Category Archives: Weblogs

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.

15 years of blogging

Fifteen years ago today I started this blog during SXSW. Although I didn’t think much of it at the time, because Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, my first post was essentially a microblog post. 145 characters and no title. (Titles on the old posts were added later during the migration to Movable Type.)

I’ve written about 1100 posts since then, and another 600 microblog posts. Some of my favorites last year:

And the year before:

And earlier:

Whether you started visiting this blog years ago or just today, thanks for reading. I hope to still be writing in another 15 years. (I’ll be 56 years old. My kids will be grown up. Nearly everything will be different.)

Stretching time out has a way of highlighting what matters. And if it matters, it’s worth writing down. I hope you’ll join me for the next chapter as I try to move indie microblogging forward with Micro.blog.

No-pressure blogging

I’ve been working on a post about walled gardens, the App Store, and social networks. I think it could be an important essay — a new take on the future of platforms.

But if it’s not? If I’m wrong, and the idea is unoriginal or doesn’t go anywhere? That’s fine too! It’s just a blog post.

I love that blogs can scale from the trivial to the important. The microblog post about what you had for breakfast. The half-baked rant about something you’re passionate about. And sometimes, the rare essay that really hits the mark and makes people think.

Safe search on Twitter

Twitter made an announcement today about stopping abusive accounts and hiding low-quality tweets. I think filtering search results in particular is a very good step in the right direction:

We’re also working on ‘safe search’ which removes Tweets that contain potentially sensitive content and Tweets from blocked and muted accounts from search results. While this type of content will be discoverable if you want to find it, it won’t clutter search results any longer.

As I work on Micro.blog, I’ve tried to be mindful of where users can stumble upon posts that they don’t want to see. Replies is a big one, and I’ll be focusing most of my attention on that. But search, trends, and hashtags are also a problem, because they let anyone’s posts bubble up to a much wider audience. I’m launching Micro.blog without them.

Webmention is a W3C Recommendation

Webmention has been on my radar for a little while, and I mention it in the Indie Microblogging text on Kickstarter. It’s great to see it go from an IndieWebCamp spec through the W3C process now as a standard recommendation:

The Social Web Working Group has published a W3C Recommendation of Webmention. A Webmention is a notification that one URL links to another and is a simple way to notify any URL when you mention it on your site. From the receiver’s perspective, it’s a way to request notifications when other sites mention it.

The replies on Micro.blog are kind of a stopgap while infrastructure like Webmention rolls out to more web sites. I think Webmention will become an important part of cross-site mentions.

There’s a lot happening at once right now. As I suggested in a microblog post yesterday, the first measure of success is whether more people are blogging. Meanwhile there are new formats and APIs like Webmention. You don’t replace Twitter overnight, or even try to. But step by step, we’re going to end up with a better web, and I think independent microblogging is part of that.

Kickstarter, first week wrap-up

One week down. The launch on Kickstarter is going great. It’s fantastic to see everyone’s reaction to the project. More than ever, I’m convinced that the time is right for this.

I wanted to highlight a few posts and links. I was a little caught off guard by activity on the first day, so I’ve yet to really reach out to press contacts who might want to write about Micro.blog. I’ve been focused on replying to questions about the service and book.

John Voorhees wrote for MacStories about the Kickstarter:

Micro.blog has a lot in common with social networks like Twitter, such as replies and favorites, but with an important difference. Instead of locking users into a proprietary system owned by someone else, the content created by individuals is owned and controlled by them. As part of the Micro.blog service, Reece is also building publishing tools with Markdown support, including a native iPhone app, to help people get started with microblogging.

John had interviewed me at WWDC last year about what I was up to. While I didn’t have the name Micro.blog yet back then, I was actively working on the service and you can hear many of the same themes from back in June as I’m saying today.

I thought Marco Arment summed up the urgency well:

We’ve all been pouring a lot more of our writing and attention into Twitter and Facebook than the rest of the web, and the diversity and decentralization of the web has suffered greatly. Far too much power now rests in far too few hands, and we’re starting to suffer tremendous consequences.

Reaction from the WordPress community has also been encouraging. I knew I wanted to reach WordPress fans, because Micro.blog works great with WordPress, but I’m not as plugged into that community. I was excited to see Matt Mullenweg tweet a link to it. And WP Tavern did an excellent write-up, mixing interview questions with previous posts of mine:

During his 14 years of blogging and 10 years of using Twitter, Reece became an advocate for the open web. He said he used to be excited about Twitter and built apps for the platform but grew disillusioned at their approach to locking down the API.

I’m thankful for local articles as well, such as this story from Silicon Hills News by Laura Lorek. Laura is just in the last day of her own Kickstarter campaign for a podcast companion to the Austin news site.

Not to mention blog posts from Brent Simmons, Gus Mueller, Becky Hansmeyer, Ben Brooks, Dave Peck, Chris Aldrich, John Johnston, and the hundreds of tweets and links I’ve seen over the last week. It’s really special to see it spread so far. Thank you again to everyone who has linked to the project.

Now that I’ve had a week to reflect on the campaign, and listen to feedback, I’m starting to form a much clearer picture of how the rest of the month needs to play out. This is the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come around very often. I’m looking forward for the work ahead.

Medium may not last

On Monday, I launched my Kickstarter project about independent microblogging, with a focus on owning your own content and making blogging easier. On Tuesday, Lindy West left Twitter in a post about Twitter’s inability to deal with harassment. On Wednesday, Ev Williams announced that Medium would lay off 50 employees.

The message is clear. The only web site that you can trust to last and have your interests at heart is the web site with your name on it.

That’s the main goal with Micro.blog. Build a service and write a book that makes independent blogging more approachable. No one knows exactly what the web will look like in 10 years, but we can take the first step to get there. If you’ve been frustrated by the ad-based silos and waiting for a reason to post to your own site again, I’d love your support.

Microblog auto-link differences

One reason I like microblogging on my own web site is that I can control the links and simple formatting. I’ve noticed lately that Twitter can’t consistently auto-link even certain domain names, for example.

This difference is illustrated well in a post I made this morning, which included timetable.fm and micro.blog. Twitter auto-linked the .blog but not the .fm. The cross-post to App.net auto-linked the .fm but not the .blog.

Here are the 3 versions:

Link differences screenshot

In the final screenshot — the original from my own site, from which the others were pushed out automatically — you can see how I’ve specifically linked the domain and phrases I wanted to. It’s a minor thing, but it just looks better when the author has a little control over the formatting. (And while I don’t use it here, my own short posts can contain text in bold or italics via Markdown, too.)

Why I posted to Twitter again

Following up on my post about Twitter at 10 years, I decided to mark the actual 10-year anniversary of my first tweet by posting from my @manton account, which I haven’t touched in over 4 years. After so much time, you can be sure the tweet was going to be exactly 140 characters:

Hi! 10 years since my first tweet. 4 years since my last. You can follow the blog cross-posts via @manton2. This message will self-destruct.

Why post again? I’ve had some fun experimenting with cross-posting to @manton2. As I wrote when I first started this:

And yet, many people get their news from Twitter. Since I started microblogging on my own site, I’ve had time to reflect on the role of indie microblogging and cross-posting. I think the IndieWebCamp has it right: publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere.

Overall I think it has been a success. I use my upcoming platform Micro.blog for the cross-posting, so using Twitter has helped me improve Micro.blog too. And I get more people who don’t actively follow RSS feeds to read my blog posts again.

As promised, I’ve already deleted that last tweet at @manton. I’m also not replying to mentions over there, although I try to reply or favorite tweets I see from @manton2. I know this Twitter strategy might seem like a strange compromise, but I think it’s working because it puts a focus on my independent blog instead of on Twitter.

Where I post everything

My content is all on this blog or linked from it, but if you’re following RSS feeds or Twitter it’s not as obvious where everything is posted. Here’s a summary to clear things up.

Microblog posts: Posted here and in a special RSS feed. Also automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net, with some occasional truncation.

Longer posts: Posted here and in the default RSS feed. Also automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net with the title and link. Twitter cross-posting is handled by my upcoming Micro.blog platform.

Photos: Posted to Instagram and then copied here using this workflow. They don’t show up in either of the RSS feeds above. They’re not cross-posted to Twitter.

Timetable: Posted to timetable.fm which has its own feed. Discoverable in your favorite podcast client.

Core Intuition: Posted to coreint.org. I’ll usually post a link here on the blog for each new episode.

All posts: Switching to WordPress brought a new global RSS feed, but I redirect it to the longer posts for now. There’s a new everything RSS feed which contains all posts: microblog, full posts, and photos. Enjoy!

Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid

I’ve written about IPFS before, but Solid (from Tim Berners-Lee himself, among other MIT folks) is another new proposal for a more distributed web. I wasn’t familiar with it until reading this article at Digital Trends, which first makes the case for independent content vs. the big centralized platforms:

Now a handful of companies own vast swaths of web activity – Facebook for social networking, Google for searching, eBay for auctions – and quite literally own the data their users have provided and generated. This gives these companies unprecedented power over us, and gives them such a competitive advantage that it’s pretty silly to think you’re going to start up a business that’s going to beat them at their own game.

The article continues with the types of data you might share in a Solid application:

For example, you might keep your personal information in one or several pods: the sort of data about yourself that you put into your Facebook profile; a list of your friends, family, and colleagues; your banking information; maps of where you’ve traveled; some health information. That way if someone built a new social networking application—perhaps to compete head-on with Facebook, or, more likely, to offer specialized services to people with shared interests—you could join by giving it permission to access the appropriate information in your pod.

One of the showcase applications is called Client-Integrated Micro-Blogging Architecture, surely named mostly for its pronounceable acronym. From the CIMBA project site:

CIMBA is a privacy-friendly, decentralized microblogging application that runs in your browser. It is built using the latest HTML5 technologies and Web standards. With CIMBA, people get a microblogging app that behaves like Twitter, built entirely out of parts they can control.

Solid and CIMBA are built on the Linked Data Platform, which in turn is based off of RDF. I’m admittedly biased against RDF, because it often brings with it an immediate sense of over-engineering — too abstracted, solving too many problems at once. I’m glad to see this activity around a distributed web, and I’ll be following Solid, but I also continue to believe that the simple microformats and APIs from the IndieWebCamp are the best place to start.

Proving Marco’s 10-year plan

Erik Person wants to prove Marco Arment’s claim that indie success just requires working hard for 10 years:

Proving whether he is right or wrong is pretty hard to do. Maybe it’s all hard work. Maybe it’s pure luck. Hell, maybe it only takes five years of hard work, and Marco just kind of sucks at it. Either way, I’m going to try to prove it. And not by convincing you with some incredibly efficacious essay. Rather, I’m going to start my 10 years of hard work today.

In a follow-up post, 6 months later:

In the past six months, I’ve managed to change quite a few things. The biggest change was leaving my job at the end of May. After several months of trying to work on projects in the evenings and weekends, I decided it was necessary to go full-time on the projects if I wanted to see any real progress.

I’ve subscribed to Erik’s blog and look forward to following his progress. I hope he blogs more often about how it’s going. If you look at Marco’s blog even 5 years ago, he was usually blogging every day. (By the way, “blog more often” is my advice to nearly everyone, including myself.)