Substack and Clubhouse Should Merge
Could such a merger foster better incentives and prosocial behavior on social media?
Last week,and I wanted to spin up a space to live react to the announcement for (what we now know is) the Apple Vision Pro. In evaluating our options, we landed on a Twitter Space; even in the face of Twitter’s ongoing enshittification, it was still best-suited to our needs.
That morning, it occurred to me that Substack Notes could (and should) offer a similar service, which ultimately led me to the idea that Substack and Clubhouse should merge.
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For a few months there in Spring ’21, Clubhouse was the place to be. It raised $100M on the belief that it was an exciting new angle for the future of social media. In 2023, the situation looks decidedly less optimistic for the company, which recently had to lay off half its workforce. We can point to a number of external factors—hype fading, vaccines, less stringent quarantine protocols, the rollout of Twitter Spaces—but it’s not because Clubhouse’s product doesn’t work properly. In fact, speaking purely from anecdotal experience, I find Clubhouse tends to work better than Twitter Spaces. It just doesn’t have the broader appeal and community of users that Twitter has.
Meanwhile Substack, still ascendant, has rolled out Notes, a well-intentioned stab at social media that has nowhere near the gravitational pull of Twitter, and still lacks major features which would cast it as anything close to a Twitter competitor. To be clear: I don’t believe Notes needs to be a full-fledged Twitter competitor—and attempting to do so could lead to the replication of perverse incentives that have enshittified other social media platforms. But I’d be thrilled to see Notes become a thriving (yet still niche!) space that fosters knowledge sharing, civil debate, and critical thinking. For that to happen, it will need better UX and more people who want to use Notes as audience-members and commenters outside of specific newsletter siloes.
A merger of Substack and Clubhouse could not only address their respective obstacles, but open up possibilities for fostering new forms of prosocial interaction online. It could also offer a new vision for a social media revenue model not dependent on advertising—something I trust many people would embrace.
So this is my humble submission to the ideasphere in the hopes that one day I can spin up Substack Houses for all my social audio needs.