While working for an outsourcing company a number of years ago I came up with the phrase "the apathy of the outsourced worker" as a play on "the loneliness of the long distance runner."
No matter how well the client might integrate outsourcers you're still not truly part of the team and something always comes up to remind you of it, normally around pay or contracts or benefits. You don't have a stake in the organisation you are effectively working for and, while based on the client site, are isolated from your actual employer leading to a feeling of being stuck in limbo, unsure of where your loyalties really lie.
When looking to leave I told myself I would never work for outsourcer again - why would I want to put myself through that a second time - but ended up at a different outsourcer because of the promises they made at interview.
Similarly, having become disillusioned with, and eventually leaving, the major social networks some might question why I would want to dive back in to another online social environment and potentially expose myself to more of the same.
Just because certain networks have failed their users it doesn't mean that those same users don't want to be social, they just need to find another, hopefully better, way to do it.
In an episode of the Internet Friends podcast Jon Mitchell talks about maintaining your relationships when you don't have the default options of Facebook or Twitter to fall back on. How do you reach out, how often, and who should control that relationship? Because you are the one who has eschewed what are seen as the "normal" channels, forcing an additional means of communication on others, do you have to rely on them to dictate the pace and frequency of connection?
It's an interesting question. (Which reminds me, I need to drop him a mail.)
Although the number of people quitting the networks has increased, thanks to a growing distrust and recent scandal, they are still an incredibly small minority. While the attraction of the open web may be strong some will inevitably embrace it but then think "now what?" They may have been unhappy on the network but at least they were connected; after leaving there is a real danger of becoming isolated.
Some may question the sense in leaving Twitter and then jumping on to a service like micro.blog. Why decry social networks and sign up to another?
- it's not a social network in the normal sense, and
I've outlined before how micro.blog shares certain attributes with somewhere like Twitter but is a different beast because it is actually the hosting and social connection of blogs.
It is the second point that I really want to emphasise, however – promises. Unlike the empty promises made at interview by that second outsourcing company, the indieweb promises to put you in control and can deliver. Having your own site and using that as your main identity. No algorithms to determine what you should see. No ads placed alongside your posts unless you choose to put them there.
Micro.blog is the first mass market implementation of the indieweb that aims to make things as simple as posting to Facebook or Twitter. Because of this, I feel it delivers on that promise. People may see the apps and the timeline and think "why should I just give all my content to another social network, put it all in another silo?" but that's not what this is.
To understand micro.blog you have to think of it more like WordPress.com or a web hosting company. The core service - and what users actually pay for - is to have their blog hosted in an incredibly simple environment, the difference is that an additional social layer is placed on top which negates those fears of isolation mentioned above.
You don't have to have your own domain or point it to your microblog - it's better if you do - but it doesn't stop you from being able to export your posts and move them to another host.
Posting to, and commenting on, blogs is as easy as sending a tweet. Because of the timeline (which is essentially the output of an RSS reader) you don't have to waste time visiting multiple websites to see what's new.
Micro.blog is firmly built on indieweb principles and, in my view, has achieved its ultimate goal: to make all of the technical stuff (like microformats and webmentions) invisible to the user unless they choose to go under the hood and take advantage of these capabilities out on the wider web - as I do with this blog.
This all helps further the overall open/indieweb agenda.
But there's another side to this.
I backed the micro.blog Kickstarter because I was already disillusioned with the status quo, understood the vision, and really wanted Manton to succeed. However, I am aware that, being self hosted, I haven't contributed anything financially since.
There's an element of guilt to that.
I have no need for a hosted microblog seeing as everything happens here and I don't use the facility to cross-post to Facebook or Twitter (kind of hard when I don't have accounts anymore) so the option to provide revenue to support my usage of the social elements (even if only $2 a month) via that avenue is not available.
In an episode of the Core Intuition podcast Manton talks about the importance of keeping the platform open, so that the social layer extends beyond its timeline, and not trying to force everyone who joins to be a paying customer. That would push people away who, like me, have their own blog and would only serve to reinforce the potential for social isolation on the open web.
Like the introduction of his new podcasting feature and app (Wavelength) he discusses how growth and functionality, even if not used by some, attracts others and adds value to the community as a whole. Even those who are not paying customers are still contributing to that community thus making it better for everyone - it's the value of the network effect. Just look at Facebook!
A rising tide floats all boats, as the saying goes.
While I agree, it sometimes feels a little hollow. There is this nagging doubt about not actually providing enough value to make it worth it, to properly offset the cost of giving a non-fare paying passenger a free ride.
So that's why I choose to write about micro.blog, to extol its virtues and those of the indieweb as a whole. Even if the service doesn't succeed in the long term it has created a blueprint, an example of how such a service can operate. That's why I share any code or solutions I create to make its interaction with WordPress easier. If I can help others get started or prevent issues and frustrations from driving them away it benefits all. A rising tide.
My promise is to do what I can, as much or as little as that may be, to help it fulfil its promise.