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.
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…