Category Archives: Weblogs

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.)

An open Twitter starts with the web

Dave Winer wants an open alternative to Twitter:

I want it to be friendly to Twitter, because as a user and a shareholder, and a developer who uses their platform, I want to see it thrive. But I also strongly believe we need the open system, the Central Park to Twitter’s condo buildings on Fifth Ave and Central Park West.

John Biesnecker, reading Dave’s post, suggested XMPP because it’s an open standard and federated. But as great as XMPP is for messaging, it seems too different from the web; it would be like starting over. The nice thing about building on independent microblogs is that we can leverage the existing open web infrastructure: all the WordPress installs, RSS feeds, and new work from the IndieWebCamp.

That’s what I’ve tried to do for Snippets.today. Learn from the UI innovations of Twitter — the fast timeline experience, the effortless posting — but without skipping the important first step of independent web publishing.

Twitter and .blog

Dave Winer has a good comment for anyone questioning the web:

So when they tell you they know for sure that the web is dead, or that everyone wants to host their blogs in locked-up silos, or that you can’t build a great open social net on RSS, you might want to lower your glasses down your nose and look out over the top and ask Reallly? Are you sure?? ;-)

Nothing is certain in business. For every success, there are many “sure thing” failures.

I posed a question on this week’s Core Intuition as we were talking about Automattic’s upcoming .blog domain name registration. The gist of it was: what is more likely to survive for the next 50 years, Twitter or .blog? Twitter is huge, dominating the news and seemingly unstoppable, but social networks don’t have a great track record. I’d put my money on a new top-level domain, both because of the vision of empowering users to control their own content and also because domains were designed to last.

Companies aren’t exactly designed to fail. But that is their default outcome.

Mullenweg on Medium and the open web

Matt Mullenweg comments on whether choosing Medium is a good long-term bet:

In making the decision to hitch their horse to Medium’s wagon while fording a river, they’re probably betting on Medium not going out of business, which I agree there’s only like a 10% chance of happening. However I think there is a 97% chance that Medium’s business model will change in the future because the path they’re on and these publishers are dependent on will not sustain their current costs or the investment they’ve raised.

10% chance of going out of business compares poorly to Matt’s Automattic itself, which as I’ve written about before is one of only a couple web publishing companies that I think could last 100 years. If your goal is to write something that many people can read for years to come, why risk it on an uncertain platform?

There’s a longer video interview with Matt from WordCamp Europe last month, where he goes into more detail on the role of Medium and WordPress. Highly recommended if you’re interested in the open web, or just curious how progress is made in the WordPress community.

Domain names can always redirect

Just noticed this blog post from Fabian Steeg on the value of personal domain names:

So the mere decision to use a custom domain for my blog many years ago made it independent of the actual hosting location (wordpress.com or self-hosted) and publishing system (wordpress or my own software). In a way I’ve been referencing a system for years that I only now created. Your own domain and URLs really give you a lot of control over your content, even if that content is actually stored elsewhere for years.

Strongly agree with this. Having your own domain will future-proof everything you publish.

Tagging WWDC microblog posts

I didn’t post as much as I hoped to during WWDC 2016 — just a couple full posts related to the conference, a half dozen microblog posts, and one photo. But nevertheless I wanted to collect them together since I didn’t have a full wrap-up post like last year.

One of the advantages to hosting my own short posts — and only cross-posting to Twitter as an afterthought, not the primary location — is that I can easily tag all the posts in a series. This worked out really well while visiting coffee shops earlier this year.

For WWDC, I’ve used the tag #wwdc2016. I probably won’t go back to tag previous conferences, but I’ll use this format going forward for attending events where I publish a series of microblog posts and photos.

Building on Jekyll

If you were to build a weblog publishing system, would you start from scratch or build on an existing tool? There’s a healthy market for WordPress-powered hosting, for example, from WordPress.com itself to WP Engine. People know and trust these tools.

I was faced with this question for my microblogging platform. My requirements were pretty simple:

  • The published site needed to be 100% static, so that I could host it anywhere.
  • The template system needed to be widely used, so that I could draw on existing themes and provide customization for users later.

Jekyll looked like a great choice. I’m so happy with how well this has worked that I mention Jekyll in the marketing and footer of published sites. It’s a brand that can help give users confidence that this is built on something solid, and that if they need to migrate to self-hosted, there’s a path.

On top of Jekyll, I built a web interface for publishing and deleting posts, changing themes, and I added XML-RPC support so that you can use external blog editors like MarsEdit. Plus there’s a native iPhone app for posting.

All of this enables another feature that I’m very excited about: full mirroring to GitHub Pages. When you publish a microblog site, you can have it upload all the Markdown and HTML to a GitHub repository. This is a great way to export or mirror your content.

I think it’s a good foundation. Publishing is actually a small part of the overall microblog platform I’ve built, but it’s an important one. I can’t wait to share more and keep building features up around Jekyll.

I’m writing a short e-book about everything I’ve learned, and I’ll have news soon about early access to the platform. You should sign up on the announce mailing list before next week.

Medium subscriptions

Glenn Fleishman writes for Six Colors about Medium’s subscription features that will let publishers charge readers:

It’s absolutely clear the revenue side is an experiment, and Medium labels it as such all over. There’s no guarantee it will work for its early partners or pan out in the long run. But it’s the only publishing option that combines so many things in one place without any over-the-top cost or commitment on the part of a periodical.

While Medium is certainly doing a lot right, and I still think it’s not a bad place to mirror content, the “long run” Glenn mentions is really what we should think about when considering Medium. I have no confidence that Medium will last 5-10 years.

If my whole business was based on blogging, why would I trust Medium to control something so crucial? With iOS development, we have no choice but to use the App Store. Writing on the web isn’t like that, and voluntarily giving up both control of the publishing platform and 20% of revenue strikes me as very short-sighted.

View source on the decentralized web

Brewster Kahle has a post at the Internet Archive about getting back to the “view source” feature that made early web development so much more accessible than it is today. He thinks it can be achieved on top of a distributed web where all the HTML and JavaScript files are delivered to the browser:

The decentralized web works by having a p2p distribution of the files that make up the website, and then the website runs in your browser. By being completely portable, the website has all the pieces it needs: text, programs, and data. It can all be versioned, archived, and examined.

He mentions IPFS in particular, which I’ve written about before. The bottom line is that static HTML sites are more portable. They more naturally evolve not just from host to host as necessary, but also to a possible distributed future web. That’s why that — even though I still use and recommend WordPress — I have a static mirror of my site too.

Coffee shops in Portland

Following a similar pattern as my 30 days of coffee shops, my friend Jon Hays has started mapping out a challenge to hit a month of coffee shops in Portland. The twist on his visits will be to focus mostly on the east side of Portland, and to only have lattes. First post: Cathedral Coffee.

Jon is documenting the coffee shop visits on his new microblog. An indie microblog is a great framework for posting this kind of thing, without the overhead and pressure that many people feel when faced with writing full-length blog posts.

See also: the 500 latte photos project by Aron Parecki, which looks like it wrapped up at a (still impressive) 312 lattes; and Tiny Challenges, a site and podcast from Daniel Steinberg and Jaimee Newberry about trying something new each day for a month.

Time to rethink blog comments

Twitter has lost some of what made it special for communities 5 years ago. I’ve noticed a few trends:

  • Twitter’s 140-character limit and easy retweeting encourage and amplify negative tweets. Sincerity is less common. Everything is an opportunity for a joke.
  • Widely followed, long-time Twitter users don’t find the joy they used to when interacting with followers. Some have retreated to private Slack channels, at the cost of public discussion and approachability.
  • Developers have never completely forgiven Twitter for crippling the API. This doesn’t directly impact most users anymore, but it’s a backdrop that gives every new Twitter feature a tone of distrust. Progress is slow.

Meanwhile, blog comments have slowly been killed off over that same period. The rise of social networks, combined with the technical problems of fighting blog comment spam, pushed most bloggers to prefer answering questions on Twitter.

Becky Hansmeyer writes about the intersection of these problems — that some Twitter users avoid public discussion, but most blogs no longer have comments to fall back on — by pointing to a post from Belle Beth Cooper:

“Belle’s post really resonated with me because it reminded me of something I think about a lot: when an ever-increasing number of blogs and media outlets are disabling comment sections, where do decent, thoughtful people bring their discussions? I only offer readers one way to contact me on this site, and it’s via Twitter. But what if, like Belle, you no longer use Twitter (or never did in the first place)?”

We didn’t realized how much we lost when we turned our backs on blog comments years ago. Just look at one of Daniel Jalkut’s blog posts from 10 years ago, which he and I discuss on an upcoming episode of Core Intuition. 53 comments! And they’re all preserved along with the original content. That’s difficult to do when comments are spread across Twitter and easily lost.

It’s time to take what we’ve since learned from social networks and apply it the openness of cross-site replies. That’s why I want to support Webmention. As Becky mentions, Civil Comments look great too. I think we can encourage both in parallel: distributed comments like Webmention for sites that can support it and better centralized comments like Civil.

Buytaert on the open web

Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal, gave a talk at SXSW this week and wrote a blog post about saving the open web from large, centralized platforms:

“I worry that some of these platforms will make us lose the original integrity and freedom of the open web. While the closed web has succeeded in ease-of-use and reach, it raises a lot of questions about how much control individuals have over their own experiences.”

Matt Mullenweg linked to it and added: “I agree with and endorse basically everything in that post.”

Blog when you disagree

The echo chamber. We only follow people who we already agree with. We only jump on the bandwagon of snark and ridicule when it’s already the accepted narrative, and thus safe to be part of the mob.

But sometimes you’ll find an area where you aren’t completely in line with the crowd’s opinion. There’s a topic that keeps coming up for which you have something to add. The default story is missing an important angle.

When you disagree, that’s what you should write about, and you should post it to your blog. 140 characters thrown against wave after wave of mainstream opinion tweets will be drowned out. A blog post isn’t a cheap opinion; it’s a statement that what you think matters.

The evolution of linkblogging

In my posts about defining what makes a microblog post and guidelines for RSS, I talked a little about links but didn’t explore linkblogging. While many blog authors post primarily long essays, shorter link blogs are a common approach for bloggers who want to post new content several times a day.

Essentially two types of link blogs have evolved since the early days of blogging. The most traditional link blog can be seen in Dave Winer’s posts (click on the Links tab). These are links with a very short commentary. Many tweets are like this. In a way, this format is the purest form of microblogging.

The second type of link blog starts to fall outside the limits of microblogging. Instead of just including a URL, authors use a quote from the linked material as the foundation for the post. The majority of Daring Fireball posts adopt this format. While John Gruber is known for his full essays, those longer posts are infrequent today. He keeps his site active by linking to other interesting essays and tacking on his own brief opinion.

Daring Fireball has become so successful that Gruber’s approach to linkblogging has been copied by many other sites. MacStories, Six Colors, One Foot Tsunami, John Moltz’s Very Nice Web Site, and Marco Arment’s blog are just a handful that follow this pattern. All of these sites post the occasional essay, but most blog posts link away to an external site in the RSS item, not back to their own site.

At a technical level, this difference can best be seen in the RSS feed’s <link> and <guid> elements. These elements will contain URLs that either link back to the main site, or link away to an external site.

Here is where this evolving approach to link blogs starts to break down. Let’s take an example from Six Colors, one of my favorite sites. (I recommend subscribing. The members-only secret podcast with Jason and Dan Moren is really fun, and the email magazine is great too.)

In a link post about Hulu’s pricing, Jason Snell actually writes 4 paragraphs of commentary (plus a footnote). This is more like an essay than a short link post that points to the external site.

Another example is when MacStories linked to Twitter’s launch of Moments. A few paragraphs of quoted text, 5 paragraphs of MacStories commentary. The commentary is as important or even more important to read than whatever Federico is linking to.

Sometimes we read sites like MacStories, Six Colors, or Daring Fireball more for the commentary than for what is being linked to. But when using an RSS reader, there is too much confusion about where an item’s link goes when clicked if the site’s feed isn’t consistent about linking everything back to its own site.

And in fact Jason Snell acknowledges this problem by offering two separate RSS feeds: the default one, with a mix of links back to Six Colors for essays and pointed elsewhere for link posts; and another feed with everything linking back to Six Colors, where the commentary lives. He also attempts to minimize confusion on his own site by giving each type of post its own icon in the site design.

The less clear-cut the distinction between essays and link posts, the more confusion we introduce to readers. In some ways, this mixed approach really only works for Daring Fireball, because his feature essays are so long, and so obviously different in format to the rest of the link posts.

Good conventions for blogging have been at a standstill for years. While part of the appeal of indie blogging is there’s no one “right” way to do it, and authors can have a strong voice and design that isn’t controlled by a platform vendor, we must accept that Twitter has taken off because it has a great user experience compared to blogs. It’s effortless to tweet and the timeline is consistent. For blogging to improve and thrive, it should have just as straightforward a user experience as social networks wherever possible.

Luckily, RSS already has everything we need for clients to visually distinguish between link posts and regular ones. If the <link> element points to a domain other than the one for the site, it’s probably a link post. If the <link> and site domain match, it’s a full post.

I’ve adopted this in my new microblogging platform by exposing the domain in the UI itself, at the end of the title or microblog post whenever it’s a link post. If it’s a full post, the link isn’t added. And for either type of post, the timestamp links back to whatever was in the <link>.

Here’s a screenshot from one of Dave’s posts. Note that the link was not in the RSS text. It was added by my app automatically:

linkblog example

This has been a long post, but it boils down to two simple recommendations:

  • If you’re a blog author and you’re adding any significant commentary, the RSS feed should point back to your site.
  • If you’re an RSS client developer, the difference between link posts and full posts should be exposed in the UI.

I believe that adopting these will bring more consistency to blogging. Users won’t need to hover over links, or guess what will happen on a click or tap. It’s a small change that will make reading blogs a little better.

Essays vs. microblog posts (and the microcast)

Starting back in September 2014, I added microblog posts to this site. These are defined as short posts without a title. They have their own RSS feed, and they’re automatically cross-posted to Twitter and App.net.

In that time, I’ve posted about 300 microblog posts and about 230 essays, although many of my longer posts are really just a few paragraphs and a quote. I still find the microblog format very convenient for quick thoughts, or a series of related posts like all my coffee stops.

I’ve also switched from Gaug.es to WordPress.com stats. While I agree with Ben Brooks that analytics can be a distraction, I still like finding new referrers and having a sense of what posts have resonated with people. Not that it effects what I write about, though.

The key to blogging is still consistency and passion. Write about the things you care about, regularly, and the internet is a big enough place that there can be an audience for even obscure topics.

That’s the theme I’m trying to apply to my new Timetable podcast, too. I talk about microblogging, coffee shops, client work, but more important than any of that is the routine of recording it. The short nature of the podcast is itself kind of the story.

I’m at episode 15 now and have loved working on it. I now expect that all of these components of my blog — the longer posts, the microblog posts, and the companion Timetable episodes — will be something I do for years to come.

The Ringer will use Medium

Bill Simmons announced on his podcast last week that his new media site The Ringer will use Medium. He said they’ve been working with the Medium folks on it, although I don’t know if that means using existing features that are available to anyone, or if Medium has built anything custom just for The Ringer.

Digiday has a story about this, and about the larger context of how Medium is doing and evolving:

“At one point last year, a former staffer said, Medium decided to move away from funding publications directly and instead fund initiatives meant to grow audiences in specific areas such as women in tech and the election. Last year, it closed down Re:form and Archipelago, a home for personal essays. Its remaining verticals have been roped into Medium’s effort to generate more conversation with readers, with tactics like prompts at the end of articles.”

I’ve written several times about how Medium is worse than your own blog for building an audience, and worse for the open web if it continues down the Twitter-like path as a centralized social network. But encouraging larger publishers to adopt Medium is good, because custom domains will come along for the ride. Owning your domain and URLs is the first step to owning your content.