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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Audio: My armchair analysis of Automattic acquiring Tumblr

Date recorded: August 19, 2019

Yesterday while driving (sorry for the audio quality) I recorded a quick audio bit to distill my thoughts on why Automattic acquired Tumblr.

Short-version: Automattic sees Tumblr as an entry point for new WordPress.com customers – especially youth. For someone to go from idea to full commerce or publishing success via WordPress.com’s current offering could seem cumbersome and not nearly as hip as Tumblr.

Listen to the audio bit for more details. We’ll see if I’m right in 5 years.

Links relevant to this audio bit:

Matt Mullenweg on how Verizon handled the Tumblr sale

Matt Mullenweg, stressing the more important aspects of the Tumblr sale:

First, they chose to find a new home for Tumblr instead of shutting it down. Second, they considered not just how much cash they would get on day one, but also — and especially — what would happen to the team afterward, and how the product and the team would be invested in going forward. Third, they thought about the sort of steward of the community the new owner would be. They didn’t have to do any of that, and I commend them for making all three points a priority.

It isn’t surprising that the press, and even me, commented on the rumored sale price of Tumblr. Tumblr skyrocketed from the little platform that could to $1B+ acquisition – only to be sold for far, far less. That is a story.

However, Matt is right, Verizon could have handled the sale of Tumblr and Flickr very differently – focusing on their upside. Or, they could have simply cancelled them altogether. They didn’t do that.

So kudos to Verizon’s BD team for finding good homes for these services they inherited.

Automattic acquires Tumblr

Matt Mullenweg, on this Tumblog:

When the possibility to join forces became concrete, it felt like a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have two beloved platforms work alongside each other to build a better, more open, more inclusive – and, frankly, more fun web. I knew we had to do it.

Let’s get a few things out of the way immediately. Matt’s team acquired Tumblr for beans. That alone is a big part of this story. Yahoo! paid just over $1B for the platform and Automattic, reportedly, paid somewhere in the $3M area. In the world of acquisitions, this may end up being one of the most profitable acquisitions made by a tech company. Time will tell but I’d be willing to bet that Automattic will profit on this acquisition in a very short period of time.

Second, the tech stack of Tumblr is going to be replaced by WordPress. This is good for a variety of reasons. It ensures Tumblr will very likely be around in some form or another in perpetuity while still retaining its unique posting UI that its community no-doubt loves. I know I love it. I wish I had the same thing for my WordPress blog. Maybe I will get that now?

It also likely means that Tumblr and WordPress users can move back-and-forth between these two platforms much easier. I remember when I switched The Watercolor Gallery, which began as a Tumblog in 2010, to WordPress. It took me weeks to get everything right. Presumably this will no longer be the case.

And lastly, Automattic is an excellent home for Tumblr. They don’t just throw things out like Google, or apparently Verizon. They believe in building things for the long haul, doing them openly (for the most part), and retaining the ethos of the companies they acquire.

Both Flickr and Tumblr have seemingly found good homes.

I’m cdevroe on Tumblr.

Leo Laporte leaves Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook

Leo Laporte:

Yesterday I deactivated my Twitter account and kicked Tumblr to the curb. A couple of weeks ago I did the same with Instagram. A month or so before that I killed Facebook. And I survived. No, thrived!

I had deleted my Twitter account in the past and lived. And while I haven’t deleted my account again I am on Twitter far less than ever. I spend much more time in my RSS reader (like in 2003 era), dabble on Micro.blog, and now on Mastodon a bit. It feels so much better even if decentralized.

Tumblr Kit by Matthew Buchanan

Tumblr Kit:

A jQuery framework for ajax loading post content via Tumblr’s v2 API and rendering it in your document using customisable JsRender templates. See the demo.

Interesting. Works well and is a pretty great framework already.

More Google searches for Tumblr than for blog. Unless you act now!

Trying to increase engagement through Twitter and Tumblr

Jason Kottke recently redesigned his site. His analysis is interesting to read for anyone who has done the same for their site. Here is what he said on attempting to make his site’s Twitter stream a little more engaging.

One of the small changes I made was to stop using post titles for posting to Twitter. I had hoped that using more descriptive text would make the tweets more easily retweetable…look at this tweet for example and compare to the title of the post it links to. This hasn’t really happened, which is surprising and disappointing.

And, this about Tumblr.

That big Tumblr increase was due tokottke.org’s new Tumblr blog. Having kottke.org posts be properly rebloggable is paying off. In addition, it’s got over 800 followers that are reading along in the dashboard. I’d like to see that number increase, but I’d probably need to engage a bit more on Tumblr for that to happen.

I don’t know what Jason is trying to gain by having a Tumblr blog for Kottke.org – besides the same benefits of having a Twitter stream or RSS feed – but as most of you probably know I gave up on getting engagement on Tumblr.

For the most part the Tumblr crowd seems a click-happy bunch. If they can’t click a single button to engage (like, retweet) they won’t do much else. So long as you can figure out a model that works within those constraints I suppose it could end up paying off.

Tumblr’s new Terms of Service

Tumblr, in their recently-updated Terms of Service that all logged in users are being asked to agree to.

You have to be at least 13 years old to use Tumblr. We’re serious: it’s a hard rule, based on U.S. federal and state legislation, even if you’re 12.9 years old. If you’re younger than 13, don’t use Tumblr. Ask your parents for an Xbox or try books.

I’d add, if you’re less than 13, try going outside. But this is good.

Tumblr, audience, and engagement

The success of The Watercolor Gallery thus far has been extremely gratifying. I really enjoy the effort it takes (and believe me it is an effort) to find art to feature, to dig for the details of a painting or an artist online, and to describe what inspires me about it.And so far that effort has really paid dividends for me and my art.

Since the few enormous inflection points a few months ago (such as being featured on Tumblr’s official Tumblr Tuesday) growth of the gallery’s audience has ceased. A few more Tumblr followers trickle in each week, a few more people “Like” the gallery on Facebook, and follow @h2ocolor on Twitter – but it appears that the same number of people that come in also walk back out of the door. This could easily be because, like Twitter, a huge number of accounts on Tumblr are spam or bots or junk accounts and they will, inevitably go inactive or be deleted. But I can’t be sure of that so I’ll just have to assume that a Tumblr follow is about as loyal a connection as reused, wet tape.

I try not to focus too much on statistics but also engagement. For me the best way to know if people are finding the gallery useful or enjoyable is how they interact and use the information on the site.For the most part, every single painting that gets featured on the gallery gets some sort of attention from the audience on Tumblr. Tumblr allows people to quickly “like” or to “reblog” a post to their own blogs. The viral nature of these two features make growing a new site fairly quick and easy. But it also creates, what would seem to be, a false sense of the level of engagement from the community.

It is so easy to like and reblog posts that anything above and beyond those two interactions is seemingly difficult to get from the Tumblr audience. Perhaps they are spoiled (and I mean this in a nice way) and they don’t need to do any more than that. If it takes more than a few seconds to decide what they are going do with a post they simply will move onto the next one. And believe me, there is a ‘next one’ waiting.

Tumblr’s staggering growth is fairly well known at this point. The amount of content flooding into the system, especially for those that follow dozens or hundreds of Tumblr-powered sites, must be completely overwhelming. A quick reload of one’s Tumblr Dashboard would probably reveal 10 new posts every few minutes or even seconds. Scrolling through that list and quickly clicking like or reblog has probably become a habit for many Tumblr addicts. As an example of this; for about three months straight a single Tumblr account was liking every single one of The Watercolor Gallery’s posts almost immediately after the post was published. My guess is that this person was wholly addicted to Tumblr’s Dashboard and sat on the site for the better part of the day clicking “like” on anything that rushed passed their nose. I can’t know for sure, but the patterns that I’ve seen – like the one described, certainly lend themselves to the idea that the Tumblr audience is chocked full of happy clickers.

A good example of this is the Artist Interview series on the site. By far the hardest posts to craft are the interviews of these artists. These posts are also the least liked and reblogged. I’d also wager that 90% of the people that follow the gallery on Tumblr don’t even read the interviews. Far more traffic comes from the artist linking to the interview and Google than it does from the Tumblr Dashboard. Obviously, one can’t be sure of what is read and not read on the Dashboard – since there are no stats for that – but if someone took the time to read the entire interview I’d have to assume they’d take the time to click “like”. I don’t think it is that the interviews aren’t good or that they aren’t valuable. As a watercolorist myself I find them extremely valuable and I’m sure that most other watercolorists would too (if not simply interesting or entertaining). I think the Tumblr audience simply skips the interviews on their Dashboard and move onto the next photo/video/easily-digestable post.

If I would have started with a WordPress-powered blog it is doubtful The Watercolor Gallery would have seen the amazingly quick growth that it did. However, would the growth have continued? Would the engagement with the community been greater? I don’t know. I don’t regret my decision to use Tumblr to power the gallery and it is a decision that I’m going to stick with for the foreseeable future. I just hope to put in some effort into growing the gallery’s audience even more and gaining a loyal, active audience that will appreciate everything the gallery offers.

David Karp on Tumblr’s downtime and Tumblr does a 180

I know, my blog is turning into a Tumblr-a-thon. But I’ve done this before when I used to talk about Brightkite, Ma.gnolia, WordPress, Twitter and other services that I become attached to and care about. This is my blog and I can cry if I want to.

Here is how David Karp, founder of Tumblr, recently commented on Tumblr’s downtime to TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfield.

“Karp admits that the company was “unprepared” for that kind of hockey-stick hypergrowth, but with a new $30 million round in the bank, he says his team is working round the clock to keep scaling and catching up with all the sudden demand. Karp says the growth is coming in part from college students, who really took to the service only since September, 2009 or so and, more recently, international growth in Europe, Japan,and Brazil. He also tells me separately that 65 percent of those pageviews come from Tumblr users looking at their Dashboards (which shows the stream of posts from other people on Tumblr they follow).”

Good.

Also I just found this post on Karp’s blog that has this interesting bit.

“Ah, yes – an incredible opportunity and challenge!

The really impressive piece is that our engineers have been keeping up with this surge in traffic while serving fewer and fewer errors every week. It’s been a rough couple of months, but we’re almost there.”

“Opportunity and challenge” is the perfect way to put it. Karp gets it. Now if only Tumblr assigned someone on the staff to do updates and share stats on these “fewer errors every week” via the main Staff blog?Oh wait, they already did.

Tumblr did a 180. Congrats.

Again, Tumblr’s investors seem only focused on Tumblr’s traffic

I’ve already said all I’ve wanted to say about why I don’t think Tumblr’s team and investors should be focused solely on traffic. But, it appears they still are.

Bijan Sabet, partner at Spark Capital and one of the lead investors in Tumblr, today on his tumblog:

“i gotta talk to @davidkarp about this. if i’m reading this correctly, it looks like Tumblr is *growing* by 200M page views per week.”

You’ll be hard pressed to find him talking too much about their downtime.

And again (because I feel as though this post could come across the wrong way), I’m willing to bet all of the money in my pockets that the Tumblr team is doing everything they can to keep their service up and running – I just think they and their investors should be talking about it more. They should be talking about how they’re pulling out all of the stops, pushing all of their resources and people at the problem, their successes and failures in that area. Simply ignoring the subject and constantly trying to talk only about the good things that are going on smells like propaganda and spin. And I seriously doubt that is intentional but that is the way it smells from here.

Note to self: Learn from this.

Tumblr, falling.

How quickly things change! I’ve been praising Tumblr over the last several months because it has been an excellent tool to build The Watercolor Gallery with. And it still is, except since I began building The Watercolor Gallery Tumblr has been, well, tumbling down in the minds and hearts of some of their core users.

I even called Zach Inglis out for his tirade against the Tumblr team. Now I’m thinking, perhaps, he was completely justified. Or, maybe, I spoke too soon. However, I also believe that the Tumblr team (or perhaps just the investors) and its core users want two very different things for Tumblr.

One of Tumblr’s main investors and mentors has been Union Square Ventures. USV is an incredibly adept team of venture capitalists who, for the most part, have made some excellent bets over the years and whose opinions I respect. Put simply, guys like Fred Wilson “get it” without even breaking a sweat. Well, at least he makes it look easy. That being said USV obviously cares very much about the success of Tumblr – I just believe it is a different type of success then what the core users want. Investors, by and large, want to see growth and eventually profitability while core users want stability and for things to work better and better over time for them.

In early 2010 USV reupped their bet on Tumblr by “doubling down” on them. They’ve put a cool $10m into Tumblr alone. Wilson, in his post in April 2010 about how Tumblr had gotten to 1bn pageviews per month, wrote a very short reason why they’ve made that bet.

“There are some lessons here. First, make your software super easy to use. Second, you don’t need hundreds of employees to build a big time web service. You can keep it lean and scale if you have the right team. That’s how Tumblr got to a billion page views and we just made a bet that they will be able to take that number a lot higher.

Emphasis mine. USV thinks that Tumblr can increase the number of pageviews from 1bn per month to, well, a lot more. And they think that will help their investment. They don’t care, too much, about how the service gets there just that they increase that number dramatically and – I can only assume – get a much larger round of financing or exit.

I’m not saying that USV doesn’t care if Tumblr gets their downtime in check. You can’t serve 1bn pageviews per month if you’re down. I think USV cares very much about the stability of the Tumblr platform – I just think they are focused on the wrong thing which could end up trickling down to the Tumblr team. If the Tumblr team is focused on metrics they will end up losing what made Tumblr’s team so great to begin with – the passion for making something great, simple, and different from everything else out there.

I could be dead wrong. Perhaps the team at Tumblr is focused on exactly that and that the dreams of the investors don’t trickle down too far. I hope USV (and the rest of the investors in Tumblr) understand very well how to stay out of the hair of the core team so that they can continue to do what they are great at. But there must be some reason by Marco Arment (one of the 2-man-team that made Tumblr great to begin with) left to do his own thing and continuously touts that he doesn’t want to take investment for Instapaper. Is he jaded? Has the Tumblr team “sold out”? We’ll see.

Oh, and I’m not picking on Fred Wilson either. I would point to other Tumblr investors that have commented about the growth of Tumblr, like Bijan Sabet, but he powers his blog with Tumblr which means his search simply doesn’t work. Maybe he’s hoping that the millions of dollars that his company Spark Capital has invested in Tumblr will fix that?

Again, I hope I’m wrong and I want Tumblr to succeed. I love the service and would pay money to keep it up and stable. Lets hope someday they give all of us the opportunity to do just that.

Backing up Tumblr blogs to Dropbox

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With Tumblr’s recent downtime I thought it’d be very important to back up The Watercolor Gallery to my computer. I also thought it’d be good to back it up to my Dropbox account.

It turns out this is very easy. Simply use the Tumblr Backup application (currently only available for Mac OS X) and point it to save to your Dropbox folder on your computer. Done.

Now I’ll set up a reminder to do this once a month and I’m all set.

How Tumblr is handling their downtime

Tumblr is going on its 15th hour of downtime (that I’ve noticed). In an effort to let everyone know what is going on they’ve only sent 1 tweet about it. No emails. Nothing on the “downtime” page.

On Twitter they only have 40,000 followers and as far as I know they have millions of users. So obviously most of their community has no idea what is going on.

As someone who has been in this type of situation with Viddler (though our longest period of downtime has only been a few hours in 5 years) I can sympathize with the amount of effort that is going on behind the scenes by their entire team. However, let this be a lesson for the rest of us in what not to do.

Update: And just like that they’ve sent out a second tweet. With their own Tumblr-powered blog being down I suppose their options were limited in how they can communicate with their community.

Update again: Tumblr has now published a post-mordem report on what happened, how they’re dealing with it, and how they hope it doesn’t happen again. No new information though the words do seem sincere.

I’m sure Tumblr, and everyone that was watching this all happen, learned a lot of lessons during this event.

A few thoughts on Tumblr, on Tumblr

I thought I’d take a few moments and jot down a few thoughts on Tumblr. And I’ve done just that, over on Tumblr.

The new Tumblr queue

The new Tumblr queue just went live and it is fantastic. My being able to curate The Watercolor Gallery is solely based on Tumblr’s queue feature and now it just got even better.

To be specific, I really loathed the fact that Tumblr would tell you how many minutes it was until a post would go live. So, if I had a post that was to go live a week from now the queue would read something like “This post will be published in 10,000 minutes.”. That made it very difficult to schedule posts based on my desired schedule (twice or three times per day spaced out evenly).

Anyway, that gripe is now long gone. Thanks Tumblr.

I don’t think Tumblr sucks

Zach Inglis, a man whose opinion I hold in fairly high regard, simply went off on Tumblr for a variety of reasons on why he thinks Tumblr sucks. He notes technological, design and even personal reasons – most of which I do not agree with.

There is something to learn from this I think. How can one person, who has had an account at this service for many years, have such trouble with it while I – and I’d wager many others – have little or no problems using it? People are different, sure, and I’d guess that may lead to Inglis’ opinions being different than mine but some of the issues he’s had – you’d think – should have been had by all that use Tumblr and not just him.

Although I’ve had a Tumblr account for a while my first serious use of the service has come from what I’m doing with The Watercolor Gallery. So far Tumblr has worked like a dream for me to be able to put this gallery together without taking up much of my time or effort to make it happen. Tumblr is easy-to-use and has just the right amount of tools to make posting nearly effortless for my needs. The service has seemed fairly stable during my use (at least, I haven’t noticed an unreasonable amount of downtime for a rapidly growing mostly-free service). And, the design decisions that they’ve made I really appreciate.

While Inglis is moving to WordPress I’m thinking about moving away from it. I don’t know if I’d use Tumblr for my main site or not – but it is certainly in the mix.

In fact, Tumblr seems to get better at an incredibly rapid pace. There are weeks when Tumblr seems to have an announcement every single day. For a small team I think they are doing a pretty good job.

Every one has a right to put their opinions out there for all to see and comment on. You all know I’ve done that here from time-to-time. I just thought I’d weigh in to hopefully bring some balance to Zach’s comments. I hope he feels better soon. 🙂

Premium Tumblr themes

Tumblr has announced that there are now premium themes available for Tumblr. Premium meaning that they cost money and are generally much more refined then the over 350 free themes already available for Tumblr.

Two things: First, I love that Tumblr is doing things to monetize their platform for both themselves and their design-savvy community. Any service that you love should, at some point, begin to monetize. If they don’t, they won’t survive. These types of moves by Tumblr are moves that will ensure their longevity as a service. Second, I think some of the free themes could easily be pulled into the Premium themes category and the designers of which could make a few dollars on them (since this model wasn’t available when they originally designed their free Tumblr themes). I wonder if Tumblr reached out to some of them?

Updates to the Tumblr API

Tumblr is rolling out updates to its API. I’m liking the updates that I’m seeing so far and I think Tumblr could really benefit from having a stronger API offering.

Tumblarity is gone. Thanks Tumblr.

Last August I complained about Tumblarity and I wasn’t alone. Many people didn’t like how Tumblarity motivated the Tumblr community to post and repost drivel and I’m very happy to see that the Tumblr team has, as far as I can tell from my desk, decided to do away with it. But I also said this about how Tumblarity could still be of use to Tumblr:

“If it was a hidden ranking system then people wouldn’t be driven to do things only to increase their rank and it could still be used for valuable things like Tumblr’s directory.”

I don’t know if Tumblr repurposed Tumblarity to help power their new Directory but credit where due I’m glad it isn’t on Tumblr in a way that motivates spamming any more.

Tumblr’s Twitter API

Hot on the heels of WordPress’ Twitter API Tumblr has announced their own Twitter-like API for reading and writing to Tumblogs.

I love that they came right out and said that they were inspired by WordPress’ move.

Almost all of Tumblr is down?

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Nothing is stated on their Twitter account. Their staff blog is silent (yet not down). Of course, neither is Marco Arment’s Tumblog (he’s a staff member). And yet my dashboard is down, my Tumblog is down, and so are many others.

Tumblr message

The message appears to suggest that they know about this downtime. But I don’t think so, because they didn’t let any of us users know about it and they usually do an incredible job with this type of thing.

The fact that the staff blog is up, Marco’s blog is up, and pretty much everything else is down (even photo slideshows), suggests to me that they’ve had some sort of outage that only affects some users and not all users. Perhaps they separate out VIP users? That’d make sense.

Hope Tumblr comes back up soon.

Update: As of 7:49a the error message on the dashboard has changed to this:

Tumblr error

It seems like an automatically generated message from Squid. Squid, I believe, actually will notify the technical team at Tumblr with an email, SMS message, or whatever they have set up to notify them when an error such as this occurs.

Update again: As of 8:11a EST it is back. We’ll see if anything is said as to why. But, I also saw a lot of Tumblogs that mentioned the downtime and some funny error messages they were getting. So maybe there was some planned downtime?

Tag channels by Tumblr

I think this is a genius feature. Tag channels by Tumblr combines a normal tag search with a slider to filter your results based on the number of times something was “liked”.

Tumblr is moving faster than anyone in their space and still managing to put out high-quality features.

Tumblr week

I’ll be spending the rest of this week over on my Tumblr. I really need to give it a thorough run if I will ever know if Tumblr can replace my WordPress powered blog. Join me, won’t you?

Tumblr Dashboard permalinks…

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After playing around with Tumblr for months (I’m cdevroe over there), I finally noticed that the little “page curls” that happen on-hover on posts on my Dashboard from those whom I follow are actually the permalinks to those posts. Man do I wish I found that sooner! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve actually gone to the Tumblr page of the user who posted something I wanted to find the permalink to, scrolled down the page to find the post, and clicked on the date (or whatever their theme had that was clickable). Ugh.

Though I do like the idea, I think this link should be much more apparent.

Side note: A single RSS feed for posts from everyone I follow would be stellar. Maybe it is there and I just don’t know it?

MarsEdit 2.3 is out and supports Tumblr

You may have seen me quip about MarsEdit the other day on Twitter. Really, though, it is an excellent piece of software that should be given a go by anyone that writes a lot.

I’m spoiled by a rich-editor in WordPress, that saves drafts automatically and even has multiple revisions, and so I’m sticking with WordPress for now. But if I was going to use an application to write with – it’d be MarsEdit.

Oh, and the latest version supports Tumblr now. Which is excellent.

Live testing the Tumblr-esque redesign

To be completely honest, I’m no where near “done” on this redesign but spending a few minutes each day is just killing me. So I thought I’d do some live testing, and ask for some preliminary feedback.

If you have anything you’d like to gripe about, please do so in the comments. Oh, and watch this post for massive amounts of updates as I tweak things over the coming few days. I’m looking forward to fleshing out this redesign to the extent I did my last one.

Thoughts?

6:03pm: Fixed some oddities with the Twitter thingy on the front page.

6:09pm: Adjusted a few of the links/images.

6:15pm To show off how the mobile photos work, I added one. Take a look at the front page now.

11:25pm Fixed the archive.

11:35pm Added a link to the videos section to the header and increased the font size of the front page.

April 8th, 4:00pm Got the cron job for Mobile photos working again, thanks to Lee Adkins for his help via Twitter / Email. Also now the Photos show up on the front page like Mobile photos.

April 15th, 10:10pm: I’ve made some small changes to the about page and fixed the photos and mobile photos pages for now until I can give them some real attention.

April 29th, 10:10am: I created 2 new header images, in addition to the one from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps, and set them to randomly change as you bounce around the site.  I hope to some day find the time to have as many as ten random header images. 

Some other notes

No, this isn’t a Tumblr theme. This is Kubrick, originally developed by my friend Michael Heilemann for WordPress, with a few tweaks. I like the simplicity that many Tumblr themes offer and so I decided to go more in that direction than in the direction I was going.

More soon.

Bad reasons not to blog

There are a lot of bad reasons not to blog. Here are a few of them and why they are bad.

  • Someone already wrote about this. Terrible reason. You didn’t write about it. And the most important component in the equation is you. In over 20 years of blogging I cannot tell you how many topics I’ve covered that have been covered by so many other people yet still the posts helped so many. I have a few blog posts that have hundreds of thousands of page views.
  • I don’t understand this as much as others. Blah blah blah! The best blog posts are those written by people still figuring it out because they are new enough to a topic to cover them in detail. People that know something well tend to skip over important smaller pieces.
  • I’m not a good writer. Join the crowd. The only way to get better at writing is to write.
  • I’m a perfectionist, I would never publish. Publishing is a muscle. If you do it once, and keep doing it over and over, it becomes easier. Perhaps your tendency to get things just right will actually set your blog apart from others.
  • No one would read my blog. Who cares? A personal blog is less written for other people than it is for yourself. This post, as an example, is a reaffirmation of my own opinions to myself. If no one reads this at least I wrote it and it reinvigorates me to continue to blog. In fact, I would recommend not tracking analytics too closely.
  • Blogs are too complicated. Start simple. If you continue to do it, then you can dig in and make things more complex. Sign up to Micro.blog, WordPress.com, or Tumblr where there is zero configuration needed.

Update: See “I’m not a web developer”.

If you have any desire at all to have a blog and have ever thought that any of the above bad reasons should stop you – please reconsider and start blogging.

See also: My blogging tips.

A new interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog for 2019

Last year, around this time, I published an interview with Manton Reece – founder of Micro.blog (M.b) – about how the platform was growing and what the goals for 2018 were. It was such a great interview and it helped me to understand the direction that M.b was going that I knew I had to interview him again to check in for 2019.

Answering these questions isn’t easy. Manton and I have been volleying back and forth for about 60 days for this interview to come to this point. So before we jump into the interview I just want to take a moment to thank Manton for taking the time to thoughtfully respond to my questions. I hope the entire M.b community enjoys this interview and it helps to give an idea of what is happening there and where the community and platform are headed.

I’ve tried to include links to most everything we mention so that you’re able to find all of the little tidbits. If I missed anything, leave a comment or reply on M.b and I’ll try to track down what you’re looking for.

Now, onto the interview:

Thank you again Manton for taking some time to answer my questions. Last year’s interview was fun so I thought it’d be a good idea to revisit a few of the topics in it and also catch up with you on how Micro.blog is doing and see where it is headed in 2019. Last year you mentioned that most of the growth on the team would come in the form of curators or support. Has the team grown? If so, what does the team look like today and what will it look like in 2019?

Manton: Great to talk to you again! The size of the team has not grown since last year, but I think we’ve done more with the people we have. Jean MacDonald has hosted over 40 episodes of our Micro Monday podcast, and Jon Hays has lead recent improvements to our iOS app and new apps Sunlit and Wavelength. I still expect the growth to be on the curation side and hope that can be a focus of 2019. Where the other big social networks try to use algorithms to solve problems, we think if you want a great community, humans need to be actively involved — featuring content, listening for problems, and thinking about the impact of new features.

Customer support and system administration are the other areas that I’m looking forward to getting help with, but as the platform evolves it’s still valuable for me to be handling most of that myself. I hear from customers every day about what they love and what features are missing. Since we last talked, I’ve also moved my primary blog with thousands of posts from WordPress to Micro.blog hosting, and that has been a great way to prioritize improvements to the hosting part of the platform. Blog hosting is the actual business of Micro.blog and enables us to do everything else we want to do for the social network and community.

From an outsider’s perspective, I don’t know how you’re able to do as much as you do! You are coding Micro.blog, keeping up with the infrastructure software/hardware, dealing with support, paying the bills… the list goes on and on. Then, on top of all that, you’re building a few iOS apps like Sunlit and Wavelength. You also have your own podcast called Timetable and a long-running podcast called Core Intuition. Not to mention your personal blog, help documents for Micro.blog, and keeping up with the community and the Slack channel.

How do you prioritize all of this? Is one project more important than another?

Manton: I think good things can come from trying to do a little too much, but it’s not usually sustainable. Eventually it catches up with you and you have to simplify and wrap up or delegate some tasks. We are in that kind of period right now with Micro.blog. We will continue to do a lot, but some parts of the platform — like the iOS apps — can reach a point of maturity where we work on stability improvements and polishing existing features rather than adding brand new features.

Android is another good example. Many people ask for an official Android app for Micro.blog. Because I don’t have much Android experience myself, I know I would be stretched too thin right now to tackle it, so we are encouraging third-party solutions instead. There’s a new version of Dialog for Android which has full support for the Micro.blog timeline, posting, replying, the Discover sections, and more. I’m really excited about it.

The most important project is the Micro.blog web platform, because without that foundation nothing else is possible. Improving the API and blog hosting will always be something we work on, alongside other priorities that come and go.

I for one am very happy that Dialog exists. I’m also happy that it is pretty good too. What other third-party projects have you come across that more people should know about? And, what haven’t you seen made on top of Micro.blog that you wish existed?

Manton: People should keep an eye on Gluon, which is in development now for iOS and Android. I’ve enjoyed reading developer Vincent Ritter’s blog post updates about working on it — the early choices he made on how to build the app and later decisions to update the UI and rewrite portions of it.

Integrating other platforms is another area that is great for third-party apps. For example, IndieWeb-compatible tools like OwnYourGram (for copying Instagram posts to your blog) or IndieBookClub (for posting about books you’re reading or want to read). Having so many third-party apps that can supplement the basic features on Micro.blog means that we can keep the primary experience as streamlined as possible, because the goal is to make blogging easier. I’d love to see more advanced tools for managing posts as well, such as batch editing posts or for import and export.

Switching gears for a moment to Micro.blog’s long term financial sustainability. I know at first there was a funding push related to the Kickstarter campaign, and of course there are those that pay a few dollars per year for the hosted service or other features like cross posting. What does long term sustainability look like for Micro.blog? Does there need to be a lot of growth in the customer base? How else can people like me, who use Micro.blog daily but are not currently paying, help keep Micro.blog funded?

Manton: Kickstarter was perfect to get us started, but paid subscriptions are better long term. I want to build features that are valuable and worth paying for. So we’ll keep making our blog hosting more compelling so that it’s good for people who are just getting started with a new blog, or people who want to migrate from other platforms. We often see people who might have a primary blog on WordPress — and a secondary microblog or photo blog on Micro.blog — decide that it’s simpler to just consolidate everything to Micro.blog, importing their WordPress posts. We don’t expect all the millions of bloggers who host on WordPress to move over to Micro.blog, but even a relatively small number moving to Micro.blog will make the platform more sustainable.

We just rolled out several major new features for blog hosting, including categories and custom themes, so you can have full control over the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript on your site. You don’t need to be a designer or developer to use Micro.blog, but it’s nice to allow some more flexibility for those people who do want to tinker with their site. And now web developers can create custom themes for Micro.blog that can be used by other members of the community.

As for supporting Micro.blog if you aren’t a paying customer, the best way is to tell people about it. All our growth right now is from word of mouth. It’s great when people invite their friends from other social networks, or when they post about why they like Micro.blog on their own blog or talk about it on their podcast. You don’t need to have a large audience to make a big difference.

I’d be remiss to not mention the apparent resurgence of blogging. If not in action then in the collective consciousness. It seems many people are talking and writing about blogging lately. With Medium changing its policies, Tumblr being owned by Oath/Verizon/Aol, Twitter being a hive of villainy, Facebook selling our fears to our captors, and Instagram growing up to be like’s its parent… it seems that blogging is poised to have a huge comeback. Are you doing anything at all to capture that momentum? Or, are you just trying to keep on your roadmap as usual?

Manton: It feels like everything we’ve been working toward for a few years is starting to come together, as more people realize the downsides of these massive, centralized platforms. Whether someone is quitting Facebook tomorrow or a year from now, I want Micro.blog to be a great default choice for reclaiming ownership of your content and getting in the habit of writing or posting photos regularly. When Basecamp recently migrated their long-running blog Signal v. Noise away from Medium, they summed up the change just like we see it: “Traditional blogs might have swung out of favor, as we all discovered the benefits of social media and aggregating platforms, but we think they’re about to swing back in style, as we all discover the real costs and problems brought by such centralization.”

The other part of this is to have a safe, welcoming community. I hate to see people get discouraged from blogging because “no one” is reading, so it helps that we have the Micro.blog timeline and replies where a blog post can start a conversation, or new posts can be featured in the Discover section. I think 2019 is going to be great for blogging. Micro.blog differentiates itself because it offers a solution for both blog hosting and a great community.

Professional blogging; whether that be funded by advertisers, subscribers, fans – is a big business. What are your thoughts on how Micro.blog helps or ignores people or businesses that may want to use the platform to share their content and earn a living from it?

Manton: Micro.blog was designed for people, not “brands”, but there’s no reason it can’t be used for businesses as well. Toward the end of last year I wrote a “12 days of microblogging” blog post series, and on one day highlighted how businesses can use Micro.blog.

Personal blogs can evolve into a revenue source as well, like offering subscriptions or sponsorships. But Micro.blog will never have ads and we aren’t likely to add features specifically for people to make money from their content in the way that Medium is trying to do. We want to focus on helping people discover blog posts, and whether someone monetizes their blog or uses it for occasional self-promotion is up to them. It’s okay if most blogs are personal and non-commercial because that lends itself to authenticity, and there’s great value in just having a space of your own to publish to.

We also think podcasting is only going to get bigger, which is why our first new paid plan was microcast hosting for short-form podcasts. We keep increasing the limits and now you can publish even hour-long episodes to Micro.blog. Like personal blogs, podcasts could be sponsored, or they could be just for fun, or they could indirectly benefit your business, such as supplementing a blog or helping promote something else you’re working on.

I believe you’ve touched on open source regarding Micro.blog in the past. Some of your own projects, like JSON Feed, are open source. Will you be open sourcing Micro.blog or any pieces of it?

Manton: I don’t plan to open source all of Micro.blog in the near future. It’s a complicated project with several components across multiple servers, so it’s not really suitable for just “running yourself” right now. However, I’d love to open source more of it, especially when there’s an immediate benefit to people. For example, for the new custom themes feature, I rewrote all of the themes to use the Hugo blogging engine, and we’ve shared all our changes on GitHub. That’s something people can use right away. Jon Hays also wrote a framework called “Snippets” for the Micro.blog API and Micropub API that we’ll be using in our iOS apps, and we’ve open sourced that as well. I think there is more in our iOS apps (including Wavelength for podcasts and Sunlit for photos) that would be great to open source.

I think I catch myself looking for a search feature on Micro.blog at least twice a week. For instance, I’m big into houseplants lately and I wanted to find some people on M.b that were as well. And I can’t figure out how to do that. Is search coming?

We now have a basic search on the web version of Micro.blog under Discover. This currently searches any post that has been included in Discover. We have plans to add search to the native apps so that it’s easier to access, and expand it so that it searches even more posts on Micro.blog. However, one of the early design goals with Micro.blog was to launch without a full search index, because I didn’t like how Twitter’s search and especially trending topics could be gamed or expose the worst conversations on the platform, even in some cases being a place for more abusive, hateful replies. So we’re going a little slowly with search to make sure that we don’t recreate any of those problems.

I know I’m only scratching the surface for the questions that the community is likely curious about. I hope I did an OK job asking the important ones. Are there any topics I left off that you wish I had asked you about? Or anything you’d like to highlight?

Your questions were great. Thank you! I’d like to mention again what Jean MacDonald has done with our podcast Micro Monday. This podcast didn’t exist when you interviewed me last year, and now we have a great archive of episodes highlighting members of the community — how they got started blogging and what they are interested in, whether that’s related to Micro.blog or something else. It helps people understand Micro.blog while at the same time featuring stories from the community. I’m always inspired hearing what people are up to, and it’s a weekly reminder to me of how important it is that people have a voice on the web with their own blog.


What a fun interview! Until next year…

Wallace.dog

Local friend Jeremy Brown has a cute animated comic that he publishes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is called Wallace.dog. If you follow him on Instagram you can see behind-the-scenes how much work it is — often starting long before sunrise.

I urge you to check it out.