Tumblr and… App.net

Thanks to the “on this day” feature that Jonathan LaCour built for Micro.blog-hosted blogs, I noticed that 7 years ago yesterday I blogged about App.net reaching their funding goal. I still get asked about App.net sometimes. It is easy to look back on something that didn’t last and pick it apart. I’d rather look at the good things that came out of App.net.

When it was shutting down, I blogged my thanks to the App.net community:

I wrote in 2013 that it was not just a Twitter clone but an amplifier for applications that couldn’t be built before. It came along at the right time, took off, and then faded. The App.net founders deserve significant credit and thanks for trying something risky and succeeding to grow a community that lasted so long.

There is a guiding principle in Micro.blog that differentiates it from nearly every other platform. It’s not only about creating an alternative social network. The foundation is around blogs and IndieWeb standards because that’s part of unrolling the damage caused by massive silos.

Micro.blog is also designed around blogs because it gives immediate value to the platform, insulating it against the network effect that drives the success or failure of most other social networks: not all your friends are there yet. Unlike ad-supported platforms, Micro.blog aligns its business model with customer needs. Subscriptions for blog hosting let us deliver the best features we can, and also help support the rest of the platform.

Brent Simmons really said it best:

Micro.blog is not an alternative silo: instead, it’s what you build when you believe that the web itself is the great social network.

I often look back at this quote to help guide me as I evaluate the direction of Micro.blog. I believe that Micro.blog is the first platform of its kind. The closest competition might be Tumblr, acquired yesterday by Automattic.

Of course it was coincidence that Automattic acquired Tumblr pretty much exactly 7 years after App.net was funded. No one is paying attention to those dates. And yet, now that I’ve noticed it, there’s a kind of symbolism to it. Tumblr is effectively being re-funded.

Like Micro.blog, Tumblr is about making blogging easier. Like Micro.blog, Tumblr allows custom domain names for your blog, something no other major social network allows. Unlike Micro.blog, however, Tumblr’s community is only Tumblr blogs. Micro.blog’s community brings together not just Micro.blog-hosted blogs, but people using WordPress, Mastodon, or home-grown IndieWeb solutions.

Matt Mullenweg and the Automattic team have a bunch of work ahead of them to integrate Tumblr into the WordPress ecosystem. I don’t know how that’s going to play out, but I know that preserving all the Tumblr blogs and giving them new life is a good thing.

I wonder if Micro.blog and Automattic are on parallel tracks. Two companies wildly different in size and scope, but we can all learn from platforms that have come and gone, finding our own path to a shared vision of the future that embraces content ownership, supports healthy communities, and deemphasizes massive social networks. I’m wishing the team at Automattic the best.

Manton Reece @manton