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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

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I watched Tantek’s presentation Take Back Your Web from Beyond Tellerrand during lunch. Great presentation. From it I added Mattias Ott’s blog post and this one by Aaron Parecki to Unmark to read later. Via Jeremy Keith.

You can now follow any blog on Micro.blog

Neat feature from Micro.blog. Here is Manton Reece, from his personal blog, on the new feature:

You can now follow blogs in the Micro.blog timeline, even if the blogger hasn’t yet registered on Micro.blog.

Manton describes this feature as another type of “username”. I understand why he’s framing it that way but I’m unsure if it is the best way to describe it. A blog’s content being syndicated through Micro.blog, unwitting of the owner, isn’t a username. In fact, any interaction with those posts by the Micro.blog community may very well go wholly unnoticed by the owner of the site unless their site supports Webmentions. So these are hardly Micro.blog users.

Be that as it is, I am struggling myself with a better way to fully describe the different ways in which someone can use Micro.blog.

At current, here they are:

  • you can host your blog on Micro.blog at your own domain name
  • you can sign up to Micro.blog and post there using their domain name
  • you can sign up and syndicate your blog to an account (like I do)
  • with any account:
    • you can follow Micro.blog accounts
    • you can follow any Mastodon account on any instance
    • and now you can follow any blog irrespective of whether or not the site knows it or not (like an RSS reader)

A powerful service!

This brings back memories of two services that had some interesting tip-toeing to do as a result of syndicating the content of another persons without their permission.

One, I had a lot to do with, which was 9rules. We crawled the content of all of the blogs within the community and kept a copy of a lot of their content. This allowed a few things. We had categories on the 9rules web site that made it easy for people to find blogs that interested them such as Tech, Culture, Food, etc. It also made search possible – so in a way, we had our own blog search engine. It was one of the first services of its kind on the web.

However, 9rules’ main income came from ads. Our homepage featured a few primary ad spots and some of our subsequent pages did as well. A few of the members wondered if we were profiting off of their content. A valid concern, one we didn’t intend, and I remember it being a topic of debate.

Another service I had nothing to do with, Get Satisfaction. This service created forums for people to ask questions and get answers and rate their favorite products and services. One reason it caused a kerfuffle was because the companies had no idea these conversations were happening and it made them look bad when a big issue with one of their products went unanswered. Many asked to be removed from it.

I don’t think Micro.blog will end up with ads but never say never. Also, I trust Manton and his team to be mindful of how they use this content and how they notify site owners of anything that is happening with that content on their platform. So far they’ve proven themselves to be careful, purposeful and altruistic.

If you want to follow me or my blog on Micro.blog you now have lots of ways to do that. My account, my blog, and my Mastodon account. Cool.

Bokeh: Private, independent, and user-funded photo sharing

Timothy Smith, on trying to promote his Kickstarter for Bokeh:

I hate doing this type of stuff, but I feel like this idea is so important it’d be foolish of me not to try. Even if this Kickstarter ends up being unsuccessful, I won’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do everything in my power.

We can help him. We have blogs, accounts on Twitter, Micro.blog, Mastodon etc. Take two minutes to review Bokeh’s Kickstarter, back it if you’d like, but please write a short post to help him spread the word. And perhaps directly message a few people you know that could help as well.

As a community we can all help each other with our audiences – even if they are tiny. I always try to promote things people are building with my blog and even if I only help move the needle a very small amount – together perhaps we can make a difference for Tim and Bokeh and for others in our community building things and putting them out into the world.

Indie web question: Any recommendations for a better WordPress plugin for sending webmentions? I’m using the Webmention plugin but it doesn’t seem to send a comprehensive webmention. See this. Or, am I doing something incorrectly?

My crypto and indie web goals for 2019

Steven Johnson, in Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble:

The true believers behind blockchain platforms like Ethereum argue that a network of distributed trust is one of those advances in software architecture that will prove, in the long run, to have historic significance.

I’m very late to the game in reading Johnson’s piece in the NYT. I’ve had it stored in Pocket for far too long. I’m glad I took the time this morning while drinking my coffee to read it. It is very good. It includes many things I think about most; the open web, how tech giants are so important in what the future will look like, and what we can do to mitigate the downsides of them owning the future.

Since 2011, I’ve been asked about Bitcoin and blockchain from time-to-time. My advice to people (including myself) is to recommend people do their own research.

I’ve been buying BTC lately. Partly because the price is rather low at the moment but also partly because I have a completely different goal in 2019. I’m not prospecting. If my wallet’s value appreciates, excellent. If it doesn’t, I don’t care. My goal in 2019 is to use crypto currency (likely Bitcoin or Ether?) to pay for some every day mundane things. My goal is to transact the equivalent of around $10,000 USD in some form of crypto during the course of the year. That could be accepting crypto or spending crypto. It is my hope that by not being a hodlr, and also not trying to get rich, that I will help the crypto financial ecosystem in some small way.

Going back to Johnson’s piece. He writes a lot about the open web and the open protocols that are in place and how on top of those certain companies own things like our identity. He doesn’t quite go so far as to mention the Building Blocks of the indie web but I wish he had. But I think we’re starting to see decentralization on many fronts happen. I think 2018 was a big year for this and I think the shift is only going go accelerate.

I’m not going to make any predictions specifically for 2019 since I believe it will take longer than that. However, with blogging being easier than ever, with Mastodon and indie web protocols, and Solid and many other projects happening – I think we’ll start to see the power of Facebook and Google splinter. Even if it only splinters a little it will be a good thing for the open web.

My indie web goal is to bring my personal site a little more inline with indie web principles. As you long time readers will know, supporting the indie web exhausted me. I gave up. It was too hard. But, the beginning of such things is hard and I should buck up and figure it out. If I do and somehow help make it easier for the next person the web will be a better place.

I recommend reading Johnson’s entire piece.

Keeping a record of your thoughts and media and owning it

Go ahead and read Matt Haughey’s post on why he left Twitter. But I wanted to pull out this bit:

I didn’t like that everything I wrote ended up being hard to find or reference, and even hard for me to pull up myself when I wanted, where a blog makes it pretty dang easy to see everything you wrote about in the past.

If I’m analyzing my reasons for blogging and/or microblogging on my own domain this is likely #1. I love having a history of my thoughts, guesses, observations, and photos. And I love that I own it.

Laura Kalbag on blogging

Laura Kalbag:

When I wrote about owning and controlling my own content, I talked about trying to keep my “content” in its canonical location on my site, and then syndicating it to social networks and other sites. Doing this involves cross-posting, something that can be done manually (literally copying and pasting titles, descriptions, links etc) or through automation. Either way, it’s a real faff. Posting to my site alone is a faff.

It is a bit of a faff*.

In fact, I only syndicate to Micro.blog currently because it is effortless. I do not syndicate to any other social network. I sometimes wish that I were doing so again because I know I would get more readers here as a result, but – as Laura rightfully spells out – I just don’t have the time or energy to devote to getting that working again. I’ve spent countless hours trying to get it to work the way that I’d want it to (and took the time to catalog those issues here on my blog) and I’m just not going to do it again.

/via Jonathan Snook on Twitter.

* I had never seen this word prior to reading her blog post. I had to look it up. Glad I did. Adding this one to my quiver.

An interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog

I have fond memories of the very early days of WordPress (when it had just been forked from b2/cafelog), of Twitter, of Brightkite, of App.net, of Mastodon… just to name a few. The early days of any platform or so important to what they will become. They are the most fun to watch.

The early days of any platform can be frustrating too. Services sometimes go down, features aren’t released as quickly as you’d like, and small bugs can hamper your workflow.

I liken it to watching art be created. It can be a bit messy, it can sometimes confuse you, but when you see the final product you have the privilege of knowing how the platform got to that final state.

Yesterday I volleyed back and forth via email with Manton Reece, the founder and creator of Micro.blog. Micro.blog is in that same relatively early stage where new features are released with regularity, where the community is growing steadily, and where the users have the strongest voice.

He kindly answered a few questions. But here are a few highlights that I plucked from his answers:

  • Micro.blog is both an aggregator of blog posts and a blog/site hosting platform
  • Features on Micro.blog are rolled out slowly on purpose, to be sure they won’t disrupt the principles behind the service. And they often come from what users are already doing on the platform.
  • Native support for audio and podcasts are already part of the plan
  • Many users that use the hosting feature use their Micro.blog-powered site as their primary web site
  • Community support members for curation, help, etc. will be the primary area the team will grow, outweighing engineering

Here is the interview and his responses in their entirety.

First, thank you for making Micro.blog. For me personally it is surfacing some excellent independent microbloggers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Now that Micro.blog is open to the public, is there anything that you see happening on the platform, either now or during the beta period, that has surprised or delighted you?

Thanks for being part of the Micro.blog community! I’ve loved how people not only embrace the platform, but in many cases get back to writing at an old blog that they had accidentally neglected, or get inspired to start up a new microblog at their own domain name. So many beautiful photos have been posted, which we like to highlight in the Discover section, and the tone of conversations has remained thoughtful and respectful even as the platform has grown.

I’m also happy to see that many Micro.blog users have warmed up to some of the early decisions we made to not copy every feature from other popular social networks. For example, not showing follower counts or worrying about how many likes a post has received.

People seem to really enjoy the new emoji-based topics we introduced recently, to collect posts about books or music or sports. Little experiments like these are a reaction to what the community is already doing. The best thing we can do is build features that support what people are posting about — to encourage the kind of posts that make Micro.blog a nice place to be — and then see which of those features resonates.

Have you been surprised at all by the number of photos that people are posting? Or, did you always think that Micro.blog would be a great place for people to share photos? And, do you think you’ll see audio or video shared more on Micro.blog in the future?

I’ve always thought photo-blogging would be a perfect fit for Micro.blog, and we’ve tried to build good support for it in the iOS app, such as having built-in photo filters. Many people are frustrated with Twitter and Instagram and want to post photos to their own web site again. But I was still happily surprised to see so many photos. There was also some help from the community, such as Doug Lane running a 7-day photo challenge.

Our plan was to start with photos, with good photo hosting, and then expand to natively support audio and podcasts. After that, video. I think video can quickly become kind of overwhelming and busy when shown in a timeline — especially with auto-playing video, which we don’t want to do. So I’m comfortable expanding this support fairly slowly to make sure we get it right.

I see Micro.blog as two parts: 1. A community of syndicated microblog posts that are populated by people’s independent web sites using RSS or JSON feeds. And, 2. A blogging platform that allows you to create a simple blog (with an emphasis on microblogging). Is this the right way to look at Micro.blog now and into the future? And if so, why tackle both problems rather than simply #1?

That’s the right way to think about it. What I found while developing Micro.blog is that just building a more open social network-like platform wasn’t enough. If we wanted to encourage people to blog more, we needed to make blogging itself much easier. The best way to do that is to also offer to host someone’s blog for them directly on Micro.blog.

Blogs hosted on Micro.blog started with an emphasis on microblogging, but they have improved significantly since we initially launched, and now offer many features competitive with other dedicated blog hosts. There are Micro.blog users who have their full web site hosted by Micro.blog because it’s just more convenient.

This second part of Micro.blog is also very important to grow the service as a business. I want to run Micro.blog for decades to come. The only way to do that — to pay for all the servers and other supporting services — is for Micro.blog to be profitable. Since we never want to show ads, offering paid plans such as blog hosting is a great way to go.

Would you be willing to share any interesting stats? Some that I’d personally be interested in tracking would be the most number of posts in an hour, the greatest number of signups in a day, stats like that.

And as a follow-up: As the platform (meaning the software, hardware, underlying services, backup routines, databases, etc.) become more complex surely you’ll need to expand from being the two-person team Micro.blog is currently. What position do you think the next full or part-time team member of Micro.blog will fill?

I don’t currently have many stats to share. We have been so busy improving the platform that we haven’t built anything to track things like spikes in the number of posts. There is a 500-user limit on new registrations per day. When we opened it up to the public, the limit was just 100 which was reached pretty quickly as people would share a link to their friends.

There are so many areas that we could use a larger team for, like system administration and planning how to scale the platform. As you noted, the first person to join Micro.blog was Jean MacDonald, our community manager. I hope that the community will continue to grow such that we’ll need additional curators to help manage features like the Discover section.

Facebook recently announced they were hiring 10,000 moderators, and I know Twitter has a large staff as well. I expect one mistake that these larger social networks made early on was hiring too many programmers, and not enough curators. For Micro.blog we always want people who can interact with the community and stay ahead of any issues.

Discover has already seen a few iterations. First, it was a simple list of users. Then it expanded to include photos posted by the community. After that, a human-curated list of posts was added. And now, hashtag-like emoji’s allow you to find posts on topics like books, music, and football. Did I miss anything? This must be a fun part of Micro.blog to tweak and see how the community responds. I know I’ve found it to be very fun to have open a few times during the day. Can you share a little about how posts end up in the Discover tab? Who is making those selections and what are the next steps?

I feel like the current iteration of Discover is by far the best yet. There were a couple problems with just featuring a list of users. You can only feature so many users, so we randomly selected users to show from the featured list. Those users would get a lot of attention but unless we continually update the list, it might not be enough people to fill your timeline with interesting posts if you just pick a few people to follow. The list got stale quickly as new people were joining the platform.

Now, throughout the day we skim through posts and replies and put them in Discover. This is a better reflection of the activity on the platform. It’s not all posts, but it’s a good snapshot of the kind of things people are posting about. It looks good and isn’t overwhelming. It’s a great way to find new users who just joined Micro.blog, too.

Emoji topics are a little different. Whenever Micro.blog sees a new post, it checks it for emoji and adds it to a collection. If an inappropriate post shows up, we can just remove it from the collection without effecting anything else about that post or user on Micro.blog. There are a limited number of emoji, which keeps everything simple. I don’t think it will get out of control like Twitter hashtag search results often do.

One aspect I’ve always loved about microblogging was that it could be consumed and participated with in realtime. A few examples that come to mind are backchannels for live TV events like awards shows, or for conferences and meetups, etc. Is this something the Micro.blog team thinks about much? Are there any apps, features, or other considerations that would be made specifically to foster realtime interactions for things like this?

I agree this is a natural fit for indie microblogging. Something like live sports might not appeal to everyone, so it would be useful for both tuning into those feeds or filtering them out. Over the weekend, we put the football emoji in the Discover section for people who were posting about the NFL playoffs, as a simple experiment for making current topics more discoverable.

There are myriad other things we could talk about like Pins, third-party applications, indieweb building blocks like Webmention, and the all new Micro.blog logo and app icon. Is there anything you’d wish to highlight? If so, please do. And lastly, what is something you wished I asked but didn’t that maybe you’d like to make sure people reading this interview know (feel free to allow this to be nothing)?

The third-party ecosystem and larger IndieWeb community are both really important. There are several third-party apps for Micro.blog in development now, for iOS and Android. When I was designing the Micro.blog API, I based it on JSON Feed, Micropub, and other common APIs so that third-party Micro.blog apps could also be adapted for other platforms. And likewise, Micro.blog benefits from many existing IndieWeb tools and open source software like WordPress. The more we can push forward the user experience for indie microblogging, making blogging more approachable, the stronger the open web will be.

Thanks Colin! It was great to have a chance to share some of our thoughts behind Micro.blog.

Thanks to Manton for taking the time to write thoughtful responses. If you haven’t yet given Micro.blog a try head on over to there and give it a whirl. You could very well make an impact on the type of place it becomes.

You can follow Manton on Micro.blog at @manton. And I’m @cdevroe.

Fred Wilson on owning your content

Fred Wilson:

I would never outsource my content to some third party. I blog on my own domain using open source software (WordPress) that I run on a shared server that I can move if I want to. It is a bit of work to set this up but the benefits you get are enormous.

The above quote is coming from someone who was a major investor in, and active user of,  Twitter. You can have both. You can tweet and enjoy using Twitter. You don’t have to boycott it to own your own content.

Over the last few months I’ve found the right balance for myself. I’m not syndicating anywhere* but publishing on my blog. I tweet from time-to-time, I post some photos to Instagram and Facebook from time-to-time, but I do all of that manually. I do so full-well-knowing that any of that content can disappear at any time. And I’d totally fine with it if it did, because everything I want to last is here on cdevroe.com.

* All of my posts do end up on micro.blog but that service is simply ingesting my RSS/JSON feed. I do not have to do anything special for that to work. If Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram did that I’d likely turn that on there too. But I’m tired of trying to keep up with their platform changes to write my own plugins, or even use plugins to do so. So I choose to manually POSSE and keep my sanity.

Repost: Stephen Pieper re: Indieweb plugins

👉 Stephen Pieper:

I went a bit crazy with Indieweb plugins and services to begin with. The fervour of the new follower. I’m cutting out the stuff I don’t need now or the the things that just don’t work the way I want them to. Manual seems best for some things.