Tag Archives: microblog

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.

Kickstarter, day 1

Yesterday morning I woke up early, after not enough sleep, and flipped the switch to launch my Kickstarter project. I’ve been amazed at the response, seeing it funded on the first day. If you backed it or shared a link with friends, thank you. It meant a lot to see so many people embracing the idea.

I’ve backed 18 projects on Kickstarter but never created one myself, so I didn’t know what to expect. Was the funding goal too high? Too low? Even at the last minute I was noticing problems with the video and wished I had more time to improve it.

But I really wanted to launch something new at the beginning of 2017. I settled on January 2nd a couple of weeks ago and decided to stick with it. I announced the date on Core Intuition. I booked a sponsorship slot on 512 Pixels to lock myself into the date. I gave my mailing list an early heads-up that it was coming. I even set a promoted tweet to run, for some reason. (And I quietly deleted some other advertising ideas from my OmniFocus list, because I just ran out of time to pursue them.)

Today, I took a few minutes to re-listen to episode 34 of my short podcast Timetable, which I had published on Sunday, the day before launching on Kickstarter. It’s fascinating to me in the context of the success of the project so far, and in general people’s positive reaction to the video, because I think you can hear the doubt in my voice about it. I was not confident.

And I felt the same way yesterday morning, staring at the “0 backers” text on Kickstarter for a little while, wondering if maybe I had rushed it out without enough planning. That’s a really bizarre feeling. It’s much different than selling traditional Mac or iOS software.

Right now I’m feeling incredibly lucky to have the chance to launch this project — to see it spread and to hear everyone’s feedback and ideas. I have a bunch of work to do. And I have new features that I wanted to build for Micro.blog which I haven’t announced yet, which now it looks like I’ll be able to prioritize.

I’ll have more thoughts soon. In the meantime, I’ve been answering questions on Kickstarter and email, and I’ll be sending a project update later today to all backers with details on what comes next. Thanks again for your support!

Kickstarter video work-in-progress

Tomorrow I’m launching a Kickstarter campaign for Micro.blog and a short book about blogging called Indie Microblogging. I’ve had fun working on the video for this project, trying to tell the story of why independent publishing matters.

Of course the video has me talking at the camera, but it also incorporates some animation and screencasts. Here are 4 stills from the video:

Video thumbnails

I can’t wait to share the full thing. I’d love your support when it launches.

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!

Twitter at 10 years

It was 2008 in Chicago, the C4 conference was wrapping up and I shared a cab to the airport with Alex Payne, who built the first Twitter API. I was so excited about the potential for the platform that I probably had a dozen ideas for Twitter apps. Alex and I sat at a cafe at the airport, waiting for our respective flights, and talked about the future.

Years passed. I did build and ship a few Twitter apps, including the popular Tweet Marker sync API. But I also grew disillusioned. I took a break from using Twitter.

Alex had left the company and Twitter was much different from a business and leadership perspective by the time the rest of the world started paying attention. Thousands of employees worked at Twitter. How many of them had experienced the early days of following friends’ tweets via SMS, when the service seemed genuinely new and important? The future had arrived but it was full of hashtags.

This year — with rumors of Twitter being acquired, with fake news and the election, with online harassment — many people have written about the future of Twitter. I’ve been paying attention again, experimenting with cross-posting. I missed the 10th anniversary of when I joined Twitter in July 2006, but not the date of my first tweet a few months later.

10 years is a good milestone to reflect on. I want to highlight a few posts I’ve read recently, and then wrap things up at the end.

What I like about this article by Faruk Ateş is that he gives a sense of the major changes Twitter has gone through, most of which were difficult to fully understand at the time. On the change with @-replies:

The second thing is that when they started hiding @-replies to people you don’t follow, they stripped the user experience of a vital ingredient for civility: peer transparency. The tone of discourse changed much for the worse over time, following that new behavior of the timeline. Before the rollout, all your friends would see if you behaved like a jerk to someone; after the rollout that was no longer the case. It removed the natural consequences of bad behavior, thereby encouraging people to reap the benefits of such bad behavior much more frequently.

This is a theme across many posts, that we didn’t realize what all these changes were adding up to. I have some related thoughts about Instagram and another post on why today’s social networks are broken.

Next, Sarah Frier writes for Bloomberg about how Twitter leadership is losing faith in Jack Dorsey. That despite new features such as live video, Twitter failed to ship other development efforts and fell behind competitors:

Advertisers see potential in the company’s live video strategy, but they’re also being wooed by photo- and video-sharing app Snapchat, and Facebook’s Instagram, which has recently become more advertiser-friendly. At the time of Twitter’s 2013 initial public offering, those services weren’t close competitors. Now they both have larger daily audiences than Twitter.

As long as Jack Dorsey has 2 jobs, it will be easy to blame him for being unfocused. I don’t know if that’s fair. But when streaming live football gets so much attention, there do appear to be competing visions at Twitter.

Twitter is too expensive to acquire. It’s also too flawed for a company like Disney to take a risk on. So instead there was another round of layoffs. From Kurt Wagner at Recode:

Last year, Twitter also cut 300 jobs shortly after Jack Dorsey took on the CEO role full-time. (Or part-time, given that he’s also running Square.) The current feeling among those close to the company is that Twitter is simply too bloated, and pays too much in stock-based compensation for a company that’s still not profitable.

There are no guarantees for an unprofitable company. The only certain thing is that something will change.

Back to Alex Payne. He wrote a post 6 years ago about his time at Twitter, and his unsuccessful attempt to convince coworkers to decentralize Twitter. It holds up very well:

Decentralization isn’t just a better architecture, it’s an architecture that resists censorship and the corrupting influences of capital and marketing. At the very least, decentralization would make tweeting as fundamental and irrevocable a part of the Internet as email.

It used to be impossible to imagine that Twitter could fail. And today, it’s still unlikely to vanish or even change much overnight. But the web will be better if we assume that Twitter is a lost cause. From the 10-year view, it’s clear that Twitter has already changed.

Acquisition rumors come and go, although they seem more real this time, and we’re reminded that few web sites last forever. It’s time to prepare for a web without Twitter.

Thanks for using Searchpath

Today I sent the following email to everyone who has used my web app Searchpath. While I’m disappointed that I’ve neglected Searchpath, focusing everything on Micro.blog just makes the most sense right now.

Three years ago, I launched Searchpath to make it easy to embed a search box on any web site. Because you signed up to try it, either at the beginning or as a more recent paid subscriber, I wanted to thank you and let you know about the next steps for the service.

While I still love the idea behind Searchpath, I have not been able to give it the attention it deserves. Lately the service has been costing more to run than can be supported by subscription revenue. I’ve disabled new accounts and started migrating the data in an effort to keep the service running for active users.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • If you had an active paid subscription, it has been cancelled and you won’t be billed again. The service will continue to run while you look for a new search solution.
  • The current search index included many web sites that no longer use Searchpath. To save costs, I’ve reset the index. Active web sites using Searchpath will be automatically re-indexed.

I hope to return to Searchpath at some point in the future. For now, it will run in this limited mode for current customers. If you have any questions, please let me know via email at support@riverfold.com.

— Manton

P.S. One reason I can’t focus on Searchpath is I’m preparing to launch a new weblog service. It’s called Micro.blog.

Refocusing around Micro.blog

As I talked about on Timetable, now that I have the micro.blog domain I get to figure out what to do with it. And what I’m hearing from friends and listeners is clear: throw out my jumble of Snippets-related names and use Micro.blog as the brand for the platform. It’s obvious now.

Renaming a product before its official launch may not seem like a big deal, but in this case it gives the app a new importance. Just by renaming it, the app feels more ambitious. It forces me to devote more attention to it, which means saying goodbye to some of my other web apps that I can no longer focus on.

I have a difficult time shutting down failing products. Over the weekend, I took some much-needed steps to finish winding down Watermark and Searchpath. I’ll be sending an email this week to everyone who has used Searchpath with the details.

For Searchpath, I had procrastinated making a decision because even simple steps like closing new account registrations requires actually writing code and deploying changes. The index on my Elasticsearch server had grown to 90 GB, including Watermark as well. I needed a clean way to reset it and migrate the small number of active paid accounts somewhere else, to give customers time to find a new solution.

I’ve tried a few technologies for search over the years. The first version of Watermark used Sphinx, which I loved but became a scaling issue with its default need to completely reindex MySQL data. Eventually I moved to self-hosted Elasticsearch, but I had to keep feeding it RAM as the index grew. It was never stable enough with my limited skills.

As I noted in my post about Talkshow.im, there’s no perfect way to admit defeat and clean up the mess left by a web app. It’s always a balance of responsibilities — to your own business and to your customers.

But again, the way forward is clear. I should put everything into launching and growing my new microblog platform. It’s too much to maintain other web apps at the same time.

New podcast: Timetable

I’m launching a new podcast today. For a while I’ve felt like there could be something interesting in a very short podcast, where I talk a little about what I’m working on or thinking about throughout the week. Each episode is going to be just 3-5 minutes.

It’s called Timetable. I’ve published 3 episodes, and have a 4th that will go out later today. I think of it as a “microcast”, complementing the informal nature of my microblog posts. And just as I have longer essays on my weblog, of course I’ll continue to explore larger topics for indie Mac and iOS developers on Core Intuition with Daniel Jalkut.

If you check it out, let me know what you think at manton@manton.org. Thanks!

Blips microblog

Jussi Pekonen has relaunched his weblog, with a new focus on microblogging:

“I want to own all content I produce. That way I can ensure that everything I write does not go the way of the dodo when the latest and coolest microblogging platform goes belly up.”

He calls the short posts “blips”. I call mine snippets, which I borrowed from Noah Read. I like both names, but even more importantly, I like Jussi’s approach to owning his own content and providing a simple RSS feed of microblog posts. (I wrote more about RSS and microblogs a couple weeks ago.)

The now page

Last week, Derek Sivers had a great idea. We’re constantly writing about the things we care about and whatever we’re working on, but the nature of blogs is that posts are always falling off the home page. There’s rarely a single place to get the tl;dr summary of what someone is working on.

This idea hit home for me last week at Release Notes when several people asked how to sign up on my microblog project announcement list. I’ve linked to it several times in blog posts, but I didn’t have an easy place to point people to without asking them to dig through the archives. A /now page is the perfect place for that kind of thing.

Shawn Blanc linked to his page too, which reminded me to put my own /now page together. You can read mine here: manton.org/now.

Four microblogging community tips

Ever since writing about my WordPress-based microblog and linking to similar solutions from Seth Clifford and Ben Brooks, I’ve been hearing from more bloggers about their interesting microblog workflows. Everyone has a slightly different spin on the basic idea, but all of them achieve some independence from Twitter by having the primary copy of each post live on their own site.

First, Chase McCoy mentions on App.net that he uses Launch Center Pro for quick microblogging of links:

“To make a post all I have to do is copy a link, and then run a Launch Center Pro action that prompts me for the text of the post. One click and it’s done!”

Then, Sander van Dragt describes his WordPress setup. It’s similar to mine, but his post includes more detail. He also links to a comment on my .htaccess gist with a better explanation and rewrite rules.

Next up, Adam Simpson shares how he posts to his own microblog directly from an SMS. He even goes one step further, integrating tweet features directly back into WordPress:

“I save the tweet ID of every post that gets posted to Twitter. I use that ID to pull in the favorite and retweet counts and display them next to each ‘note’ in the WordPress dashboard.”

And finally, here’s an AppleScript solution on App.net from Henrik Carlsson that allows him to take any text on his Mac and quickly post it to his microblog via an Automator workflow. Pretty great. I had forgotten that AppleScript has native XML-RPC support, which most blogging systems support.

I’m inspired by all the cool work people are doing around blogs. It’s a good time to write on the web.

How to start a microblog

All my short, microblog-style posts go to my own weblog first, and also get cross-posted manually to App.net. You can view them in a special category and RSS feed.

I think owning your own posts on the internet — even if they seem unimportant and fleeting — is a valuable contribution to the health of the open web. By loosely following some simple conventions, we can build stuff that goes beyond what purely centralized web apps like Twitter are capable of.

Getting started is easy. I recommend one of 3 approaches right now if you want to play in this emerging ecosystem:

  • Tumblr. Microblog posts don’t need titles, and Tumblr has never cared much for titles itself. Some of Tumblr’s post types fit the style of a microblog very well. They also provide custom domain mapping, so that if you want to move your site later you can do it without breaking links.
  • Radio3. The latest version of Dave Winer’s tool can cross-post to Twitter. The setup couldn’t be easier, and because it has it’s own RSS feed, it will be easy to plug into future apps or get your data out.
  • WordPress. I use the self-hosted version of this. Just give microblog posts the “status” post type, which many WordPress themes can render with a tweet-like style. If you also put these posts in a special category, you can provide RSS feeds just for certain post types, or filter them out of your main feed.

Since last year I’ve been working on something new that is all about microblogging. I hope that it will encourage many more microblogs, but there’s no reason to wait until then. You can start a microblog today with one of the above apps (or dozens of other blogging solutions), and more fully control your own presence on the web.

Blogging every day

Matt Mullenweg on being challenged to blog every day:

“I thought blogging every day would be a burden, but it actually became a great source of joy. It was more a shift in mindset than anything — every day I read things I think are interesting, share links with friends, have thoughts that are 80% of a blog post, and write a ton privately, it was just a matter of catching those moments and turning them into something that was shared with the world.”

Whenever I get out of the habit of writing daily, it creates friction to get anything published. When you post every day, there’s no expectation that all posts have to be great. But when you wait too long, there’s an increasing feeling that the next post has to be perfect.

Tools that make writing effortless — like Twitter’s limited, fast UI — should be part of the next generation of blogging software. I think that’s going to be around microblogs. Just because traditional blogs initially failed to embrace microblogging doesn’t mean we can’t take that format back with better server apps and clients.

When people first started paying attention to Twitter, the criticism was that no one cared “what you had for breakfast”. But if you look at some of my earliest posts on this weblog, many are equally trivial. What appears unremarkable today — the first lunch you had with co-workers at a brand new job, the stop at REI to get a tent for an upcoming family campout, the missed flight on the way to a great conference — might carry important meaning in later years, looking back. It hurts the web to keep that locked in a silo.

Updated feeds

When I migrated to WordPress and started a microblog section on this site, the RSS feeds didn’t transition very well. While the old feed continued to work, WordPress’s new default /feed URL returned both full posts and snippet posts.

I’ve fixed that today. Here are the official feeds on the site:

  • /rss.xml: All the main posts (like the one you’re reading right now), but none of the microblog-style snippet posts.
  • /snippets.xml: Just the microblog posts. These don’t have a title and will (eventually) be more common than the main posts, so you’ll need to subscribe separately if you want to see them.
  • /feed: Now redirects to /rss.xml.

If you want to see everything I write here, subscribe to both the main feed and the snippets feed. If you want to see only the longer posts, just keep the main feed. Thanks for reading!