Category Archives: Weblogs

Tomorrow matters

As I plan for the iPhone X pre-order, I wanted to write a blog post about all the iPhones I’ve bought, and when. I’ve skipped a few generations, and even made some seemingly oddball choices like getting the iPhone 5C when all my friends got the 5S. In the process of searching old blog posts to confirm whether I even bought the 3G or waited for the 3GS, I found this old blog post about WWDC 2008.

In the post I had collected 95 tweets from myself and others during WWDC. This was 9 years ago, so it’s a bit of a blur. But reading them again brings back memories. These old tweets are gold.

If I hadn’t collected the tweets, I would never find them again. And if anything changes at Twitter, they could just as easily be lost. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that you couldn’t go back more than 3200 tweets in your timeline. Searching old tweets is still impossible in third-party Twitter clients.

Obviously I’m all-in on indie microblogging. I post to my own blog and let Micro.blog sort out cross-posting a copy to Twitter. But looking at these old tweets, I’m just struck with how foolish it was to ever post content exclusively to Twitter. It was an assumption that today mattered more than tomorrow, when the opposite is often true.

A photo is the most clear expression of this truth. Taking a photo doesn’t improve the moment. It’s for later.

Twitter in 2008 was a mix of microblogging and conversations. It was writing without pretense, with no expectation of likes and follower counts. It felt ephemeral, and maybe it still does to many Twitter users today. But you never know when you want that fleeting comment to actually last, and if you don’t control the post, there are few guarantees that it will.

Decline and return of indie blogs

In announcing plans to move A List Apart away from advertising, Jeffrey Zeldman writes about the decline of independent web sites:

In recent years, we’ve seen our rich universe of diverse, creative blogs and sites implode—leaving fewer and fewer channels available to new voices. As more content centralizes into a handful of all-powerful networks, there’s a dreary sameness in perspective and presentation.

I don’t know what the new A List Apart will look like, but if they can encourage designers and developers to embrace independent blogs again, I’m all for it. I like the way Zeldman has framed the change for A List Apart.

It used to be that A List Apart’s most popular authors were all frequent bloggers. I think the attention on Twitter instead of personal sites has effectively created a gap of lost years for many blogs: long stretches of time with very few if any posts. Perhaps Zeldman’s post is an indication that this trend has already reversed.

Gabe Weatherhead recently made some points on Macdrifter about the decline of indie blogs — that podcasting is a cheap substitute for written posts, and that tweets and link-blogging have killed thoughtful commentary:

I want to hear opinions and ideas from good writers, not pull quotes with a trailing off-the-cuff remark.

It’s a good post, but I see his conclusion differently. The solution isn’t fewer link blogs, but more of them. By taking microblogging back from Twitter, we create a natural place for traditional blogs to grow. Indie microblogging is the gateway drug for long-form content.

To everyone reading Zeldman’s post about A List Apart and nodding your head, retweeting the link, clicking the like button… Dust off your blog and actually post about it. A better web is built one page at a time.

Homebrew Website Club

Tonight we’re starting up a local Austin chapter of the Homebrew Website Club. This is a group from the IndieWeb community which already meets regularly in San Francisco, Portland, other cities, and online.

From the IndieWeb wiki:

Homebrew Website Club is a bi-weekly meetup of people passionate about or interested in creating, improving, building, designing their own website, in the same structure as the classic Homebrew Computer Club meetings.

For Austin, the first meeting will be 6:30pm at Monkey Nest Coffee, 5353 Burnet Rd. Everyone’s welcome. Bring ideas for your own web site, questions about Micro.blog, or just grab a coffee and hang out. We’ll meet in the extra room at the back of the coffee shop.

Micro.blog custom pages

As I mentioned in this morning’s post about Medium, it’s important that Micro.blog-hosted sites can have their own domain name. Some people use their microblog to supplement an existing web site. Others use Micro.blog itself for hosting their full web site, because the focus on short posts makes the site easy to update.

Today we’re introducing a new feature for hosted microblogs: custom web pages. These can be used for expanded “about” pages, contact information, lists of current projects, essays, or whatever you want to write about on your web site. Micro.blog pages use Markdown and are automatically included in the navigation for your site.

Here’s a screenshot of an example page being edited:

Pages screenshot

If you have a Micro.blog-hosted site, check out the pages list under Account → “Edit Domains & Design”. Enjoy!

Medium stumbling forward

Dave Winer isn’t optimistic about the recent Medium changes:

We’re in the long tail of the demise of Medium. They’ll try this, and something else, and then another thing, each with a smaller probability of making a difference, until they turn it off.

This has been the concern with Medium since the very beginning. Because they defaulted to Medium-branded user blogs on medium.com instead of your own blog at a personal domain name, there was a risk that if Medium didn’t work out as a business, many great posts would disappear along with the service. You might get more readers in the short-term, but it’s a bad trade-off when links break and you have to start all over again.

Nick Heer wrote about the “sameness” of Medium sites — how the sites blur together as just pages on Medium’s platform. Several prominent sites have left:

Earlier this year, Film School Rejects and Pacific Standard moved away from the platform; this month, the Awl announced that they went back to WordPress with their old custom theme. The Ringer and Backchannel also left Medium. Once again, I can tell those sites apart from each other.

I think Medium has good intentions. But the premise was wrong, with an emphasis on medium.com/@username URLs that aren’t portable, and no obvious way to get a custom domain. Getting this right is IndieWeb 101.

That’s why on Micro.blog the microblogs are username.micro.blog by default. It sounds like a small thing, but that difference is everything. It’s easy to swap out for a personal domain name, with free SSL hosting, multiple themes, custom CSS, and it’s based on Jekyll so that it can be moved to any host.

Medium is stumbling forward, trying to find the right path because their initial foundation wasn’t right. I hope they get there.

Flip the iceberg

Many people are initially confused by Micro.blog because they are expecting a strict clone of Twitter. They are expecting another App.net. But as I said in the Kickstarter video, clones of Twitter and Facebook have come and gone. They’ve all failed. A different approach won’t guarantee success, but it is required to have a chance.

I plan to stay the course. I’m inspired by the work of the IndieWeb, which was founded 6 years ago and is still gaining momentum today. I hope that the solar eclipse photos posted to indie microblogs today will last through the next North American eclipse 7 years from now, and longer.

There was a great article on AltPlatform about how compatibility between new blog-focused platforms could eventually become bigger than any one social network:

Open source tools like WordPress, 1999.io and Mastodon.social are creating many small networks of publishers, and popular tools like Twitter and Micro.blog could peer with them. If all of the social networks outside of Facebook interoperated at some level, they might eventually “flip the iceberg” and become the dominant form of social networking.

It’s going to take a while, but I have no doubt that this “flip” is exactly what will happen. The entire web should be the social network. It’s too big of an idea to be contained on a single web site.

Reposts and quoting

I recently added “repost-of” support to Micro.blog’s Micropub API implementation. This lets you pass an extra URL — the post you’re writing about — in clients like Micropublish. There’s deliberately still no concept of a retweet or repost, though.

When I wrote last year about Instagram and reposts, I was concerned with introducing features that could be abused or lead us back to reinventing Twitter’s problems. There’s even more evidence now that quick reposting shouldn’t be implemented blindly. Look what happened on Soundcloud:

Similar to Tumblr’s reblog or Twitter’s retweet, reposts were designed as a way to help new music spread virally. But from the start, artists abused the feature by constantly reposting their own tracks, pushing them back to the top of their followers’ feeds every few days.

For Micro.blog, I believe the right approach is to first introduce a simple “quote” feature. This UI would be streamlined to support quoting a sentence out of a blog post, with your own thoughts tacked on. It would fit with the spirit of easy posting in Micro.blog, but it would encourage more thoughtful posts and naturally scale up from traditional linkblogging.

Webmention in action

It’s always cool to see Webmention comments on real sites across the web. It’s not just a W3C spec. Like many ideas from the IndieWeb, this is a simple web technology that actually works today.

We’ve been improving Micro.blog’s support for Webmention. When you reply to a post on Micro.blog, from the web or iOS app, it will ping the site you’re replying to, giving that site a chance to include the comment. You can see these replies show up under recent posts from Aaron Parecki and Jonathan LaCour.

Drew McLellan had a good overview of implementing Webmention, including using services like Bridgy to bring in tweet replies:

The end result is that by being notified of the external reaction, the publisher is able to aggregate those reactions and collect them together with the original content.

Colin Walker highlighted Webmention when writing about Micro.blog:

It looks like a basic Twitter-style network but that is only scratching the surface; its simplicity belies its power.

Micro.blog also has limited support for receiving Webmention requests for people replying to a Micro.blog-hosted blog from their own site. As this support improves, both in Micro.blog and as more people enable Webmention on their WordPress sites, the distributed nature of the web as a broad social network will really start to shine.

Micro.blog photos from MarsEdit

This morning I updated Micro.blog’s XML-RPC posting to support the MetaWeblog API, which allows uploading photos to your hosted microblog. If you’re using MarsEdit to post to Micro.blog, edit your “System API” in MarsEdit’s blog settings to “MetaWeblog API” instead of “Blogger API”.

Working on the photo upload support has also helped clarify how Micro.blog should process text from the different posting APIs such as MetaWeblog and Micropub. After the next version of the Micro.blog iOS app ships, Micro.blog will start requiring Markdown and escaping HTML tags from Micropub, just as it currently does from the web interface. This will be a much better default for most people, and bring more consistency between web and iOS posting.

MarsEdit and other tools that use XML-RPC will still be available for when you want more control over the HTML that is posted. Micro.blog does allow Markdown in your MarsEdit posts, but otherwise it does very little processing of text from MarsEdit. It even lets you post long-form blog posts.

Micro.blog + Facebook

Today we’re adding Facebook cross-posting to Micro.blog. Facebook support is now built in, just like Twitter cross-posting, and can be configured for a microblog hosted on Micro.blog or any external blog with a feed.

Micro.blog’s cross-posting naturally works with long-form content or microblog posts. For longer posts, it includes the title with a link back to your blog. For microblog posts, it sends the entire text to Facebook.

Micro.blog also parses your post HTML looking for img tags, downloads the photo and attaches it to the Facebook post. This means that microblog posts with photos look great on Facebook, but the source content is still on your own web site. It works really well with the Micro.blog app for iOS.

I feel like Micro.blog is starting to pick up steam. I’m looking forward to rolling out more improvements before the public launch.

SSL for hosted Micro.blog sites

Micro.blog’s business model is pretty simple. If you want Micro.blog to host a new microblog for you, or use the Twitter cross-posting with an existing site, there’s a small monthly subscription. We want Micro.blog to be the easiest way to start a blog.

Included in all Micro.blog-hosted microblogs is support for custom domain names, so that you can map yourname.com to your blog. While we’ve always supported SSL for the default yourname.micro.blog hostnames, custom domains need their own SSL certificate. Managing SSL certificates is a hassle, and until recently, also expensive.

I’m happy to announce that we are now rolling out free SSL hosting for custom domains, powered by Let’s Encrypt. While it’s not fully automated yet, we’ve already started enabling these for customers as requested. If you have a Micro.blog-hosted blog with a custom domain, email help@micro.blog and we’ll enable SSL on your site.

There are more features coming for hosted blogs leading up to the public launch of Micro.blog. Don’t forget to sign up on the launch announce list.

The open web and Micro.blog progress

I was very excited to see this post from Brandon Kraft, about the potential for an expanded role for WordPress in the IndieWeb movement:

The dream isn’t to return to the past before social media, but help make social media part of the web in an organic way. For this post, you can like it or comment it on via this site, WordPress.com, Twitter, or Facebook, but all of the comments will appear here using Webmentions. The closed gardens will still exist, but it’ll make it easier for people to reach out between them.

People always ask me how Micro.blog is going. There are many answers to that: from the business side, or how the community is growing, or the technical bits of scaling the backend. But one simple answer is how Micro.blog’s success can be judged in posts like Brandon’s.

I still believe strongly in the dual nature of success that I posted about earlier this year:

Key for Micro.blog: it’s a success if more people blog. To provide value it doesn’t need to replace Twitter. But also, it can.

Of course, “if more people blog” is a simplification that leaves out what naturally happens next: the spread of more web standards and better tools for microblogging. If Micro.blog has played even a small part in encouraging IndieWeb standards within WordPress itself, that is great progress. I’ll be happy to raise the bar for what success looks like.

What to post to a microblog

On the surface, an independent microblog might seem a lot like a Twitter account. There are some important differences: you own your own content, you can use Markdown or HTML for styled text, and you aren’t limited to 140 characters. An indie microblog can be just as easy to use as Twitter, but more flexible since it lives at your own web site, even with your own domain name.

So you’ve created a Micro.blog account or chosen to set up your own blog. How should you use your own microblog compared to Twitter or Instagram? Here are some ideas:

  • Use it the same as Twitter. Write short posts on your own microblog and cross-post them to Twitter. This is essentially what I do. If what I want to say fits naturally in 140 characters, it goes to Twitter as-is and followers can reply or like it there. If it’s a little longer, Micro.blog automatically truncates the tweet and links back to my blog.
  • Use it instead of tweetstorms. If you find yourself trying to express a thought and it’s going to take 2-3 tweets, consider posting it to your own microblog instead. Micro.blog suggests a limit of 280 characters. It’s still short enough that it encourages quick, easy posting, but it’s long enough that you can use it for much more well-formed posts.
  • Use it for a photoblog. I’ve noticed some pushback against Instagram as they add more ads, clutter the UI with Snapchat features, and move away from a simple reverse-chronological timeline. I want to make Micro.blog a great alternative for photo-blogging, which is why you can discover users from photos and there’s a UI for filters and cropping. You can see all my photos here.
  • Use it for a linkblog. Link-style blogging is for short commentary about another article, usually with a link at the end pointing to the other web site. Since microblogs are based on Markdown or HTML, you can also include inline links, which makes the blog posts look clean and readable on your own site. Micro.blog’s cross-posting will automatically parse out the link and append it to the tweet version of the post.
  • Use it for company news. Because it can be integrated into an existing full blog or web site, a microblog is a convenient format for posting updates about your business or industry topics you care about. This is why Micro.blog allows custom domain names and also offers the Sidebar.js include.

Of course there’s no single correct way to blog. I’ve enjoyed watching Micro.blog users try different approaches to microblogging to figure out what works best for them.

Dave Winer on title-less posts

Dave Winer posted today about NetNewsWire needing better support for title-less feed items:

These items have no titles for artistic reasons. The author did not put them there. You, as a software developer, are not entitled to add them (haha that’s a pun).

I agree with Dave on this. Titles are clearly optional in the RSS 2.0 spec. The fix for the “Untitled” text that some feed readers use isn’t for authors to add titles where they aren’t needed, it’s for the UI in feed readers to improve so that they gracefully handle title-less posts.

(And this is not to pick on NetNewsWire. I’ve seen other apps and feed syncing services with the same assumption about titles.)

When I wrote about defining a microblog post, blank or missing titles was one of the fundamental points. If we want to have blogging software that’s as easy to use as a modern social network, titles can’t be required.

I’m hopeful that as feed readers adopt JSON Feed, developers will dust off their older code for feeds and make improvements for title-less RSS items as well. This is why we highlighted microblogging as a use case in the JSON Feed spec.

IndieWeb Summit

WWDC is only 1 week away, but I have another event on my mind as well: IndieWeb Summit in Portland, June 24th – 25th. From the description for the 2-day conference:

The seventh annual gathering for independent web creators of all kinds, from graphic artists, to designers, UX engineers, coders, hackers, to share ideas, actively work on creating for their own personal websites, and build upon each others creations.

I’m still trying to figure out if I can make it. If you care about indie blogging and open formats, consider attending. I had a great time in Portland earlier this year meeting more of the IndieWeb folks. They are leading some of the most important work on simple formats and protocols, with a focus on personal web sites instead of silos.

Micro.blog photos

This week we added a selection of photos to the Discover page on Micro.blog, and today I uploaded a new TestFlight beta with the same feature inside the app. It’s another way to find users to follow, or just see what the Micro.blog community is up to.

Here’s what the iPhone screen looks like:

iPhone screenshot

I think photoblogging is a really important part of indie microblogging. When I share photos online, I want them to be at my own web site in addition to cross-posted to Twitter and other social networks. Photos always capture something — a moment with family or friends, visiting a new place, or just the everyday routine as it changes — and I want Micro.blog to provide a great user experience for photos, from filters to hosting.

Interview at The Brooks Review

I talked with Ben Brooks over Slack this week about Micro.blog and JSON Feed. From the chat:

Micro.blog and JSON Feed share a common goal, which is to encourage more blogging on the open web, and new tools that can make blogging easier. I feel like we’ve gotten off course a little since the early days of blogging, with so many people now putting all of their writing into closed, centralized platforms like Twitter or Facebook. I think we can make it easier to own your own content, have your own domain name, and maybe learn from the UI in modern social networks too.

Slack makes for a really interesting interview format. Some of the spontaneity of a podcast, but with live editing and an automatic transcript. Similar to what Talkshow.im was trying to do before they shut down.

More apps for Micro.blog

I want to point to some developer activity in the Micro.blog community. The first is a macOS Today Widget called TodayPoster by Bryan Luby. It gives you a text box to post directly to Micro.blog-hosted blogs from the macOS Notification Center.

The next is a Mac client built with Electron. Developer Matthew Roach has a blog post about it with a download link.

There’s another iPhone app in development as well. It’s not ready yet, but from a screenshot by Francisco Cantu, looks like it will be a good alternative to the official Micro.blog iPhone app.

Jekyll mobile posting

Kirby Turner has a detailed write-up on his workflow for posting from his iPhone. It uses a combination of Editorial, Working Copy, and Jekyll:

The workflows save me time and simplify the publish steps. For instance, Jekyll uses YAML as front matter for each post. There’s no way I want to write this front matter by hand on my iPhone each time. I can use TextExpander, but seeing the front matter can be distracting on my iPhone. So I let Editorial’s workflow work its magic to generate the YAML front matter before handing off the document to Working Copy.

Check out his embedded video for what it looks like in action. I love Jekyll, and it’s a big part of Micro.blog, but there’s no denying that the nature of static sites makes mobile posting more difficult. Looking forward to seeing more iPhone workflows like this that make microblogging easier.

App.net archive

App.net officially shut down last night. As I wrote about earlier this year, App.net was an important milestone in the move to more open social networks. I’m glad the platform existed and I enjoyed participating there as a user and developer.

Linkrot and the lack of permanence on the web is a recurring theme for this blog. In the final days as App.net was winding down, I wanted to put my money where my mouth was. I spun up a couple new servers and wrote a set of scripts to essentially download every post on App.net. It feels like a fragile archive, put together hastily, but I believe it’s mostly complete. I’ve also downloaded thumbnail versions of some of the public photos hosted on App.net.

I’ll be making the posts available somewhere, although I don’t know exactly what form the archive should take yet. I’ll also be considering whether to integrate it with Micro.blog, for anyone who wants to migrate to a new microblog and didn’t have time to manually export their posts. (I’ve already built a similar feature to import from Twitter’s .zip archives.)

To my Kickstarter backers, thanks for your patience as I took an unexpected detour this week. Major work on Micro.blog continues. I have a big announcement for next week and invites should be ready the following week. I’ll post an update to Kickstarter soon.