Tag Archives: microblogging

Microblogging community on Slack

Since I launched on Kickstarter, backers have asked if there should be a Slack community to discuss Micro.blog and related microblogging topics. I wasn’t sure. I know some people are already in multiple Slack groups, including the excellent IndieWebCamp IRC/Slack, and I also didn’t want to distract from any posts that should happen in the open on blogs.

Some discussion just fits better in chat, though. There’s an emerging community of indie microbloggers. Having a place to share tips, tools, and ask questions about Micro.blog just makes sense.

I’m experimenting with the Slack channel now, and I’ll be opening it to all Kickstarter backers next week. If you’ve backed the project before Monday, expect a backers-only project update with information on how to join.

Webmention is a W3C Recommendation

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

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

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

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

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.)

Fake news as propaganda

In yesterday’s essay about Twitter, I also linked to my post on Instagram’s lack of native reposts. Jason Brennan has written a follow-up about fake news and propaganda, exploring what we can learn and apply to microblogging:

Aside from the normal reasons propaganda exists, it exists on social networks like Facebook and Twitter because it can exist on those networks. It’s profitable and useful for the parties manufacturing and disseminating it. To Facebook and Twitter, upon whose networks it propagates, it doesn’t really matter what the information is so long as it engages users. Facebook’s apathy to propaganda is regularly exploited.

Hillary Clinton also connected fake news and propaganda in a speech this week:

Let me just mention briefly one threat in particular that should concern all Americans, Democrats, Republicans and independents alike, especially those who serve in our Congress: the epidemic of malicious fake news and false propaganda that flooded social media over the past year. It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences.

The internet is at a crossroads. Entrepreneurs love free speech, scale, and money, but those don’t always align in a good way. As much talk as there is of making an impact, very few leaders in Silicon Valley seem to think deeply about consequences.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Concerned about user-generated content

On the latest Under the Radar podcast, Marco Arment and David Smith talk about ways to make your app more robust. That includes tips for scaling your app with a lot of data, and also dealing with potentially hostile user data. It’s that last point that I’ve been thinking the most about lately.

With the experience of building Tumblr and Instapaper, Marco is clearly now hesitant to ship app features that accept arbitrary user-generated content, because a small indie company just doesn’t have the resources to deal with spam and abuse. Instead, he suggests outsourcing whenever possible. For example, letting Apple accept and reject podcasts, and basing the Overcast podcast directory search on that already-vetted list.

Let’s say you’re building a Twitter-like service. As we all know, hate is widespread on Twitter. At times, it seems impossible to even have a G-rated Twitter experience. But the problem is less that users can publish terrible tweets, and more that it is so easy to be exposed to those tweets with search, trending topics, retweets, and replies.

As I work on my microblogging project, I’m trying to be aware of these points in the platform where bad content can leak out. So I don’t have global search or trending topics. I also don’t make it easy to stumble upon random users. But I do have replies, which by default will currently go out as push notifications if you have the iPhone app installed. It’s that area that I should focus my attention.

Two options that come to mind for minimizing abuse in replies:

  • Don’t allow replies from people you aren’t following. This solves the problem, but it comes at the expense of discussion. It removes the accessibility that many people love about Twitter’s asynchronous following model.
  • Quarantine or attempt to classify replies so they don’t bubble up in your timeline or as notifications by default. This would be like an over-aggressive email spam filter. Difficult to get right and possibly routed around by clever microbloggers.

After listening to Marco and David, and reviewing the full scope of what I’ve been trying to build, I’m pretty concerned about this. I’m looking at Akismet, and other metrics internal to my app for judging content and suspicious user accounts, but I may be a little in over my head on this issue.

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.

Typed.com progress updates

The folks at Realmac have been blogging about their progress with Typed.com, a new blogging platform that successfully raised $120k on Indiegogo last year. In the latest monthly report, they announce a new free tier:

“With this new free tier, people can sign-up, use the service, take their time. They can blog for free, for as long as they want, and when they need or want the extra features we offer they can upgrade to a paid account. We also think this will be free marketing for the service, the more blog out there that are hosted with Typed.com then more people will find out about the service.”

This blog is in the spirit of Buffer’s open blog or Ghost’s Baremetrics reports. It’s especially great to see a company sharing numbers when they know they still have a lot of growth ahead of them to get where they want to be.

If you’d like to start a new blog but aren’t sure where to host it, check it out. Typed.com has a well-designed admin UI that is refreshingly simple compared to much of the more bloated web software out there.

It’s also possible to use Typed.com as a microblog. I pointed to some tips for this last year. Since the title of a post can’t be blank on Typed.com, I suggest using a date/time for the title. My new microblog platform is smart about treating those kind of short posts correctly when reading from an RSS feed.

River5 and twtxt

Two new microblog-related services have launched. This week, Dave Winer announced River5:

“So I decided it was time to do a restart of my JavaScript RSS aggregator, and it’s now ready for Node users — it’s called River5. […] This is a foundation for developers to build on, but it’s also possible for an adventurous user to set up their own rivers.”

River5 is built on a few XML and JSON formats, including River.js. I’m pretty interested in River.js as a format for aggregating multiple feeds together, so I’ve supported it in my new microblog platform. As a next-generation RSS, though, I prefer the proposal I wrote about in a post called RSS for microblogs.

Next up is twtxt, which attempts to recreate Twitter as a distributed, command-line based system with self-hosted text files:

“Instead of signing up at a closed and/or regulated microblogging platform, getting your status updates out with twtxt is as easy as putting them in a publicly accessible text file. The URL pointing to this file is your identity, your account. twtxt then tracks these text files, like a feedreader, and builds your unique timeline out of them, depending on which files you track.”

I’m less sure what to think of twtxt. The simple plaintext format is nice, but we already have a good infrastructure for this with RSS. And as I’ve noted before, having HTML in RSS with inline styles and links is nice for microblogs, and it’s not clear to me whether that would fit well with twtxt.

If you want to start an indie microblog, my suggestion remains to use existing blog software that can generate simple RSS feeds. Short posts, no titles. This is a widely-deployed format that we can continue to work with for years to come.

Charles Perry’s microblog

Charles Perry has started a microblog. On the balance of what he should post to Twitter and what he should post to his own site first, he writes:

“Most of the things I write on Twitter are snippets of conversations or other thoughts that I don’t necessarily want to preserve. Those will stay on Twitter. But some microposts—is that a thing?—I think are of interest on their own. These I plan to post to the DazeEnd.org microblog and mirror to Twitter. That should allow me to preserve and archive my thoughts on my own website and use Twitter just for distribution.”

I was really happy to see these posts show up in my RSS reader. There’s some momentum around indie microblogging right now. You should start one too.

Here are some more of my posts on the topic:

Listeners of my new Timetable podcast also know that I’m writing a short book about independent microblogging. You can hear a little about this on episode 9.

Inline links in microblog posts

When I was first trying to figure out how my microblog posts should look, I was thinking more like tweets and less like HTML. Eventually I settled on HTML for publishing and display, with Markdown for writing.

Here’s what a microblog post looks like in the timeline for my new web app:


You can compare that to how it looks when cross-posted to Twitter. It’s not exactly a fair comparison since the tweet was truncated, but it’s still incredible to me how much better these posts look if you allow inline links and some more characters.

Long-form writing as a filter

Soroush Khanlou, looking for more new blogs to read, makes a great point that the process of blogging leads to better writing:

“Opening my RSS reading and finding 30 unread items makes me happy. Opening Twitter and seeing 150 new tweets feels like work. I’m not sure why that is. I think Twitter has become more negative, and the ease of posting quick bursts makes posting negative stuff easy. With blogging, writing something long requires time, words, and an argument. Even the passing thought of ‘should I post this’ creates a filter that lets only better stuff through.”

I think there’s something to that. It’s often only after writing our thoughts down that we fully understand how we feel about a topic.

And here’s where I bring this back to microblogging. Because when starting a post, we don’t always know whether it will be long or short. How often have you seen a series of tweets that in hindsight even the author would agree should have been a blog post?

This is less of a problem if instead of tweeting you start out with the intention of posting to your own site. Short post can stay short, and posts requiring more words can naturally expand to a full essay.

I don’t think that our short-form, seemingly unimportant writing should exclusively be on centralized networks. If it’s worth the time to write something — whether a thoughtful essay or a fleeting one-off microblog post — then it’s worth owning and publishing at your own domain name.

Twitter and the cost of links

Federico Viticci covers the news that Twitter will expand from 140 characters to 10,000, nicknaming the feature Twitter Notes. His nickname is appropriate given this latest transformation to become more like Facebook, since Facebook’s Medium-like capability for long posts is also called Facebook Notes.

The tweets and blog commentary on this have really missed a key aspect and cause for concern, though. Many posts – including even my own first attempt – have focused on whether Twitter Notes would water down Twitter’s unique strength. They then conclude that it’s better to include a long-form text feature rather than the compromise hack of screenshot text and tweetstorms. Federico sums up this endorsement with the following:

“Unlike other recent additions to the service, I want to believe that third-party developers will be able to support the feature in their clients (Jack seems to suggest as much) and that the iPad won’t be left behind again. I may be disappointed when the day comes, but if done right (see Matthew’s points here) and as long as Twitter Notes are intended as attachments for regular tweets with real text, I don’t see why I would be against them.”

Here’s why this matters, and it gets back to my post last week about the hyperlink. Closed platforms want to trap all activity, not send it out. The danger in Twitter Notes isn’t that they will replace textshots, it’s that they will replace external blogs.

For all of Twitter’s problems, at least right now most of the good writing we see on Twitter is actually linked out to external blogs (and yes, increasingly Medium posts). To shift that to be stored more on Twitter itself would be a setback for the open web. It would slowly train a new generation of timeline surfers to prefer Twitter-hosted content instead of blogs.

I wrote the above in draft form, and then later saw Ben Thompson’s daily update about the Twitter news. His take is the first I had seen that directly covered the issues of linking, even suggesting that no one really clicks on links anymore. But while he’s worried about Twitter from a business standpoint, I’m more worried about the attack on the web.

Ben also mentioned the clever trick Jack Dorsey used in writing his response as a textshot. Daniel Jalkut pointed out the same thing in the latest Core Intuition. Jack could have posted it to a blog, or to Medium, but he deliberately picked the worst way to work around Twitter’s current 140-character limit, to underscore his point.

Now, Will Oremus writes for Slate about the potential new Twitter walled garden:

“What’s really changing here, then, is not the length of the tweet. It’s where that link at the bottom takes you when you click on it—or, rather, where it doesn’t take you. Instead of funneling traffic to blogs, news sites, and other sites around the Web, the ‘read more’ button will keep you playing in Twitter’s own garden.”

I know we can’t rewind the clock to the heyday of the blogosphere. But we can still do more. More to encourage bloggers, more to spread awareness about how the web is supposed to work, and more to value open APIs. I think it starts with 2 things:

  • Build tools for independent microblogging, to make blogging just as easy as tweeting. I’m trying to do this.
  • Make the web faster, so the cost of clicking on a link goes down. Google’s helping this with AMP.

I was encouraged when I saw that Known had added support for AMP. They have their doubts about AMP, but at least they were quick to try it. From the Known blog:

“We’ve shipped support for AMP because we see potential here, and recognize that something should be done to improve the experience of loading independently-published content on the web. But attempting to bake certain businesses into a web standard is a malformed idea that is doomed to fail. If this is not corrected in future versions of the specification, we will withdraw support.”

Maybe AMP ends up being too ad-friendly to become a good standard. I don’t know. But if so, we’ll move to the next idea, because the web has to be faster. Slow pages are like a disease for links.

Anyone with a blog should be concerned about what could happen with Twitter’s 10,000-character push. We won’t feel the effects right away, but years from now it will matter. We should do more not just to promote blogs and writing on the open web, but to also make it easier for Twitter alternatives to exist through independent microblogging.

Dave on short blog posts

Dave Winer gives 3 reasons why you should be posting short items to your blog, including:

“Maybe your blogging software doesn’t support short items? Don’t worry, if people post more short items the software will adjust.”

I’m counting on this. I have a separate RSS feed for microblog posts, and it doesn’t look great in some news readers because the title is blank. Some folks have asked whether I should include a fake title there — the first few words of the post, or a timestamp. But the RSS spec is clear that title is optional. Only by breaking things a little will RSS readers improve to gracefully support title-less short posts.

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.