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Musk Will Roll Over If You Force Him To
Earlier this week, Substack announced a new feature called Notes. It allows Substack writers to post small updates directly inside of Substack’s app. In the post announcing Notes, Substack’s team described it as, “short-form content” and stressed that it was good for recommending things that didn’t fit in an email: “Notes will give them the ability to recommend almost anything—including posts, quotes, comments, images, and links. Our goal is to foster conversations that inspire, enlighten, and entertain, while giving writers a powerful growth channel as these interactions find new audiences.”
Very quickly most people clocked that this was at least a little Twitter-esque.
And Elon Musk seems to have noticed, as well. Because within a few hours, Twitter embeds were no longer working on Substack. As you’ll notice in today’s email. But then, last night, Musk escalated his feud with Substack, restricting how Substack URLs work on Twitter. For several hours, you couldn’t retweet, reply, or engage with quote tweets that contained a Substack URL. Based on my tests this morning, it seems like Musk had one of his minions flip the switch back because I’m, at least, currently able to retweet and reply to Substack links. Though, others are still reporting it doesn’t work. And it seems to have never impacted newsletters that use a custom URL. Because nothing Musk does isn’t without asterisks. Or maybe Musk realized that all of the radical centrist free speech warriors working for him on the Twitter Files publish their reports to Substack.
But Substack isn’t the only institution clashing with Musk right now. NPR was given a “state-affiliated media” tag on their account this week. Musk has begrudgingly admitted this was possibly a mistake. Makes sense. I can believe that his head is just so far up his own reactionary ass that he may have just not known that NPR is actually a non-profit with around only 1% of their funding coming from the federal government. But it’s just as likely that Musk is a bully and he enjoys messing with people and doesn’t really care what happens, like when he stripped The New York Times of their verified status last week.
Here’s where things get interesting, though. Unlike The Times, which is still tweeting, NPR has announced that they won’t post until the tag is lifted. As of this morning, they have 8.8 million followers. That’s a huge account to go dark. And I assume as Musk becomes more erratic, we’ll start to see more aggressive pushback from similarly-sized accounts who finally reach their limit.
What Musk is doing is not new. He is just another weird home-office despot in a long line of abusive weirdos who have run their respective online communities into the ground. Though, the other dangerous maniacs that have turned their various websites in toxic rat holes over the years — Moot, Lowtax, Null, hell, even the Watkinses — have all shown more of a spine than Musk seems to be capable of. I mean, my god, even Trump is still on Truth Social. But Musk doesn’t even have the balls to stand his ground when one of his fanboys complain about something. I mean, he was openly haggling on the monthly Twitter Blue price with Stephen King. He can’t even commit to properly blocking Substack URLs for more than a couple hours and not without a litany of caveats and workarounds. Because the only rational explanation for why he bought Twitter in the first place — aside from possible market manipulation — is because he’s a pathologically divorced dweeb that became so obsessed with online popularity during the COVID-19 lockdown that it scrambled his brain. All he wants is the proximity to power and influence he thinks Twitter grants him. And that means he’ll literally do anything for it.
And ironically enough, unlike most platforms that have their users pretty solidly under the thumb of an all-encompassing algorithm, Twitter is actually very much at the whim of its largest accounts. And I think Musk knows that. In fact, at this point, that’s all Twitter is really. No matter how broken or bad its experience becomes, the only reason people are still using it is because of its network effort. But now that Twitter is restricting its features, closing itself off, and actively trolling its largest accounts, I think that network effect is actually really at risk of eroding.
There will simply come a point where the unique alchemy of actually-important and famous people, genuine news organizations, interesting independent voices, and anonymous shitposters that defines Twitter no longer exists. One day Musk will have some weird tantrum and no one will notice.
Think About Subscribing To Garbage Day!
It’s $5 a month or $45 a year and if Twitter embeds are truly gone for good, maybe I’ll set up a service where I email paying subscribers links to my favorite ones. Or do a Zoom call where I can share my screen and we can just read them together. Who knows! Hit the green button to find out more.
What’s In An Embed?
So, as I wrote above, Twitter embeds still don’t work on Substack. I’m going to take the weekend to think about what this means for Garbage Day long-term. Though I’m also not totally convinced this will even matter by next week (read above). But if I can’t embed tweets going forward, I’m not sure I’ll be featuring them in the same way. Typically, I drop a few funny ones in as little palette cleansers between sections. In sort of the spirit of, “here’s a cool thing I saw, go check out this account, etc.”
At its heart, this newsletter is about aggregation and curation. It’s about collecting stuff from across the internet and sending it to people free of algorithmic pressures. And from the very beginning, the point was to balance out the bad internet stuff with things that people were making that I liked. Because the internet is not bad! It’s whatever we want it to be. And the last thing I ever want to be is a “Here’s the 12 most epic Twitter reactions to the Trump arrest” blog. And I’m not sure screenshots would work the same way. Embeds, though imperfect, mean that engagement, at least in theory, flows back to the original creator. Also, you know, copyright gets trickier if you screenshot tweets that contain media.
I suppose the next question is what’s more important, embedding tweets or sticking with Substack? And, as of right now, I’d say I’d probably stick with Substack. For all the drama they seem unable to stop themselves from wading into regardless of what it means for their users’ ability to run stable businesses, right now, they’re still the best fit for me. It’s a good CMS. The data and metrics tools are always getting better. And Substack actually has genuinely very good SEO. Which is something I care about because I want my issues to live as public posts beyond your inbox.
That said, while I think that Musk is a petty loser (again, read above), I do really hope the folks at Substack take a second and think about whether their cheeky little we’re-not-a-social-network-directly-competing-with-Twitter-but-you-know-we’re-definitely-becoming-a-social-network-directly-competing-with-Twitter ploy is worth all of this.
The Hydrated Girlies Of WaterTok
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lol sorry for the TikTok embed!!! You can click over to watch a version of the video above on Twitter. This was a big discussion topic in the Garbage Day Discord this week and I woke up to a bunch of people on my timeline talking about it too. If you don’t want to or can’t click through to see what I’m talking about, allow me to summarize.
The #watertok hashtag on TikTok is full of mainly young women filling up big containers and jugs with different flavors of water and different flavor packs for the water. It seems aesthetically linked to a trend I noticed back in September where users were mixing different kinds of iced coffee together and then clanging around a big metal straw.
My hunch is that this newest twist is the confluence of a couple things happening all at once. There’s the ASMR quality of mixing a beverage in a big thermos with a metal straw. There’s the visual stimuli of watching different colors mix together in the liquid, similar to clay and slime stim videos. And, then, finally, I think there is a difficult to describe, but undeniabe link between the consumption of products and TikTok virality.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with #watertok videos to be clear. Seems like everyone’s having a good time! But what I mean is that if you dig deep enough to any weird niche genre of viral content on the app you’ll eventually come to the same core impulse: buying products and talking about them. I don’t think it’s an accident that Douyin, the Chinese sister app to TikTok, is completely intertwined with e-commerce. So it makes sense to me that the TikTokification of, say, drinking water is one where the process of “making it” and consuming it has become hyper-stylized and also completely dependent on an ever-growing list of products that you can buy to enhance it.
I was asked a question about AI the other day that kind of surprised me. I’m brought in from time to time to talk to brands and agencies about internet trends. I’m usually pretty upfront about how, for me, aside from these talks being a good source of income, it’s a bit of a selfish endeavor, because I think the internet is a public resource and brands that use the internet better mean we all have a happier time online.
Anyways, I was asked, essentially, how a brand could be the next Balenciaga, in terms of AI meme fodder. And the question really threw me for a loop. I had never even considered that someone working for a brand would look at the Balenciaga AI videos and think, “how do we get people to do that for our brand.” But the more I’ve sat with it, the more I’ve realized, of course, that’s exactly where this is going. Or at least exactly where it could go.
So, I will say this. If you are a brand looking at the torrent of Balenciaga content, you should be aware of a few things. First, the Balenciaga thing was largely an accident. AI prompters figured out that Midjourney could do an aesthetic called “80s dark fantasy” really well. They started experimenting with that and variations of it, while other prompters were experimenting with what fashion brands Midjourney did and didn’t know. This process happened totally organically over several months until a consensus formed that “80s dark fantasy” and Balenciaga were both similar aesthetics in the eyes of Midjourney and also pretty funny. And the meme spread from there.
The second, and possibly more important, thing to consider, is that the speed at which a generative-AI meme can go from fun novelty to completely oppressive spam is fast. So, you know, if you currently have a team researching how to get your brand aesthetic to trend on an AI subreddit, just ask yourself if you also want to be the name attached to what quickly becomes deeply annoying bottom-barrel content. Maybe you do! I admit I have no idea how advertising works anymore, I’m just the internet guy.
A Redditor Has A Unique Dungeons & Dragons Problem
This comes from the r/DnD subreddit and it’s definitely a doozy of an issue. Let’s see what’s going on:
So I have been playing this home brew campaign in a sort of Conan the barbarian setting. Most of my players are barbarians it’s been a blast but at some point one of my players said “it’s time to get serious” during a tough encounter and took off their shirt while screaming in rage. They proceeded to roll a nat 20 to the shock of everyone. Then one by one they all just got really hyped and started taking off their shirts screaming. They ended up winning the encounter it was a funny moment but ever since then they have been calling themselves the “beef brigade” refusing to play with shirts on.
According to the original poster, the players are now calling them “bad beef” every time they’re asked to put their shirts back on.
The comments are all pretty good and I recommend jumping over and reading them, but I think I have to agree with the top comment, which says, “Take your pants off to DM. Assert dominance!”
New Dog Of Wisdom Dropped
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good Tumblr post.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***