All these new Substack newsletters that I’m seeing reminds me of my first encounter with GitHub.
Back in 2009, I was checking out the source code of an open-source library we were using. Clicking on the link to the source bought me to this strange, new code-hosting service that I’ve never seen before. As someone who was use to the heaviness that was SourceForge, or the boring uniformity that was Google Code, the experience felt very minimal and slightly unintuitive. It took me a while, for instance, to realise that the version tags were selectable from a drop-down list. I also thought that it was quite restrictive to only offer checking out the source code with this weird SCM client called “git”. The whole experience left me thinking of this website as rather niche, and I never really expected to see it that often, given that Source Forge or Google Code reigned supreme at the time.
I held this believe for a year or two. Then, as I continued to deal with different open-source projects, I started noticing more and more of them showing up on this weird new service. This was infrequent at first: maybe around one in ten projects or so. But the ratio was starting to shift faster and faster, soon becoming one in eight projects, then one in five. Around this time, GitHub was starting to gain momentum in the technological zeitgeist: projects announced that they were moving off SourceForge and migrating their codebase to GitHub. Then, Google Code announce that they were shutting down, and that they were migrating projects over to GitHub. Eventually, a tipping point was reached, and GitHub was the code hosting service for pretty much every project I encountered.
My experience with Substack was similar, except on a much shorter timescale. I remember subscribing to my first Substack newsletter back in 2019. I was already a Stratechy subscriber so the whole email-newsletter thing was familiar to me. But it was another case of being a little unimpressed with the Substack experience — difficult to read on-line, impossible to get it as RSS, weird font choices, etc. — that I was expecting the platform to remain relatively niche. Contrast that to today, where every forth or fifth link I see is to a Substack newsletter, and not a month goes by where a new Substack publication is announced.
There’s no real lesson to this (or if there is, I’m too dense to see it). Just the amusing observation of first encountering something that, to you, seems rather niche and unusual until one day, faster than you can blink, it is the only thing anyone uses.