Category Archives: Technology

Micro.blog 1.3.3 is out

The new update to Micro.blog for iOS is now available in the App Store. As I wrote about yesterday, it includes an improved conversations gesture. Here’s the full list of changes:

  • Added swipe left on a post to view the conversation.
  • Added feed settings button when writing a new post for quickly toggling off cross-posting.
  • Added confirmation alert when removing a post.
  • Updated character counter to not include Markdown.
  • Updated sharing from other apps to not use the current draft or save it.
  • Fixed compatibility with some XML-RPC servers.
  • Fixed opening conversations from links in the timeline.

Enjoy!

Share to Micro.blog and new apps

Two great feed readers added support for Micro.blog this week: Evergreen and Feedbin. Evergreen is still in beta but improving quickly. Feedbin is a mature, well-designed RSS reader and sync service.

Here’s Brent Simmons announcing the Micro.blog support in Evergreen:

This is hugely important. RSS readers exist not to just make reading easy but to make the web a conversation.

And Ben Ubois on the Feedbin blog writing about the new Feedbin sharing, including some thoughtful words for what we’re trying to do with Micro.blog:

Micro.blog is good for blogging, because it acts as sort of gateway-drug into that habit. Say you start off just using it for Twitter-like microposts, but then you realize you have more you want to say. Micro.blog detects the length of your post and prompts you to add a title, turning that post into a full-fledged blog post.

Support from Evergreen and Feedbin represent the start of a new wave of third-party support for Micro.blog. There are other third-party iOS apps and even an Android app in development, including Micron for iOS in public beta now. There’s also a command-line tool for the Micro.blog API called speck.

Thanks for the support, everyone. If you haven’t tried Micro.blog yet, there’s a lot of activity in the community and in new apps. Now is a good time to join.

Twitter’s weeds

Mike Monteiro wrote on Medium this week about the daunting, insurmountable problems facing Twitter’s leadership team. He talked about meeting in person with Jack Dorsey:

We discussed Twitter’s role in the world stage. And I admired his vision, but feared his approach. Jack, and to an extent Twitter’s pet porg Biz Stone, have always believed that absolute free speech is the answer. They’re blind to the voices silenced by hate and intimidation. The voices that need to be protected. But anyone who’s ever tended a garden knows that for the good stuff to grow, you have to deal with the bad stuff. You can’t let the weeds choke the vegetables.

I love the metaphor of a garden. In fact, I wrote a whole chapter of my upcoming book Indie Microblogging about gardens. The chapter is a longer version of what Mike says above, but with a twist.

The issue isn’t that Twitter doesn’t care. It’s instead a fundamental design flaw in the platform. Because tweets don’t exist outside of Twitter, when you’re banned, you’re done. For this reason, and because their business depends on a large user base, Twitter is hesitant to throw anyone off their service. They’re unwilling to tend the garden for fear of pulling too many weeds.

Imagine instead a service based on blogs, where the internal posts on the platform were the same format as the external posts. The curators of the platform would have more freedom to block harassing posts and ban nazis because those problematic users could always retreat to their own web site and leave everyone else in the community alone.

That’s how the web is supposed to work. It’s a core principle of Micro.blog.

Twitter will continue to improve. I believe they’re trying. But the root issue can’t be fixed without starting over.

Apple battery issue is about secrecy

Like most Apple controversies, the iPhone performance/battery issue seems overblown. I like Ben Thompson’s take from today’s daily update:

The biggest problem here is Apple’s lack of transparency and communication: if iOS is slowing down iPhones for battery reasons, then iOS should say so. Pretending everything works perfectly until it is painfully obvious that it doesn’t fits with Apple’s generally secretive ethos, but it runs into the painful reality that it isn’t actually true.

Apple usually tries to do the right thing. But they are absolutely crippled in how they communicate with users and developers. At this point, 6 years after Steve Jobs died, clinging to the Steve-inspired obsession with secrecy just looks clumsy. It’s the right lesson for the narrow window of product announcements, now applied universally to the wrong parts of their business.

Friction and silo dead-ends

Instagram is experimenting with a repost feature. From The Next Web:

Instagram appears to be finally working on a native Regram button. It’s a feature many users have been waiting for for some time. Currently, users wanting to reshare content have to either save the image or video to their device and re-share it from their own account, or call upon one of several third party apps like Regram, a popular Android option.

I wrote last year about how I thought the lack of Instagram reposts was deliberate. Early versions of Instagram were built carefully, and it seemed designed to encourage posting your own photos:

When you have to put a little work into posting, you take it more seriously. I wonder if fake news would have spread so quickly on Facebook if it was a little more difficult to share an article before you’ve read more than the headline.

If Instagram ships this, it will likely increase memes and other non-photos in your timeline. Along with ads, it will make the timeline feel even more cluttered.

Meanwhile, Ben Thompson covers Facebook’s curation efforts and how the lack of friction on social networks is both a good and bad thing. If it’s difficult to post, fewer people will do it. But if it’s too easy — with few limits on what is appropriate to share with your followers — you’ll get the dumpster fire that we currently have.

I believe in a middle-ground solution. Make it easier to post to your blog. That’s what indie microblogging is all about, why I’m writing a book on it, and why I built Micro.blog. But don’t make thoughtless re-sharing completely frictionless. That’s what leads to fake news spreading, why hateful tweets are exposed in algorithmic trends, and why safe communities must have some amount of curation.

Facebook is right to hire 10,000 curators. But what they’re missing is the balance between curation and an open platform, with the freedom to post to your own site. That’s why Facebook is a dead-end for the web.

MarsEdit 4 and microblogs

Daniel Jalkut shipped MarsEdit 4 today. This version includes many improvements, from brand new icons to support for WordPress “Post Formats” which are convenient for microblog posts.

Micro.blog-hosted blogs also have full support for posting from MarsEdit 4. You can post short microblog posts, or you can add a title, upload photos, and write longer posts. Blogs on Micro.blog are really fast, have custom domain names, and support importing from WordPress.

MarsEdit screenshot

Congrats Daniel! I’m sure we’ll be talking about this milestone on Core Intuition.

Siri is in the wrong game

While writing about the limited SiriKit support in the upcoming HomePod, Stephen Hackett points out one of the biggest problems with Siri:

While I’m glad to see some progress here, I think that it is time Siri become much more cloud-centric. Alexa and Google Assistant can do the same set of tasks across devices, while Siri still remains very device-centric. Apple has its reasons for this, but its approach could lead to a less-than-ideal user experience.

I agree. See my previous blog posts on wanting a more open voice platform and Siri’s slow pace of change.

We all know that Apple’s strengths are in design and having incredibly high standards. We love Apple’s attention to detail. When Apple competes directly with other products, these strengths always produce better products. Apple wins.

The problem for Siri is that Apple’s competition with Amazon and Google isn’t on a level playing field. Siri won’t “catch up” to Alexa because the architectures are fundamentally different, with SiriKit locked to the device while Alexa expands quickly to new products and thousands of extensible skills in the cloud.

Every week, Alexa gets better. Apple’s usual strengths won’t help them stay competitive because Siri isn’t even in the same game.

iPhone 8 review, X pre-orders

Jason Snell mentioned on this week’s Upgrade that he had found a way to frame his iPhone 8 review, and today he posted it. Where most iPhone 8 reviews last month seemed overshadowed by the upcoming iPhone X, I think Jason’s review may have benefited from a little distance from the September Apple event.

It also reminded me about the missing headphone jack, which in the excitement of the pre-orders I had forgotten about. Sigh. From the review:

These upgraders also get to experience for the first time what the rest of us had to come to terms with a year ago: A one-way ticket to Dongletown, courtesy of a Lightning-to-headphone-jack adapter required by the removal of the headphone jack.

And on wireless charging, which I’m equally skeptical about:

Inductive charging is slower than USB charging, so if I’m trying to top up my battery before heading out, I’ll invariably prefer plugging in a Lightning cable. Dropping the phone on top of the small circle of the charging pad so that it’s properly aligned for the charge—the phone indicates that it’s charging and a small light appears on the charger base—is not really any less difficult in terms of mental focus than plugging in a Lightning cable.

As Daniel and I have discussed at several points on Core Intuition, I think Apple really gambled on splitting the product line between the 8 and X, and the pronunciation fumbles only add to the confusion and perception that the 8 isn’t a cutting-edge product. It’s at once the best phone in the world and old news.

It remains to be seen whether this split will impact sales. I’ll be watching for the quarterly results and Ben Thompson’s take.

Meanwhile, I’ve stuck to my first impression that it’s time for me to have a phone with the best cameras again. That means the iPhone X. I’ll miss the size of the iPhone SE, but now that my iPhone X pre-order is wrapped up, I’m looking forward to trying something new, and hoping that it captures a little of that first-generation iPhone feeling, when we knew we were holding a bit of the future.

Updated to High Sierra

I installed 10.13 High Sierra today. It takes a long time, presumably because of the file system conversion. Make sure to block out a couple of hours.

Stephen Hackett has a full review. One of the most interesting features to me is Safari’s new ability to automatically enable Reader Mode when viewing certain web sites you configure:

Safari’s stripped-down view is learning some new tricks. The feature can be set to automatically engage, displaying text, images and video in a clean format, leaving ads and funky layouts behind.

Speaking of Stephen, his kids are running the Kids Marathon to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. You can read about it and make a donation here.

iPhone 8 standards

So many great iPhone 8 and iOS 11 reviews out today. My favorite aside has to be the headphone jack mini-rant in Nilay Patel’s The Verge review:

And I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s no headphone jack, which is still routinely annoying on every phone that omits it. Apple’s own headphone dongle is one of the lowest-rated products on the Apple Store, with just 1.5 stars. It’s been a year, and the Lightning audio ecosystem is still extremely immature.

When I was at STAPLE! last week I bought a t-shirt from an artist who had to enter credit cards into the Square app manually because he had lost his Lightning dongle for the Square reader. Minor inconvenience, and fixed with an extra $9 purchase from the Apple Store, but nevertheless a real compatibility issue that will never go away.

We’ll eventually get used to this. Many people already have, thanks to the AirPods. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t the wrong decision, though. (I’m happy to give Apple full credit when they embrace a standard, like Qi charging or USB-C.)

Face ID confidence

Some people are concerned that replacing Touch ID with Face ID is a design compromise. While I rarely give Apple the benefit of the doubt when they scrap an existing standard, like the headphone jack, this new Face ID skepticism seems premature. John Gruber writes:

There is clearly skepticism out there about Face ID. Some people think Face ID is going to suck, and a lot of people are flat-out assuming that they’re going to miss Touch ID. We saw the same thing with Touch ID when it was announced, and the skeptics were very wrong. I haven’t used it personally, but I am pretty sure already that the skeptics are going to be wrong about Face ID too.

With Touch ID, there are some obvious limitations that we just accept. For example, of course Touch ID doesn’t work with gloves on. How could it? But with Face ID, the technology is so advanced that we have no basis for judging when it should or shouldn’t work, so I think we’re going to expect it to work all the time.

For Face ID to be successful it has to be delightful, like a magic trick. The threat to magic is inconsistency. One glitch and the illusion is ruined forever, and you never believe in it again.

I’m not worried about Face ID. I’m not even worried about the notch, which is a compromise. Apple seems very confident in both Face ID and the iPhone X. Not confidence from hubris. Not feigned confidence, justified as courage. They actually believe they’ve got a winner, and so do I.

Waiting for the iPhone X

Michael Gartenberg writing for Six Colors about the iPhone X:

It’s arguably the most beautiful product ever made by Apple and the jewel in Apple’s crown. The aesthetics must be seen to be appreciated. This is something Apple competitors aren’t even close to. If the iPhone 8 raises the bar, iPhone X raises the bar so high it can’t be seen. This is, quite simply, the best smartphone money can buy.

High praise. Apple had me at the cameras, but I’m relieved that the design of the phone itself is so great. On Core Intuition last week I had worried that if the design fell short (or Apple did something clunky like put a Touch ID sensor on the back) that I’d have second thoughts.

This is the first iPhone in years that many people are going to stand in line for. It might not be priced high enough.

Gizmodo on RSS

David Nield of Gizmodo has a sort of re-introduction to RSS, with an overview on why it’s more useful than ever:

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes—not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

Obviously I’m a fan of RSS. Micro.blog has great support for it throughout the platform. But even though I subscribe to hundreds of feeds, I even caught myself recently loading a few favorite news sites manually instead of using the feeds. Doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there’s a better way.

Considering the iPhone Pro

The iPhone SE was an incredible value when it first shipped — a perfect balance of size, great camera, and nearly-flawless design. I still love mine. It’s arguably the best overall phone Apple has ever made.

The iPhone SE likely won’t see an update until next spring. At that point, the camera that was competitive at launch will be 2 generations behind. This isn’t a surprise; we knew this was coming. It’s just the more I see the photos from Traci’s iPhone 7 Plus camera, the more I’m pulled back to the cutting edge. The dual-camera approach is a major step forward.

Apple will announce new iPhones in a couple of weeks. Unless the design of the high-end “pro” version is a disaster, I plan to go for it.

iPhone introduction felt impossible

John Gruber remembers what it was like watching the iPhone announcement:

Apple had amazing product introductions before the iPhone, and it’s had a few good ones after. But the iPhone was the only product introduction I’ve ever experienced that felt impossible. Apple couldn’t have shrunk Mac OS X — a Unix-based workstation OS, including the Cocoa frameworks — to a point where it could run on a cell phone. Scrolling couldn’t be that smooth and fluid. A touchscreen — especially one in a phone — couldn’t be so responsive.

I felt the same way. Even the day I brought the iPhone home, I wasn’t sure that it was actually going to work. I was ready to be unsurprised if it turned out to be unstable — crashing often or overheating. It was stunning how good it was. It absolutely felt like a phone from the future.

One thing I had forgotten about from 10 years ago was the activation process, which was definitely not from the future. It was rooted in the past, connecting to iTunes like an iPod. Here are some of my tweets from that day, showing the long delay between picking up the iPhone from the store and actually using it, plus my last-minute decision to even wait in line:

6:34am: Good morning iPhone Day! Weather forecast in Austin for today: 40% chance of showers and storms.

10:15am: It’s only 10am but already realized I need to go to Plan B. Bribe friends already in line to use their 2nd iPhone purchase.

11:09am: Change of plans. Heading to the Apple Store now to join in the line-waiting fun. Will it be too late?

12:26pm: I expected rain, but that seems unlikely. It’s hot like a real Austin summer here in the iPhone line.

2:32pm: Hanging out in The Line with Jeremy of Barton Springs Software and @damon. Apple Store is closed. Had some lunch and a Starbucks soy latte.

4:03pm: 2 hours left. We can redeem our free Starbucks coffee coupons now. Excited! (About the iPhone. Not the coffee.)

6:30pm: Got my iPhone.

7:35pm: Activation will have to wait. Ratatouille.

8:18pm: Movies all sold out. Pre-activation dinner at Kerby Lane instead.

9:53pm: Activation took less than a minute. Also, no plan choice. Just $20 added on to what I already pay, I guess.

11:56pm: @danielpunkass Wait, what? You can make calls on it? (But seriously, you’re right. It’s a computer first and a phone second.)

Apparently I waited in line most of the day. I remember it only being a few hours. I also love how trivial these tweets seem. A big reason to have a microblog is because even the most mundane posts today carry extra significant years later.

MarsEdit 4 and microblogs

Great to see Daniel Jalkut announce a public beta of MarsEdit 4. There are a lot of new features in this version, but the one that I love the most actually might seem minor. It’s just a short line in Daniel’s announcement, under WordPress-specific enhancements:

Post Format support

For anyone using WordPress for microblogging, this is a big deal. It means you can post with the “status” post format for your short posts. It’s a really convenient way to post to a WordPress microblog from a Mac. (And of course, you can use MarsEdit to post directly to a Micro.blog-hosted blog as well.)

Preview of Sunlit 2.0

A few years ago, Jon Hays and I built an app for photos called Sunlit, powered by the App.net API. We evolved it to work with other services, like Flickr and Instagram, but as App.net faded away we could never justify the investment to rewrite significant parts of the app to bring it forward and keep it relevant. It also wasn’t clear what the app should do if we were to modernize it. So we let the app sit in the App Store, kind of neglected, and even discussed removing it from sale.

As I rolled out Micro.blog to Kickstarter backers, Jon dusted off the Sunlit project and experimented with something that should’ve been obvious to us earlier: Sunlit should post to blogs. And more than that, it should work well with microblogs and IndieWeb standards. It should become a great app for photoblogging. The new version of Sunlit can post photos to Micro.blog, WordPress, or any site that supports the Micropub API.

To play nicely with microblogs, we introduced a new post type in the app for single photos. For longer posts, you can still collect multiple photos together, add text, and post them as a story directly to your blog. There’s also a brand new editing interface with filters and advanced adjustments:

screenshots

Jon has put a bunch of work into this while I focus on Micro.blog. Sunlit 2.0 is already feature complete and in beta testing now. We expect to ship it sometime this summer.

The algorithm has ruined Facebook

Dave Winer writes today about how because of the way the Facebook news feed works, sometimes you never seem to hear from friends again because they’re demoted by the algorithm. Your friends are posting, but you never see what they’re saying. Also:

For other people you are a missing person. You being the person who dutifully informs all your Facebook friends of what’s going on in your life. You, the friend they never seem to think of. No surprise they’re not thinking of you. The Algorithm decided you don’t count.

If you want to see this in action, visit Facebook in a web browser and see what it shows you. Don’t scroll or click anything, just wait a few seconds and hit reload. Then hit reload again. And again. Each time you’re presented with a completely different view of what’s important. It’s unusable.

10.5-inch iPad Pro resolution

Federico Viticci reviews the new 10.5-inch iPad Pro at MacStories. On the screen size:

While some had assumed that Apple would take the same 2732 x 2048 display of the 12.9” iPad Pro and condense it to a smaller size, the company has introduced a new resolution in the iOS device matrix – a decision, I think, made to hit 264ppi on a 10.5” panel while retaining UI elements that are large and comfortable to tap. Cramming the large iPad’s display in this model might have resulted in a richer multitasking experience at an even smaller scale, but I believe touch usability would have suffered.

I assumed until reading Federico’s review that when my 12.9-inch iPad Pro was ready for an upgrade, I’d downsize to the new 10.5-inch. That no longer seems like a good choice. While my MacBook Pro is getting repaired this week, I’m using the 12.9 as my exclusive computer. The extra resolution in split view is really great. I don’t think I’d want to give that up.

More on Twitter’s 10 years

Stephen Hackett marked his 10th anniversary of using Twitter by writing about how great Twitter has been for connecting people. Of course, the company’s problems are also well known:

The company itself seems to struggle in getting even basic decisions right. I often joke that Twitter may be doomed, but I don’t say it in pure jest.

He made a similar joke on Connected 133 that Twitter will be gone in 5 years. I think it’s a toss-up. But one thing I’m pretty sure about: the hate tweets and harassment problems can’t be fixed by waving a magic wand. They are fundamental and must be planned for at the beginning.