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.
As I expected would happen, using iOS 11 on my iPad Pro after WWDC has inspired me to revisit the universal version of Micro.blog for iOS. Here’s a screenshot of my current build:
I plan to include this in 1.0. I’m in the process of moving the app from TestFlight to its final home in the App Store. As we prepare for the public launch, this’ll make it much easier for everyone to download it, and it shouldn’t be limited or scaled up on the iPad.
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.
Jean MacDonald was on the latest episode of Collin Donnell’s new podcast The Run Loop. They talk about App Camp For Girls, Micro.blog, Portland, and more, with a preview of Jean’s talk at CocoaConf Next Door. It’s a great episode to queue up before WWDC.
And a related reminder: we’re having an informal meetup on Tuesday at lunch for anyone interested in independent microblogging. Sign up for more information here. Hope you can make it and say hi to me and Jean.
Brent Simmons and I were guests on The Talk Show this week. We talk about JSON Feed, Userland Frontier, Micro.blog, and much more.
Brent also announced Evergreen for the first time on the show. Evergreen is a new open source feed reader for the Mac. I’m really looking forward to where this app could go.
One quick correction as I’m re-listening to the episode. For some reason I said that I became interested in Frontier when it pivoted to be open source software. I meant free, not open source. I worked with Frontier in the mid-90s, around the 4.0 release that Brent mentioned, and as I blogged about back in 2004 when Frontier’s kernel was actually open-sourced.
It was fun to revisit this era of Mac scripting on The Talk Show, and I hope that when we look back on the origin of JSON Feed we have similar good memories. There were a bunch of people who made the format what it is, participating in debates about field names and scope. It all contributes to the traction that JSON Feed is getting now.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Really excited to announce JSON Feed today with Brent Simmons. It’s great to see all the feedback and links to new feeds. Special thanks to everyone who contributed to the spec, debating field names and requirements over the last few months.
The premise was simple: the time is right for a JSON-based approach to feeds. We hope that JSON Feed is straightforward enough to be implemented quickly, and capable enough to push the next decade of blogging software forward. We love RSS too and tried to learn from its success.
Micro.blog already supports JSON Feed nearly everywhere. There are feeds for hosted microblogs and your timeline, and the Micro.blog custom JSON API itself is actually just JSON Feed with Micro.blog-specific extensions.
I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone does with this. If you’ve shared any code or templates for JSON Feed, or if you’re working on apps to support it, let us know.
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.
After a couple months away from Timetable, because I’ve been focusing so much of my time working on Micro.blog, I’ve finally returned to the microcast for a sort of second season. Timetable will be published daily now, Monday through Friday, to chronicle the actual release of Micro.blog and the Indie Microblogging book.
Episodes 38 and 39 are out now. You can subscribe in Overcast or iTunes.
Last Friday we published Core Intuition 275. From the show notes:
Daniel and Manton talk about Manton’s decision to hire Jean MacDonald as Micro.blog’s Community Manager, and the psychological effects of transitioning from a single to multi-person company. They also react to this week’s Apple announcements, focusing mainly on Apple’s new Clips app and how it relates to Apple’s historic focus on facilitating user creativity.
This episode captures the biggest shift for my business since I left my regular job a couple years ago. I’m also hoping to resume my Timetable podcast soon, since there’s more I’d like to talk about that won’t always fit into Core Intuition.
Earlier this month I flew up to Portland for a few days. It was a great trip. I posted about attending the Blazers game and meeting the IndieWeb group at the DreamHost office. I also sat down with Jean MacDonald to talk about what she has been up to and show her what I’ve been building for Micro.blog.
Today I sent an update to Kickstarter backers about the stretch goal promise I made to hire a community manager. I couldn’t be happier to announce that Jean MacDonald will be helping me in the next steps for Micro.blog.
It became clear as I’ve been talking with Jean that she will add so much to the project. Making the announcement today has inspired me even more to finish rolling out Micro.blog and to see where the community takes it.
On last week’s Core Intuition, I told Daniel that the approach for Micro.blog has to be different than for my previous apps. It’s such a big opportunity that if I don’t focus everything on it, then it will not work. I covered the same theme in a post last month:
I’ve realized as I work toward launching Micro.blog that this product is different. It has a much greater scope than anything I’ve built by myself. To be successful, it needs a team.
No single decision will guarantee success. But today’s announcement is a big milestone for Micro.blog because it’s more than a promise or hope for things to come. Jean’s experience will be essential to guiding the community and moving the platform forward.
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.
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.
Ten years ago I wrote a post about customer support. Nothing in my attitude toward customers has really changed since then, although my products have changed along the way.
Most of my Mac and iOS apps could be built by one person. Even Sunlit, which I developed with Jon Hays, could be maintained by one person. And so when providing support for my apps, I’ve always embraced being an indie company and said “I” instead of “we” when talking about my company Riverfold Software.
I’ve realized as I work toward launching Micro.blog that this product is different. It has a much greater scope than anything I’ve built by myself. To be successful, it needs a team.
This is why my first priority with the Kickstarter stretch goal was to bring someone new to the project. I was initially nervous about making that announcement. I thought that nervousness was because the stretch goal might not work, or because my post was long and could be misinterpreted, but I realize now that I was nervous because I knew it mattered.
The first decisions a new company has to make will end up shaping many things that follow. I worked at VitalSource for over 14 years because the technology decisions and leadership at the beginning were so strong they carried forward for years.
The same rule applies for a very different kind of company: Uber. When you look at their series of missteps, it seems clear that these are inherent problems that go back to day one. I think John Gruber is right when he says Uber’s response is “too little, too late”.
We can learn from every company culture that fails. I don’t expect to make all the right decisions with Micro.blog. But I’m going to try very hard to make the first decisions correctly, because it will make everything easier going forward.
Great post from Paul Kafasis of Rogue Amoeba about Piezo sales for the year after leaving the Mac App Store, and how it suggests that Dash’s post-MAS sales weren’t a fluke. Rogue Amoeba’s data points to this key point:
Far from the Mac App Store helping drive sales to us, it appears we had instead been driving sales away from our own site, and into the Mac App Store.
For me, the question of whether to use the Mac App Store is also closely tied to using in-app purchases in addition to Stripe. As I work to get Micro.blog shipped to Kickstarter backers, and eventually launched to a wider audience, I’ve wondered whether there should be an in-app purchase to make subscribing to Micro.blog from iOS easier. Of course the Mac App Store and in-app purchases are different things, but both require juggling multiple payment systems with the hope that it will be easier for users.
And it would be a little better for customers in the short-term. The problem is that it would be much worse for me as a solo developer trying to do too much. The backend systems would be more complicated, and I think the product would suffer because of it.
I’m taking some time to resume Timetable recording. From the latest episode:
Now that the Kickstarter campaign has wrapped up, I move to the next phase of getting Micro.blog ready, planning for invites, and focusing on the Slack community.
I started Timetable over a year ago to document what it was like to build Micro.blog and figure out how to launch it. Each episode is about 4-5 minutes long. Reaching this point with the Kickstarter finished is a huge milestone, but there is plenty of work still to do and talk about.
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.
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.