Micro.blog open to allComments

Massive congratulations to Manton Reece as he has announced today that, to close out 2017, micro.blog is now open to the public:

”Micro.blog is now available to anyone. There’s a limit of 100 new sign-ups each day, so that we can better respond to feedback as the community grows.”

This year has been one of significant change for me, as I’ve said before, thanks in no small part to the influence of micro.blog and how it has made me think about how I should treat my own site.

So, what is micro.blog and why should you use it?

Rather than just another social network m.b is a network of “micro blogs” that lets you follow and reply to other people in a Twitter-like timeline but the posts don’t solely exist within that timeline, they live on the blogs and are brought in via RSS.

I personally tend to think of micro.blog as like an RSS reader with a social layer allowing you to comment on other people’s posts via the timeline. It’s very much a hybrid environment and what it does depends on how you use it.

In addition to having blogs hosted on the service itself you can hook it up to your own site - as I do with this WordPress blog. This lets you post either via your own site or the m.b apps or website and, if your blog supports IndieWeb Webmentions, receive any replies as native comments. In that regard, I use micro.blog as a comment system like Disqus.

It’s this distinction that justifies why I still engage in a quasi-social environment when I have sworn off of the likes of Twitter.

The benefit of using micro.blog is that you own your posts and can, should you want to, automatically cross-post them to Twitter or Facebook as the service supports this. The IndieWeb is not out to replace existing social avenues but to interact with them while allowing people to retain greater ownership and control.

If you have your own blog but don’t want a separate microblog you don’t need to do anything differently, just hook up your RSS feed and simply use it as an extra layer of engagement.

We put so much on social networks and the majority is quickly lost and forgotten - it’s such a waste of effort. I firmly believe that people should get back to writing for themselves in their own spaces and micro.blog is a great facilitator for this.

So, well done Manton and thanks for a great year!

Micro.blog open to all

Blogging from the MacComments

My phone is really my PC - that’s Primary Computer - and, as I’ve written numerous times, that’s where I do just about everything including 99.9% of my blogging, image manipulations and even coding.

While I have an iPad I almost never use it; the phone is just far more convenient and easier to hold and use in so many more circumstances. People talk about a mobile mindset but, just because I use iOS on a phone it doesn’t automatically mean the same behaviour will occur when using an iPad.

Or a laptop for that matter.

I find that I use the MacBook far more than I ever did my Windows laptops but it still feels ridiculously underused. Perhaps that’s about to change.

I’m writing this in Ulysses, having subscribed to the app and pretty certain I’m going to stick with it, but Manton Reece has just launched a beta Mac client for micro.blog which may well encourage me to use the MacBook more than I ever have.

I was lucky enough to have an extra day to play with it before launch; I’d expressed an interest in testing and the fact that I’m using WordPress instead of a hosted blog was probably a good opportunity for early feedback.

Manton has repeatedly said that this is just a version 1.0 app but, I have to say, it’s been rock solid. Browsing, replying and posting to the blog have all been a breeze and I’ve not had a single issue or error.

It will be nice when some of the additional functionality from the iOS version gets included (such as automatically converting from status to standard post and prompting for a title when you go over 280 characters) but, other than, this is a fully usable and (so far) reliable app which is great to have sat open while doing other things.

Good job Manton. 👍

Blogging from the Mac

The beauty of micro.blogComments

In the latest episode of the Core Int podcast Manton re-emphasised that micro.blog is a blogging platform rather than a social network.

It's flexibility, however, means it can be different things to different people.

For me, rather than being a blogging platform, it has become an extension of my blog almost like a comment engine. The webmention support means that the conversations around my posts get fed straight back.

Because I don't take advantage of micro.blog's hosting it is definitely more a social environment for me and, because of this, I see how it starts to achieve one of Manton's goals: to act as a layer tying the blogosphere together.

If we go back to Tantek's reasoning for why social networks took over (a combined reading and posting interface) we also see the true depths of the service.

It looks like a basic Twitter-style network but that is only scratching the surface; its simplicity belies its power.

At its core is a feed reader presenting posts in the usual reverse chronological order but, although it feels like you are following users on a social network you are actually subscribing to their blogs - and not just microblogs depending on what feeds they include.

The social element allows us to reply to posts in situ but these aren't simply replies, they are also comments which, as mentioned above, can automatically co-exist on externally hosted blogs.

And then you can use exactly the same interface to post to your own blog, be it natively hosted by micro.blog (a massive part of the offering) or external, or any other tool that supports the APIs used.

While a degree of web plumbing can be used to back feed posts from social networks to our own sites, micro.blog does all this natively - and that is the beauty of it.

There is a lot going on behind the deceptively simple façade.

The beauty of micro.blog

Rethinking the feedsComments

Colin Devroe made a good point.

He is subscribed to my main feed and wondered why he didn't see my Watch follow-up post about the woman on the train.

The answer was that it was a microblog post and, therefore, in the /feed/microblog feed instead.

Emailing back and forth about it made realise that this is a bit pointless.

I was originally going to keep the microblog separate from the longer posts and, because micro.blog doesn't want post titles for micro posts, set up a custom feed with no item title element.

It was my intention to not include the shorter posts in the main feed as it had always been for more essay-type posts but, ever since I decided not to separate micro posts on the site, I have been using standard and status posts interchangeably - the only difference is whether they have a title or not.

So, for common sense to prevail (and for related posts not to be ignored based on length) I am going to remove the exclusion for micro posts from the main feed.

The microblog feed will still exist, as will the separate podcast feed, but everything will now be in the main feed.

It has been quite a moot point anyway. A status post of 281 characters without a title would have already been included in the feed being not be added to the microblog category.

Arguing the toss over character count is stupid.

Rethinking the feeds

More thoughts on ownershipComments

Some folks like to own everything they do on the web, whether by POSSE or PESOS their own site becomes the absolute bible for their online existence.

And that's their prerogative.

But, as I've said before, I believe that some content belongs where it is posted and doesn't need to be aggregated back to the mothership.

The problem is context!

Yes, being able to feed replies, and even whole conversations, back to your own site can help but is most beneficial to the original poster.

It's good for me to have all replies from micro.blog fed back as comments on my post; each of those comments depends on the OP and belongs with it. But do they truly belong on the commentor's own site, isolated from the post they are a response to?

Hold up a second. You're probably thinking I'm being hypocritical as I post "replies" on the blog. So what's the deal?

There are degrees.

There are different types of reply and they should be treated accordingly.

Social replies like on Twitter or Facebook don't, in my opinion, need to be owned - they belong in the context of the social network and that particular conversation.

If they contain something meaningful, perhaps a specific point you want to share further, then they can be rewritten as a blog post which creates a new context for it.

Then you have the longer replies, posts in their own right, inspired by, riffing off, or in response to, the original. These have a shared context but are more standalone and deserve to be owned.

They are what blogging conversations used to be made of before the social networks stole the conversation but, thanks to things like webmentions, can also exist as comments on the original.

(Without the need to copy/paste.)

It's good to collect the important stuff but we should pay more attention to that context.

Just as not everything needs to be pulled back to your own site does it all need to be pushed out and cross-posted as well? This is something I've been wrestling with for a while, especially in the context of micro.blog.

Currently everything from the blog ends up there but does it really need to? And if the answer is no (which it probably is) how is that best managed without introducing a layer of complexity? A layer that detracts from the simplicity of posting.

Perhaps I'm overthinking it but I think we need to draw the lines somewhere.

More thoughts on ownership

On titles

There has been an interesting discussion on micro.blog about handling post titles in WordPress to play nicely with the service.

Micro.blog treats posts with titles as long form and displays the title as a link back to the original piece (even if under 280 characters) - the idea is that microposts (like tweets) do not have titles.

I've previously mentioned three ways to handle them:

  • remove the contents of the item title element in the RSS feed
  • replace the title with the date so that micro.blog ignores it
  • use a custom RSS template that omits the item title element altogether

I originally came up with the idea of replacing empty post titles for microposts because I got fed up with lists of items marked '(no title)' in /wp-admin - it made if difficult to manage.

I also use a custom RSS template so could actually give microposts titles if I wanted and it wouldn't impact anything. Bruce likes to do just that.

But, beyond the technical aspects there are questions about style and convention.

As my approach to blogging has evolved I have put titles on ever fewer posts. With a daily chronological stream titles seem to interrupt the flow. I also think you can limit yourself with titles as they can influence your writing and pull posts in directions you don't intend.

They are still preferable and necessary in certain situations, however.

Manton wrote:

"I do think long posts should have titles. It makes it easier to read in a timeline view."

He's got a point which is why I've gradually adjusted my view to (hopefully) better differentiate between posts: improved spacing, making the permalink hash bold, etc.

With the chronological view, my blog goes against convention anyway. His comment is, however, a handy reminder that the user experience must always be considered.

On titles

Whither microblogging?

I never actually considered Twitter to be a microblogging platform, at least not for my own purposes.

At its most basic level your Twitter profile fits that brief (a reverse chronological list of short posts from a single author) but the lack of true ownership and the overarching social aspect meant I could never really see it as such.

It just never felt like a blog, even a micro one.

A new way

Micro.blog seeks to usher in a new era for microblogging but if there wasn't the self-hosted option I feel it would suffer in the same way. If everything was just hosted on the platform then you would essentially have just another Twitter clone.

But it's not, the idea behind it is wider reaching. However, that still doesn't mean there aren't issues.

I think Micro.blog's one problem is that it has multiple use cases and, because of this, some don't really understand exactly what it is.

The description on its About page includes:

"Micro.blog shows recent posts from sites and people you are following"

Fair enough, it's an aggregator, but we also have:

"Micro.blog is a new social network for independent microblogs"

Two use cases within the first couple of lines but they are not incompatible - remember FriendFeed? Later, the description expands and clarifies this position:

"Instead of trying to be a full social network, Micro.blog is a thin layer that glues the open web together, making it more useful. Micro.blog adds discovery and conversations on top of previously unconnected blog posts."

Now we're getting somewhere; this is where it starts to get interesting and is what really appeals to me on a visceral level.

But people have a hard time understanding "layers" - we only need to go back to Google+ to see this. It was never meant to be just a social network, it was supposed to be the glue that bound all of your Google activity together.

Just like Google+ some can only see Micro.blog as a social network, they don't understand why it is needed, why they should participate or the relationship with content on your own site. As I mentioned yesterday, many just don't see the need.

Add hosted microblogging to the mix and some are confused about Micro.blog's purpose. Surely, if microblogs are hosted then they are not independent as mentioned above.

Connected

Whether you get the purpose of Micro.blog or not, blogs themselves are more valuable, more powerful when they are connected, when there is an exchange of ideas. I go on about having conversations via blog posts as I feel this is an important part of the web - how it used to be and how it should be again.

But Micro.blog can't do this alone which is why it sits squarely atop the principles of the #indieweb and why so much emphasis is placed on webmentions.

The hope is that as Micro.blog grows, the proliferation of webmentions will drive the adoption of ways to consume them across different blogging platforms, in turn driving wider adoption of the indieweb as a whole.

As I have also written, I hope that microblogging may spawn a resurgence in longer form writing - especially on people's own sites. If a mechanism exists to reduce the isolation of blogging then more may be tempted to share their thoughts in more depth.

The indieweb provides such a mechanism but the technology and terminology are beyond many. Micro.blog has the advantage of using a familiar trope (the social network) to introduce this mechanism and its concepts in a more accessible way.

It just needs to better explain what it is and how its different use cases relate.

It just needs to better explain why.

Whither microblogging?

The state of blogging, update: recovery and discoveryComments

In September last year I wrote that a lot of the blogs I historically followed had shut down or just stopped being updated. People didn't appear to be writing any more - at least not on their own sites.

We are constantly told there are millions of blogs out there but our experiences often imply that the numbers and reality don't always tally.

But, more recently, I think the problem is not that people aren't blogging, but finding those that are.

Recovery

Blogging seemed to die back for a while but, as I wrote more recently, getting involved with the Micro.blog and, now, #indieweb communities has meant finding people who are, again, enthusiastic about their own sites.

As a result I have been gradually re-populating my RSS reader with good, old-fashioned personal blogs.

But I still want more!

One of my hopes for Micro.blog was that it might encourage more people to write in long form once they got used to self-hosting their microposts.

Since the launch to Kickstarter backers I have, indeed, seen a number state it has prompted them to return to their sites with more vigor and become re-engaged with what they are, or could be, doing.

This is fantastic, but more needs to be done. A lot more.

Discovery

The biggest issue, as with so many other areas online, is of discovery. I'm not so sure that the blog rolls, directories and blogging networks of yesteryear, however, are the right solutions to the problem.

We need to get better at both sharing and advertising blogs, those of others and our own. We need to reclaim the conversation from social media by using our own sites to reply and comment - this is where elements of the indieweb come into their own.

But, most importantly we need to keep reading and writing, engaging with each other via our blogs to, at least, enable organic discovery.

The state of blogging, update: recovery and discovery

Removing post titles from WordPress RSS feedsComments

I previously detailed a method of automatically replacing blank post titles so that I didn't have multiple items (posted from the Micro.blog app) listed as '(no title)' in the WordPress back end.

Micro.blog wants posts to not have titles but will treat certain text as blank, such as the date, hence the above.

If a status coming from a blog (via RSS) has a title, or one not in a recognised format, Micro.blog will treat it as a long form post and just display it as a title and link. Not ideal.

Jimmy Baum (@jimmymansaray) wanted to have just the date as status titles but this falls foul of these limitations.

So, how to allow different title formats on your own blog but then pass data to Micro.blog in such a way it displays those statuses correctly?

the_title_rss

WordPress allows you to customise your RSS feed on the fly by accessing different aspects of it and applying a filter. Just like modifying post contents prior to saving or display.

The post title in an RSS feed is logically called using the_title_rss() so we need to find a way to modify this based on the specific set of requirements.

Just as I do, Jimmy uses a category called 'microblog' with a dedicated feed so this is what we need to filter on. After a few tests it seemed the most reliable way was to check against the_category_rss() which lists the categories for the current post as would be displayed in the feed itself, like the below for my previous post:

<category><![CDATA[Podcast]]></category>
<category><![CDATA[Distribution]]></category>
<category><![CDATA[Microcast]]></category>
<category><![CDATA[Syndication]]></category>

We can then simply check for the presence of the required category within that string and return an empty title.

The code to do so should be as follows:

function remove_post_title_rss ( $title ) {
  $categories = get_the_category_rss();
  $pos = strpos($categories, 'microblog');
  if ( $pos != '' ) {
    $title = '';
  }
  return $title;
}

add_filter( 'the_title_rss', 'remove_post_title_rss');
Removing post titles from WordPress RSS feeds

The duality of microbloggingComments

Further to the points I made in "Self-hosted microblogging - where does it fit?" I've been having more thoughts on how best to use Micro.blog and fit it into my own online ecosystem.

As I carry my microposts on my own blog I opted not to use the two free months hosting reward from the Kickstarter campaign - although that is still an option I could exercise later - it was the different approach of being self-hosted that really interested me more than just the social networking side.

There is a duality to the service between hosted accounts and self-hosted that impacts what I do psychologically and introduces a second, virtual duality.

There are two approaches to data publishing and use as discussed on the #indieweb site:

  • POSSE, Post (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere
  • PESOS, Post Elsewhere, Syndicate (on your) own site

The self-hosted side of Micro.blog takes items from your own site and publishes them to the network (POSSE) but using the iOS app makes it feel like a PESOS environment where you post to the network and it then feeds back to your own site.

There is an element of cognitive dissonance and takes a bit of getting used to.

The actual process is that the iOS app posts to your site using XMLRPC or micropub (depending on the type of site) which then pings the Micro.blog servers letting them know a new post is available. Micro.blog then pulls in that new post via your sites RSS feed.

Except for replies - which are held solely on the server (at least for now) which I feel is right, having written:

"Webmentions may provide reply notification to your blog but the conversation itself is purely, and should be, a social construct thanks to the context of its creation."

Holding back

Another duality exists in the nature of microblog posts which comes back to where you post influencing what you post.

Using the app with full view of the timeline is more likely to encourage social or conversational entries as opposed to posting off-network. It's an interesting challenge to maintain consistency even though everything is effectively coming from your own property.

For someone who backed the service and is, therefore, a de facto beta tester I'm not posting anywhere near as much as I could or should be.

I find myself resisting the urge to post so as not to have platitudes or socially oriented posts fed back to the blog. Context, in this regard, has a lot to answer for!

It's very much in my head and I need to either get over it or come up with a way around it.

I could just accept that I won't be posting directly to the service very much or separate the microblog from the long form posts. I like the juxtaposition of different post types, however, so think removing them from the main flow would be a loss.

It's going to take some time to settle on a compromise.

The duality of microblogging