A few months ago, there were rumors that Twitter had made an offer for Substack, the hotter-than-jalapeños email publishing platform. If so, it looks like they got turned down. Instead, Twitter bought Revue, an also-ran, Netherlands-based email publishing company. Many in the technology press believe that Revue will allow Twitter to compete with Substack and Medium, a publishing platform started by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. (I know it is all very twisted and incestuous.)
In their blog post announcing the acquisition, Twitter said:
Many established writers and publishers have built their brand on Twitter. Our goal is to make it easy for them to connect with their subscribers, while also helping readers better discover writers and their content. We’re imagining a lot of ways to do this, from allowing people to sign up for newsletters from their favorite follows on Twitter, to new settings for writers to host conversations with their subscribers. It will all work seamlessly within Twitter.
Twitter’s announcement, at least in my reading, was short of specifics.
I used Revue for a while. I liked it because it allowed me to easily aggregate links, add my comments, and package it all up for sending out as an email. If I were to make a calculated guess about what you will see from Twitter+Revue, I’d bet on the ability to take tweets with links, bundle them, and send them out to your followers (or subscribers) as a newsletter. That would be a logical — and exciting — product extension for Twitter. (Read: What Twitter can learn from Spotify.)
Unfortunately, Twitter has a checkered history when it comes to product and product innovations. It lacks the capability to integrate the companies it buys into its core offering. For example, Twitter bought Vine, the short video sharing platform, and let it die on the proverbial vine, leaving room for the emergence of TikTok, a variant of that short-form video sharing platform.
Twitter also bought Periscope, in the belief that live streaming video would become part of our lives. In a column for Fast Company, I pointed out that Periscope and its brethren had a chance to become post-social television networks sans satellite trucks. Capture-and-share video behaviors are commonplace now. However, Twitter failed to make Periscope a significant part of its platform. Vine and Periscope were both logical extensions for the core platform. They added the right kind of payload to a tweet, prompted engagement, and would have allowed Twitter to compete for new audiences and garner more audience time. I remain skeptical of its abilities when it comes to product innovation.
I said all this on Twitter (Where else?). In response to my tweet, Periscope co-founder turned Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour tweeted: “I remember Vine, and I certainly remember Periscope 🙂 You’re not wrong about our past. But challenge accepted on our ability to learn from our mistakes. A lot is different now.” It is refreshing to see such honesty from a company executive. And that is why I replied to Kayvon: “I am happy to be wrong, and the market might actually be better for it. Looking forward to eating humble pie.”
In the meantime, I don’t think Substack needs to worry too much about losing their status as the “Great White Hope of Media.” How and (more importantly) when Revue becomes part of Twitter’s core offering remains to be seen. It is unclear what incentives will be offered to newsletter creators to come to Twitter’s platform. In short, it is fun to think of Twitter vs. Substack as a storyline, but I also believe in highly focused platforms (and services) like Substack.
January 27, 2021. San Francisco