Tag Archives: facebook

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.

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.

More on algorithms and UI

Ben Thompson’s daily update email today covers fake news and algorithms. It’s a great post, although a little disheartening in the way that most coverage of filter bubbles and the election tend to be. One line in the closing paragraph:

Algorithms have consequences, particularly when giving answers to those actually searching for the truth.

It mirrors something I wrote in January about algorithms and curation:

Software has consequences. How it’s designed informs what behavior it encourages. If it’s built without thought to these consequences, it will succeed only by accident.

Quick posting via retweets on Twitter and re-sharing on Facebook contributes to the spread of fake news. As the New York Times article Ben links to says, fake news is “designed to attract social shares and web traffic”. Bad news stories with dramatic headlines can spread more quickly than they would if everyone posted an original comment with their link.

It’s too easy to click a retweet button without thinking. Fake news is as much a user experience and design problem as it is an algorithmic problem.

Owning your content matters right now

Twitter and Facebook are both powerful tools to help people organize. We’ve seen some of that over the last few weeks of protests. While these social networks are also broken in significant ways, they’re not all bad. They bring people together and expand the reach of posts from our own web sites. That’s why many people embrace cross-posting.

Even more important is the free press. Not just big sites like the New York Times and Washington Post, but also small sites like yours and mine. Trump will continue to attack and undermine the mainstream press. Everyone who publishes on the internet should consider where that leads.

It’s not a good foundation to concentrate so much writing into one place like Twitter or Medium. Distributing writing across more web sites protects us if one massive site shuts down. It gives us flexibility to move to the next popular network if one emerges.

Sometime in the next 2 years, a reporter or blogger is going to break a story about the Trump administration. It’s going to be too important to ignore. But to be taken seriously, it can’t be an anonymous Twitter account that’s easy to cast doubt on. It has to come from someone accountable who has built a reputation by publishing good work and owning it.

Owning your content by having a microblog at your own domain is empowering. Maybe you’re writing about what you had for lunch. Maybe you’re photo-blogging an important trip. Maybe you’re posting from your iPhone at a protest outside the White House.

It doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s happening and worth writing about, it’s worth owning. Now more than ever.

Fake news and Instagram

Twitter has retweets. Facebook has sharing. But Instagram has no built-in reposting. On Instagram, there’s no instantaneous way to share someone else’s post to all of your followers.

The first version of Instagram was built by a very small team. They’ve always grown slowly and expanded the UI thoughtfully. I think the lack of a repost feature was deliberate.

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.

It’s not easy to build software that encourages good behavior. When I look at my Instagram timeline I see beautiful photos, hand-drawn art, and snapshots of everyday life. I see the very best of the world. It’s not the full truth, but it’s all true.

Instagram was no accident. The only question: was it unique to photos, or can the same quality be applied to microblogging?

Indie publishing is about control

Andy Baio redesigned his blog recently and argued that blogs still matter because of ownership and control. Of course, I agree. And though it may seem far off, there’s no guarantee that Twitter will outlast our own blogs. Andy writes:

Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Verizon Yahoo selling off Tumblr. Medium keeps pivoting, trying to find a successful revenue model. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.

Ben Brooks followed up:

Having my own site gives me complete control to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. I don’t understand why people ever want it any other way.

Words are powerful. Especially right now, why let anyone else have control over the format of our words and how they spread? Having a blog is a statement: our writing exists apart from the whim of an algorithmic news feed.

Today’s social networks are broken

Brent Simmons has left Twitter, frustrated with the diminishing value of the service, Twitter’s inability to deal with harassment, and more:

And then it was part of the system that helped elect a fascist President. This tipped it over for me: it’s no longer worth my participation. The shitheads can have it.

Facebook has also been in the news for its role in letting fake news spread. Ben Thompson has a long essay this week on it:

I get why top-down solutions are tempting: fake news and filter bubbles are in front of our face, and wouldn’t it be better if Facebook fixed them? The problem is the assumption that whoever wields that top-down power will just so happen to have the same views I do. What, though, if they don’t?

Maybe. Though while we should debate how to balance Facebook’s enormous power, there should be a parallel effort to move away from the centralized publishing model that gave Facebook that power.

Facebook has confused itself into thinking it is the whole internet, and so the principles of a free press that apply to the open web, also must apply to Facebook. No. While Facebook has a great responsibility to do the right thing, because they are so big, Facebook is just a web site.

I want Facebook to improve. I want Twitter to improve. But I can do very little to effect change at those companies, and some problems are so fundamental as to be essentially unfixable. The web wasn’t supposed to be like this, with all the power and all the writing concentrated into so few sites.

It’s time for a new social network that brings discoverability and community without the baggage of an ad-driven network that must grow to a billion users. A social network that embraces the open web, and freedom of expression, while preserving a clean timeline that can’t be interrupted by harassment.

Not just one new social network. I hope that many developers will work on products that encourage independent publishing again.

It’s going to take time to build. That’s why I started working on Micro.blog 2 years ago. I’ve made great progress, but I’ve also drifted, unfocused, uncommitted to finishing it, as if I knew something was missing.

Something was missing. The election results have made that clear. I was thinking big, but not big enough. The way forward must include both a decentralized publishing platform and the tools to encourage a safe community.

If you’d like to know when the beta is finally ready, please subscribe to the announce list. Thank you. Update: Edited to reflect the new name for Micro.blog.

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.”

Dave Winer on Instant Articles

Maybe I misjudged Facebook’s Instant articles. Dave Winer is a supporter, because it builds on RSS:

“Facebook is using open web technology to power Instant Articles. I’m not sharing anything that isn’t already publicly documented on the Facebook developer site. People have trouble understanding this, I assume, because it seems so out of character for a big web destination like Facebook to care about the open web. It’s kind of a miracle. But there it is. The open web is about to get a real shot in the arm from a most unexpected place.”

I guess one question is whether there will be any other RSS readers that support Instant Articles. If we can get some of the benefits of Instant Articles, but outside of Facebook, that is something.

App review for the fast web

Facebook continues to roll out their Instant Articles format to more publishers. It’s now available to anyone, with this catch:

“You won’t be able to publish Instant Articles until your RSS feed has been approved.”

That’s just what we need: the worst part of the App Store approval process applied to the web. No thanks.

Google’s competing Accelerated Mobile Pages has problems too, as I mentioned in the last half of this post about the cost of links. Although unlike Facebook, which wants to trap content behind their own platform, AMP is at least more open and useful to the larger web.

I hate to say it but neither Instant Articles nor AMP are really good enough. I think we need a third standard for super-fast web pages. (Or do we? Maybe the web is okay as-is if we fight page bloat.)

Parse shutting down

Bad news from the Parse team at Facebook today:

“We have a difficult announcement to make. Beginning today we’re winding down the Parse service, and Parse will be fully retired after a year-long period ending on January 28, 2017. We’re proud that we’ve been able to help so many of you build great mobile apps, but we need to focus our resources elsewhere.”

For years I had always heard great things about Parse. I eventually used it for the first time a few months ago on a client project. It’s got a well-designed API, friendly monthly pricing (free for many apps), and it seemed well supported, with new features like tvOS support and a web dashboard redesign rolling out just a month ago.

Thinking about this tweet from Daniel Jalkut, I’ve always advocated for iOS developers to also be good at web services. Customers expect sync everywhere now, and you can do things with your own server that will give you an advantage over competitors who have a simpler, standalone iOS app. But being forced to migrate server data isn’t fun, especially on someone else’s schedule.

Twitter’s 10k limit

First, Twitter experimented with changing the timeline, so it’s not strictly reverse-chronological. Then, they renamed Favorites to Likes. Soon, they will remove the 140-character limit, becoming Facebook, and the circle will be complete:

The current plan is reportedly to show just the first 140 characters in the news feed and then allow readers to click to expand the tweet and see the other 9,860 remaining characters. The new option may launch later this quarter.

The learner is now the master. Welcome to the dark side.

Hyperlinks and saving the web

Hossein Derakhshan spent 6 years in jail in Iran because of his blog. Now, with the clarity of seeing years of changes to the web and social networks all at once after his release, he’s written an important essay on the value of hyperlinks and the open web:

“When a powerful website – say Google or Facebook – gazes at, or links to, another webpage, it doesn’t just connect it , it brings it into existence; gives it life. Without this empowering gaze, your web page doesn’t breathe. No matter how many links you have placed in a webpage, unless somebody is looking at it, it is actually both dead and blind, and therefore incapable of transferring power to any outside web page.”

He mentions apps like Instagram, which have no way to link to the outside world. Too many apps are exactly like this: more interested in capturing eyeballs for ads than opening up their platform. The default for native mobile apps is to become silos, while the default for web sites is to be open and support linking.

There’s a second part to Hossein’s essay that I don’t agree with, though. He writes that “the stream” – a.k.a the timeline, a reverse-chronological list of short posts or links – is turning the web into television. But I think there’s a lot we can learn from the timeline. It’s a valuable user experience metaphor that we should take back from Twitter and social networks.

Building on the timeline is basically the whole point of my microblogging project. We should encourage independent microblogs by using a timeline interface to make them more useful. (Interested? Sign up on my announce list.)

Back to links. Dave Winer, who has been cross-posting recently to Facebook and Medium, posted about how Facebook doesn’t allow inline links in the text of a post. As a new generation grows up on these kind of posts instead of real blog posts, will people understand what they’re missing? Dave writes:

“I hope we don’t end up having to try to explain linking to future generations who have no recollection of an electronic writing environment where words could take you to a whole other place. But I suspect we’re going there. Unless somehow we can get Facebook to relent and make it easy to link from words in Facebook posts to other places on the web.”

This is a great challenge for 2016. Not specifically with Facebook, but with the larger idea of bringing back the web we lost, retrofitted for today’s app-centric internet. I hope to spend a good part of the year working on it.

Stars vs. hearts and Twitter’s decline

In an essay about Twitter written in 2014, Ben Thompson described why he believed in the service:

“I think this actually gets to the problem with Twitter: the initial concept was so good, and so perfectly fit such a large market, that they never needed to go through the process of achieving product market fit. It just happened, and they’ve been riding that match for going on eight years.”

I’ve always thought the same thing. That Twitter started out so good, with such strong core features, that those basic features have carried it through all the years of missteps and inaction. But it’s not just that the features are “good” (although they are); it’s that they are unique.

Listening to the Connected podcast the other day, Federico Viticci and Myke Hurley made the statement that only nerds care about Twitter changing stars to hearts, favorites to likes. I was nodding in agreement until I talked to my daughter. She also didn’t understand why they would change away from stars, and she’s been on Twitter less than a year.

It’s not just nerds. Many new Twitter users recognize the subtle difference implied with hearts. But I realized that there’s something even more important about what this change says. Why is my daughter even on Twitter, in addition to Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Vine? Because — even if most people can’t pin down exactly what makes it special — everyone knows Twitter is different and interesting.

All Twitter has going for it is its uniqueness. The timeline user experience, the retweets and favorites, the hashtag, and the short 140 character posts. Changing any of those key strengths to be just like every other social network means they’re watering down their own potential impact. Eventually that approach will produce a bland product that has no unique qualities.

We’ve already seen the timeline experience significantly altered. Promoted tweets, “while you were away”, inline conversation threads, and Twitter cards. Twitter in 2015 looks a lot more like Facebook than it did a few years ago, to everyone not using third-party Twitter apps.

Growing the user base is fine. But making Twitter more accessible to new users won’t do any good if you lose the much larger base of passionate users who have loved the product for years because it’s unique. You’re not going to beat Facebook by becoming even more like Facebook. If that’s Twitter’s strategy, then the service is already in decline.

Accelerated Mobile Pages from Google

The project technical overview for AMP has the goals and basic info. In a nutshell, the new format encourages a return to more bare-bones HTML, with some added functionality for common web patterns. On the balance between bloated ad platforms and user experience:

“Embedding an ad or analytics often implies giving up control of what eventually happens to a site because they can typically inject any JavaScript they want into pages. AMP HTML does not allow this. We realize that both ads and analytics are an important element of monetization on the web, and so we need to support them: our goal is to realign monetization with great user experience.”

Instead, “tracking pixels” are used for analytics. These should be easily skipped by ad blockers, but apps that support AMP will need to use a custom web view anyway, where ad blockers on iOS aren’t allowed. This may continue to limit the appeal of Safari View Controller.

Wired covers the announcement and describes how AMP might be integrated into Twitter and other native apps:

“One surprise beneficiary of AMP may be Twitter. While it’s not a publisher per se, it’s becoming an increasingly important player in news, most recently with the launch of its Moments feature, which makes news easier to follow on Twitter by organizing Tweets in a chronological, coherent timeline. Now, Twitter will automatically load any articles that are compatible with AMP as AMP files, meaning they will benefit from the same speed inside the Twitter app.”

There’s more on GitHub. On the surface this seems like a more open approach than Facebook Instant Articles or maybe even Apple News Format (which is finally public). That WordPress is supporting AMP is a good sign.

Instagram hits 400 million users

From Graham Spencer at MacStories, commenting on the latest Instagram numbers and that the service is only 5 years old:

“But I was really surprised to remember that Facebook acquired Instagram in April 2012, when Instagram had ‘only’ 40 million users. If I recall correctly, a lot of people thought Facebook was crazy to buy Instagram for $1 billion. Well, I think Facebook got the last laugh on that one, and as Forbes points out, Instagram now has more monthly active users than Twitter (316 million).”

Impressive growth, but it fits. Instagram has crafted a user experience that encourages thoughtful posts and never feels overwhelming in the way a Twitter or Facebook timeline can be. If Instagram was a paid product, I bet Instagram’s churn rate would be the lowest of any of the big social networks. They did it with a small team and weren’t afraid to grow slowly.

Facebook

From a great story on Mark Zuckerberg in New York Magazine:

“‘Mark has done two things in his twenties,’ a colleague of Zuckerberg says. ‘He has built a global company, and he has grown up.’ The second one made the first possible. When early mistakes risked an employee mutiny, Zuckerberg knuckled down and learned how to lead.”

It covers founding the company, Sean Parker, other execs, the Instagram purchase, and more. I’ve got new respect for what Zuckerberg has accomplished after reading this.

Several years ago, when Yahoo or Microsoft or whomever was rumored to have offered a billion dollars to buy Facebook, I thought Zuckerberg was foolish and arrogant for not selling the company. I didn’t get how it could be a real business, ever worth more. Looks like I was wrong.

Of course, the narrative of the last week is that the IPO disappointed, with the stock steadily falling since its debut. But that’s only relevant if you want a quick win. The long-term view says that Facebook is here to stay, and that the company’s growth is a reason to celebrate. Not for the service or founders, but for the success of so many great developers and designers who are now part of the public company: Instagram, Gowalla, Push Pop Press, Sofa, and others who are working inside Facebook, trying to build something great.