Tag Archives: snippets

Two weeks notice: press reviews

I need to set aside some time to contact folks in the press about my new project. I can tell just explaining the app to my friends that it’s confusing to understand on first glance. It’s different enough from existing social networks that it requires a high-level explanation for why I designed the architecture this way.

The short answer is that I wanted to build something open and extensible. Something that embraced the open web. By necessity that makes the concept a little more geeky than what has come before it. Having reviews of the product out in the wild even before the app is fully released may help get people thinking about what to expect.

Two weeks notice: moving too fast

For the first time in weeks, we had nothing going on this morning and could sleep in. After a late breakfast I worked on implementing a better trial for my new product, letting the business model advice I mentioned yesterday sink in.

Ryan Irelan, who founded Mijingo to create books and video courses for developers, wrote today:

“One of my biggest mistakes in my first several months of running Mijingo full-time is that I was going too fast.”

I probably needed to hear that. I’m increasingly worried about launching this new project either half-baked or too late, so I’ve been trying to ramp up the hours I dedicate to it each week. But I’m scrambling to quickly change fairly major aspects of it. It may be better to slow down to make sure I still have the bigger picture correct.

We’ll be traveling some in August, so that rules out releasing anything brand new before the trip. I’m thinking my focus leading up to that is to send this to the subscribers of my beta announce list first. Both the free parts and paid plans will be open as if it was a finished product, but it will just be limited to an invite-only group. Based on that feedback I’ll know how close it really is to shipping for everyone.

Two weeks notice: your business model is wrong

How is it Friday already? I have just one week left at my regular job. In addition to looking at documentation, I talked on a video call with the lead engineer who will take over a couple of my projects. We went over my current bug list (exactly 13 lucky tickets in Jira) and reviewed a few of the trickier outstanding issues.

Nothing like walking through old code, even at a high level, to discover so much outdated cruft that could be redesigned or cleared out. There’s always a little bit of regret: if only I had fixed this one last problem before leaving, or smoothed over this one confusing part of the web UI. But that’s a slippery slope that could go on indefinitely. Web software in particular is evolving and never fully complete.

Meanwhile, I continue to get great feedback on my new Riverfold project from the very early beta testers. Bug reports, new ideas, and sometimes a series of questions that basically ends up as: you’re charging the wrong users, what if you tried this completely different way to make money instead?

While I don’t think there’s any direct competition for what I’m building, there are a lot of related services. I’d count even parts of Tumblr and WordPress among the services that are both complementary and in a similar theme to what I want to do. Tumblr makes money primarily through ads. WordPress has ads but (I expect) makes more money through their upgrades: paid custom domains, VaultPress backup, and premium themes.

When choosing a business model for my app, I’ve also been inspired by GitHub’s simplicity. Free for open source projects, which allows you to get a feel for how the entire system works as long as you don’t need private repositories. Paid for organizations, scaling up based on how many projects you have. The success of my project will hang on whether I can mix some of all these models without confusing potential new customers.

Two weeks notice: it just works out

John Saddington, who develops the Mac blog editor Desk, pointed to one of my recent posts and wrote:

“It does make me ponder, once again, what I’m doing with my so-called ‘career’ and if it’s the ‘right’ one. Although, every single time I think about that I know that I won’t like the answer… yet it always just works. I can’t tell you why or how I found or discovered this cadence, but, to each his own.”

Which in turn makes me reflect on my own career. I’ve been extremely lucky. The right jobs just seemed to have presented themselves to me when I needed them. I hope that luck hasn’t led to overconfidence as I take these next steps to become more independent. It would be a glorious failure if my luck runs out just when I need it most.

So I’ll have to work harder. I’ll have to better manage my finances, better plan and execute on new products, and better support each app so they’ll form a sustainable business. As I type this, I’m actually a little nervous for the first time since I put in my notice. Lots to do.

Tonight’s challenge: finish integrating CodeMirror into my new app, to provide Markdown syntax highlighting. I had never heard of this JavaScript library before this week. It seems very capable — a big jump forward on a feature I didn’t even think I could provide for 1.0.

Two weeks notice: new products

Tonight I worked on some bug fixes to one of the new apps I hope to ship for Riverfold Software. I have just a handful of beta users, but got some good feedback and bug reports last week, things I want to address before opening it up to more users.

When I think of the in-progress apps that I can ship soon to help increase revenue, there are really only 2:

  • Clipstart 2.0, which will be renamed Sunlit for Mac, to complement the iPhone version.
  • Unannounced microblogging-related web app, which may also come with iPhone and Mac apps.

The problem with Sunlit for Mac is that I’m requiring 10.11 El Capitan. So no matter how much progress I make on it, I can’t ship it until Apple releases their next version of Mac OS X. I want to chip away at the new features, but I can’t spend all of my time on it yet. I need to focus attention on projects that have a chance of bringing in additional revenue in the very near future, not by the end of the year.

So the microblogging app — the one I worked on tonight — keeps coming to the front. Since it’s mostly a web app, it has the least number of external API and App Store dependencies that would hold it up. I can ship the core functionality whenever it’s ready. The sooner I get it out the door, the sooner I’ll know if it’s something I can count on as business income.

Embrace cross-posting

When App.net was first taking off, many microbloggers struggled with how to decide where to post their short-form writing. Should they post some topics to Twitter and others to App.net? Should they cross-post everything to both services? At the time, there was an informal consensus that cross-posting was a cheat. It couldn’t take advantage of each platform’s strengths, and followers might often see the same post twice.

I now believe that cross-posting is a good thing. Photos, as one example, are frequently cross-posted to both Instagram and Facebook. Tweets can be sent to Twitter as well as our own blogs. Many apps like Instagram or Foursquare support and even encourage cross-posting. It’s good for developers because it helps spread knowledge of the publishing app, and it’s good for writers because it means there are multiple copies of our content.

It’s no secret that I’m building a microblog aggregation and publishing service. The goal is for us to get back to our roots with blogging — to write on our own web sites first, not as an afterthought to Twitter. Cross-posting is an important bootstrap for that.

If you don’t have a blog, start one today. It takes minutes to set up, and hardly any more time to wire up automatic tweeting via IFTTT from your RSS feed. Start with cross-posting and see if something interesting evolves from there.

Linkblogging and the open web

Dave Winer writes about Circa and their fundamental mistake of not embracing the open web with easy linking:

“Linkblogging is a real thing, and there are people who are good at it. But if there’s no URL for each story, you can’t linkblog it. So they didn’t grow fast enough. I think this is almost mathematical. No one, going forward, should try this. Each story must have a way to get to it through a Web address.”

We can be cynical about what the “open web” means, thinking it’s just marketing or spin. But it’s real and Dave shows how obvious it is to understand. It doesn’t matter if a web site or iPhone app is based around web technologies like HTTP and HTML. If it can’t be linked to or there’s no web API, it isn’t part of the open web.

Linkblogging is a special form of microblogging, and a significant part of Twitter is actually linkblogging. Tools that understand linkblogging will typically reduce the friction of writing by prompting for a quick note to go with a URL that’s already on the clipboard, for example. I don’t usually blog in this style, but I made sure these linkblog posts look great in the platform I’m working on.

Microblog timelines, Project Lightning, and River.js

I said that one important facet to microblogging is the timeline experience. This is a basic foundation to Twitter’s success, although they continue to de-emphasize or twist it. Their upcoming Project Lightning will attempt to curate and deliver tweets to you that are important regardless of who you’re following. From Mat Honan’s scoop on the project for Buzz Feed:

“Launch one of these events and you’ll see a visually driven, curated collection of tweets. A team of editors, working under Katie Jacobs Stanton, who runs Twitter’s global media operations, will select what it thinks are the best and most relevant tweets and package them into a collection.”

David Pierce wrote for Wired with further speculation on what it could mean for Twitter. David starts with the premise that Twitter is basically full of junk:

“Sure, yes, everyone’s Twitter is different—that’s one of the service’s best aspects, that you can follow anyone you want and see whatever you want. Unfortunately, this only works if everyone on Twitter isn’t terrible most of the time. They are.”

The essay continues, describing Project Lightning as the death of the Twitter timeline as we know it:

“With this change, Twitter doesn’t have to look like an endlessly flowing, context-free stream of tweets; instead, you can see a hand-curated set of tweets, links, images, and videos related to what’s happening right now. You see one at a time, swiping through them until you get to the end. And there’s an end!”

Since I haven’t seen this new feature, I can’t tell whether it’s a major shift in how Twitter is used. Federico Viticci is optimistic about it:

“This is another example of Twitter moving beyond Legacy Twitter and the belief that Twitter is still only a timeline of tweets in chronological order. The company has been enhancing the service with media improvements and design changes aimed at making Twitter less static – the opposite of a traditional timeline. If anything, they’ve been moving too slowly in this area.”

I agree with Federico on the value of curation and surfacing great content. But also the timeline must remain at the heart of Twitter, just as a reverse-chronological list of posts has been on every blog home page since the term weblog was coined 18 years ago.

Dave Winer calls these timelines “rivers”, and last week he open-sourced a browser for the River.js timeline files. Formatted as JSONP, you can think of River.js as conceptually the same as an RSS feed, except that it’s easy to display with HTML using only JavaScript.

I plan to fully support outputting River.js in the project I’m working on. For the last few years, Twitter has had a monopoly on the timeline. We need to break that up. The first step is encouraging microblogs everywhere, and the next step is to build tools that embrace the timeline experience. If you’d like to see my take on this, please sign up on the project announce list.

Microblogging with WordPress

I wrote at a high level how I improved my microblogging workflow before WWDC, but I’d like to use this post to show the surrounding details. I hope it’s useful to other folks who want to control their own content.

Post formats. Newer versions of WordPress have the concept of post formats. Normal blog posts have a “standard” format, but there are also these types: aside, image, link, quote, and status. For microblogs, I recommend “status”.

No titles. As I proposed in a previous blog post, for small posts we should revisit an original feature of RSS: the title of a post is optional. In fact, early blogging systems like Radio Userland didn’t even have a title field. When you’re writing a microblog post in WordPress, just leave the title blank, and if necessary update the post template to not include the title in HTML or the RSS feed.

RSS feeds. If you create a brand new WordPress blog for microblog posts, you won’t need to do anything special about RSS feeds. But if you share a single blog for both standard and status formats, you may want to have 2 feeds: one that excludes microblog posts and one that contains only microblog posts. Just use a special category for microblog posts in addition to the post format. Here’s a section of my .htaccess file where I use the “cat” parameter to include or exclude this category for my blog’s feeds.

iPhone posting. One of the lessons from Twitter is that posting should be effortless. Using WordPress on iOS is fine, but I’ve found that wiring up a simple posting recipe in IFTTT’s Do Note app makes it trivial to post from your phone. Use the WordPress action in IFTTT but also get this WordPress plug-in. Since the WordPress action can’t yet specify a post format, the plug-in can simulate it by using a special ifttt-status category. Here’s a screenshot of what my IFTTT recipe looks like.

Tweeting. Now that you have a blog that contains all your microblog posts, you can wire it up to Twitter to automatically cross-post them as tweets. You’re writing on your own site first, but the posts still go out to your Twitter followers. Again, use an IFTTT recipe that pulls from your microblog RSS feed and sends the post content to Twitter. Since I don’t post to Twitter, I’ve set mine to post to App.net instead. You can continue to reply and favorite directly on Twitter.

I’m very excited about the potential for microblogging. For the last year I’ve been working on a new platform around this stuff. By adopting some of these tips for WordPress, your microblog will be ready for my platform, but more importantly your blog will be open and extensible. Let’s get back to our roots with RSS and see what tools and web sites we can build.

Twitter Island

To cope with his dislike for how Twitter treats the microblog part of their platform, Brent Simmons has adopted a strategy of deleting old tweets:

“So I haven’t deleted my account or made it private. I will respond to some messages. It’s just that I’ll delete my response after a day or a week or whatever so that Twitter is a chat-only service for me.”

Justin Williams joked that Brent and I are now the sole inhabitants of “Manton Island”. That’s funny but it’s actually backwards; it’s Twitter that is the island. Everyone is there, though, in an overpopulated mess, so they don’t realize they’re cut off from the rest of the world — the open web, designed 25 years ago as an interconnected system of countless islands.

The risk on Twitter Island is that the monarchy can change the rules. Cars that once were great now can’t run on the road. Windows that once had a beautiful view now only look inward. Eventually maybe the whole thing sinks, with waterlogged tweets (which you thought you controlled) floating above the surface like lost bubbles over Atlantis.

The rule of the open web is much simpler: you own your content if it’s on your domain name. That’s why I have my microblog posts here on manton.org and with their own RSS feed.

I’ve been working on a new project that I think is the next step for microblogging. It still has elements of being an island, as most web apps inherently do. But mine isn’t just an island; it’s an island builder, with massive bridges to the mainland, to other nearby islands, to places we haven’t even dreamed up yet.

Textshots

Federico Viticci of MacStories provides some context for so-called textshots with the upcoming release of Wikipedia’s new app:

“The practice of sharing ‘textshots’ – screenshots of text, as they’re often referred to – has taken off among certain tech niches for two reasons. First, turning text into a static image is a primitive but effective workaround to circumvent Twitter’s 140-character limitations. But more importantly, humans have a natural tendency for convenience and visual feedback, and these two aspects are combined in the art of well crafted textshots: they save you a click, and they make shared passages of text more visually appealing.”

I don’t like textshots. They’re like DRM for tweets: a trade-off that obscures real metadata and text selection just to hack around Twitter’s limitations.

If I were building a Twitter-like social network, I’d certainly allow basic HTML styled text and inline images in a microblog post, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to encourage textshots.

New social networks for Apple Watch

The Verge highlights 6 apps that show the promise of third-party apps on the watch. About Twitter:

“As you’d expect, many of the biggest social networks are ready with Watch apps on day one. Of those, Twitter’s short-form updates seem to make the most sense for the Apple Watch — but it isn’t Twitter’s app itself that really stands out here. Rather, it’s that Twitter is one of the social networks that soared thanks to the rise of smartphones. The Watch may not change that, but there’s a chance that we’ll see new networks build around it, the same way that Twitter, Snapchat, and Tinder have all built up around the smartphone.”

This is certainly on my mind as I write about and work on microblogging projects.

If a tree falls

There’s no denying the fact that my writing would have a greater reach today if I was still active on Twitter and tweeting links there. Posting to my own microblog feed and cross-posting to the dwindling user base that is App.net has an obvious “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” aspect to it. If the post is read by so few people, some might argue that it can’t be as relevant to a larger conversation.

This doesn’t bum me out, though. It inspires me. It reminds me that I believe in something ambitious that has to be built in layers, starting small — a more open microblog platform that other apps can hang on to, encouraging new writing that will last.

Dave Winer calls this process of building successful platforms a coral reef. I think it’s a forest. Only the most passionate users of the open web can hear the tree falling today, but tomorrow there will be new growth. We plant a seed with each tool we build and with every RSS feed that’s wired up. There will eventually be many forests, crowded with plenty of people listening, interconnected regions that can’t be bound in the way a closed system inherently is.

If you join in and post, maybe your posts won’t be heard as clearly today. But in the future they will become the oldest, strongest pillars around which everything else grows.

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.

Ephemeral blogging

Thomas Brand has changed his blog to let short link-style posts essentially expire off his site, with no permanent archive:

“For the last five months I have been practicing a new way of blogging. Articles of reference receive a permalink with a link on my homepage and a link in my RSS feed. Quotations and comments are displayed in full on the homepage and in the RSS feed, but do not receive a permalink of their own. As I write, older quotations and comments are pushed down the homepage and lost from the site forever.”

And since that post may go away, I’ll quote a little bit more:

“I feel like disposable blogging lends itself to a more carefree publication, not only for me but my audience as well. When you pick up a magazine, you don’t expect to have access to every back issue.”

Meanwhile, Dave Winer has been working on his own new blogging platform:

“There haven’t been new features in blogging in a long time. Where’s the excitement? It looks to me like there’s been no effort made to factor the user interface, to simplify and group functionality so the first-time user isn’t confronted with the full feature set, left on his or her own to figure out where to go to create a new post or edit an existing one.”

I think the next 5 years of blogging are going to be a lot more varied than the previous 5 years. Medium-style UIs, Twitter-like microblogs, and of course traditional WordPress blogs, plus the work Dave is doing and whatever else people build as blogging takes off again. I’m looking forward to shipping an app that contributes something to all of this, too.

Typed.com and the state of blogging

Typed.com from Realmac Software looks great. Set to launch later this year, crowdfunding for the project has already passed $67k.

Ben Thompson wrote recently about how blogging has changed:

“Twitter has replaced link-posts and comments, Instagram has replaced pictures, and Facebook has replaced albums and blogrolls; now Medium is seeking to replace the essay. None of this is a bad thing: literally billions more people now have a much simpler way to express themselves online thanks to the ease-of-use that is characteristic of any service that seeks to focus on one particularly aspect of communication, a big contrast to a blog’s ability to do anything and everything relatively poorly.”

It’s a good post, although I’d say that even if those changes aren’t “a bad thing”, they can have bad consequences. Medium is a beautifully designed site and there is some great writing published there. But if it discourages people from owning their own content and writing at their own domain name, then it is a step back for the web. The best use of Medium is to cross-post there, to expand your audience, but not as the primary location for your writing.

If you’ve read between the lines on my posts about microblogging and open APIs, you may have guessed that I’ve also been working on a blog platform, although (I think) of a much different kind than Realmac’s Typed.com. I believe we need more blog platforms, not fewer. Accepting that Twitter and Facebook are the only way to publish online is like collapsing all the publishing systems down to a couple centralized tools. That approach is convenient in the short term but ultimately bad for the web.

The best and most diverse writing on the web still happens on individually-owned blogs. It’s linked to from Twitter, but it originates on blogs. If you’re not blogging than your writing doesn’t have the reach, doesn’t have the permanence, doesn’t have the impact that it could have.

And 2015 is going to be great for blogging. I’m looking forward to trying Typed.com and also sharing some of what I’ve been working on. If you want an early heads-up, sign up on the announcement mailing list.

Snippets category paging

Today I fixed some URL-related issues with this blog since moving to WordPress. Clicking through multiple pages of posts in a category now works again. I tweaked the category links slightly, dropping the .html extension, but all the old URLs are preserved through redirects.

Also a reminder if you’re subscribed to the RSS feed: my shorter, microblog-style posts go into the Snippets category, which is not included in the main feed. If you’d like to subscribe to those as well, just add the Snippets RSS feed to your news reader. I also still cross-post them to App.net.

Mailing list for new project

I’ve been working on something new around microblogging. Some people have guessed at what it is based on discussions Daniel and I have had on Core Intuition, but only a handful of people have seen it. Soon I want to open it up to more beta testers.

If you’re interested in the project, you can now sign up on the announcement mailing list for more information. I’ll send an email when the beta launches, as well as occasional updates for major new features. Hope you like it!

On the eve of Twitter Flight

Twitter’s new mobile developer conference is tomorrow. Marco Arment writes about whether developers should give Twitter another chance:

“Twitter started out as a developer-friendly company, then they became a developer-hostile company, and now they’re trying to be a developer-friendly company again. If I had to pick a company to have absolute power over something very important, Twitter wouldn’t be very high on the list.”

Dave Winer responds that for now, we’ll be okay trusting Twitter:

“Twitter is not going to screw us in the short term. They need us as much as we need them. Independent developers are where wholly new ideas come from. You can’t hire people to do that to work inside companies.”

The unique tragedy with Twitter’s changing attitude toward developers is that so many of Twitter’s early innovations did come from third-party developers. The new leadership displayed an incredible disrespect for the value developers added to both the ecosystem and core platform.

Unfortunately in the “short term” it’s still happening. Not 4 years ago, not 2 years ago — just 1 month ago, TwitPic announced they are shutting down after a legal threat from Twitter. It’s a loss for the web, leaving millions of broken image links in old tweets. This latest third-party developer casualty from Twitter’s policies comes practically on the eve of their new developer conference.

I agree with Dave’s larger points, though, on mirroring content to your own blog in addition to Twitter and Facebook. His Radio3 is a step forward for RSS and the open web while still embracing social networks. We need more tools like it.

2 years ago I chose to stop tweeting from my personal Twitter account as a minor protest. I don’t expect everyone else to take such an extreme stance. We can agree on open formats and the power of microblogging while disagreeing on how to interact with Twitter.

(Skeptics say that leaving Twitter is a pointless gesture, like a pebble thrown into a river. The timeline flows on and the outrage is washed away as if it didn’t happen. If leaving doesn’t make an impact, why bother? But it does matter. It matters not for the change it creates directly for others, but for how it changed me. In the same way that writing an essay will solidify your thoughts on a subject, posting that last tweet has given me a new clarity from which to judge whether my own products are on the right track, living up to my ideals.)

Back to the present. On the flight up to Çingleton and back, I finally got around to reading the book Hatching Twitter. Since I was on Twitter near the beginning, I remember many events covered in the book: the launch at SXSW, the CEO shuffling, the names of early engineers who I’ve crossed paths with. I love how the book blends together things that I know are real with other details that must be more contrived or exaggerated, creating an engaging read that would seem to border on historical fiction if we didn’t know that it was basically all true.

Hatching Twitter captures the power struggles inside Twitter and fills a book with them. And that’s really the foundation for Marco’s post: based on Twitter’s history, we probably haven’t seen the last leadership change at the company. Twitter might have a strong future but it surely has an uncertain one.

My next product is about microblogging, and it has to launch in the real world where Twitter dominates. But I view that as a reality, not a feature requirement. I think I’ll be happier as a developer, and my app will actually be more compelling, if I design and build it for a world without Twitter.