I would love that!

ah I forgot about gum road guy, I really liked that post!

Yes! I always say this about Airbnb. It’s literally…a hyper-global payments platform. (They’ve put significant resources into figuring out how to move money around even in parts of the world that don’t really support international online payments as we know them.)

hmmmm I love this as the seed of something that should exist. this is why I like a lot of indieweb and p2pweb tech stuff. it feels like people are making it for themselves on a really small scale, not like “the well off promoting the highly regarded” (misquoting wendy brown, here.)

didn’t know you use scrivener! among my niche Mac software favs :slight_smile:

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That’s two questions, so I’ll answer the easiest one first, lol. Get a Wall Street Journal subscription, and start reading the WSJ and business (lol style too) sections of the Times. A college classmate gave me this advice, and I think it holds up. It’s like learning a new language, a lot of it won’t sink in until it does. Also the editorial pages are not the WSJ, which has done brilliant, deep reporting that is skeptical of some of the tech bullshit that we’re about to start seeing does not hold up.

The MBA question is complicated. I loved business school. For one thing, I wasn’t a skilled student when I got to college. By the time I got to bschool I was determined to make the most of every resource, and I went to Wharton, so the resources were plentiful. I also made some lifelong friends there who have seen me through a lot. Some of my professors and administrators are still mentors and friends. It was a fantastic experience.

That said, I didn’t pay cash for bschool. At the time I think it cost a bit more than 100K all in. And I went to a full time program while I was working full time, an “executive program,” so my employer laid out the cash as part of my comp package.

I did not graduate with so much debt that I was required to take on a values-challenging job. Into an improving economy that gave me a lot of options. (I freelanced for a long time, though in the late 90s I had one stable client that kept me occupied a lot of the time. My health insurance cost something like 150 a month.)

What I’ve been telling people for the last few years – particularly women but really applicable to anyone who might have career discontinuities relevant to caregiving – it that you don’t want to take on a boatload of debt when you might think you’re deciding to stop working for a couple of years. Because what I’ve seen via involvement in alumnae efforts is many, many women who stop working for any reason who can’t get back into the workforce at the level they had been at. Particularly over 40.

So if you have to pay for it yourself, lose 2 years of income, and you don’t have $100-200K to pay for it in the bank…dot dot dot…

Of late, schools are experimenting with 1 year MBA programs. That’s interesting. I was also fascinated to see that the University of Illinois discontinued their IRL MBA program. I mean, maybe nobody wants to be in the farm belt for 2 years at a top engineering school. And nobody in Chicago wants to go to U of I when Chicago and Northwestern have many different programs. But I thought that was crazy.

All of that said, all bets are off right now. My guess is that some schools won’t come back from this. Illinois will look prescient. That unproven online instruction that’s all being rolled out now will become the MBA experience that most people have.

The MBA experience that I had won’t exist any more. Even at elite schools like Wharton. They will have high touch in person stuff that supplements online and builds network (and keeps endowments fat.)

If you can go to NYU bschool as one of your benefits, you should absolutely do it. It’s a great credential. You just have to know that you don’t learn to manage or other practical stuff in bschool. You learn to become an analyst. But then, to borrow from our friend Ray, you can see a lot more about how the machine works. You can use those skills in not-for-profits, because they’re the same skills dressed up differently. And it’s always great to learn in a cohort. Even it it’s online. and my guess is that NYU of all places knows how to do online well. Maybe there are joint programs with what used to be called ITP (maybe still is?) and other tech related things that would be interesting and cutting edge.)

Also, it’s easier to see capitalism when you understand how capital operates, and know its vocabulary. (And I don’t claim a deep understanding, lol. But it’s deeper than it was before I went back to school.)

All of that was a stream of consciousness answer that I think contains everything i think about the mba. Lol.

oh and PS have you read Lower Ed by Tressie McMillan Cottom? She’s writing mostly about women (editing this to say, specifically black women, I did not mean to white them out) who elect to get degrees from for-profit institutions, and why the credential actually matters to them (and how many people get screwed in the process.) I felt like her thinking on"credentialism" applies across the board.

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Hey, how does this work on a meta level – if I have a new topic for cag<>anne do I just reply, as I’m doing here? Or is there a way to start a new thread within our thread?

Also, found a pithy article on platforms. (Not the platform/sponsor thing, but just platforms at roughly this point in history.) What the @#$% is a Platform? by Kate McKean, who’s an agent.

Lol, or reply to this reply within this thread?

Have you seen this article? Thought you might like When University Leaders Fail.