Recorded January 19, 2018
A very short audio bit I recorded on my way out of work last Thursday, the day I interviewed Manton Reece.
I’m publishing this bit for no other reason than I need to publish more of these audio bits!
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:
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.
He has some interesting takes. Most of which I agree with.
I do not think I agree with this take, though:
AR will be a passing craze, while at the same time making certain niche use cases much better than they’ve ever been. I just hope those use cases are more useful than funny animated masks on social networks.
AR may indeed be a passing craze but I don’t think that will be determined within 2018. It will take much longer to know that. And I don’t think the use cases for AR will be niche. For instance, I do believe my future workspace will be “in AR” rather than VR. (Or, perhaps this is my own wishful thinking). And I think there are enough people like me that would want this to say it is larger than just a niche use.
Of course, maybe I’m wrong and Ready Player One will be the reality.
Regarding self-driving technology, though, Read says:
Problems of infrastructure, distance, regulation, public opinion, and human nature will infuriate utopians who would like a Jetson’s future today, but these are real issues that will slow adoption in the real world. It’s coming, but current estimates seem optimistic.
This I agree with. Obviously.
Many of us underestimate how long change happens. The change we want we want immediately. Personally, I want self-driving to become mainstream yesterday. But I feel we’ve still got nearly a decade of manual cars and drivers to deal with before things take off.
More people should write down their predictions. And not just for 2018 but for the next 20 years. It is a fun mental exercise and I’m certain it will be fun to look back upon every few years.
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.
I’ve been using Micro.blog on the web, Mac, and iOS for a few months and the community there has been great. In fact, the vast majority of my web site’s comments are webmentions sent from responses on Micro.blog.
Congratulations to Manton for reaching this milestone.
Mac users can use the native Micro.blog for Mac app. It’s a free download and supports most of the same features as the iOS version.
You can see a short video of it on Manton’s blog. You’ll even notice a rather handsome avatar make an appearance.
Unfortunately I cannot give this a spin yet since I haven’t upgraded my Mac to High Sierra. And it doesn’t appear I’ll be doing so for at least a month or two since I haven’t seen any updates from Apple on that front. High Sierra just seems far too unstable to switch to on my main work computer at the moment.
Colin Walker, though, seems to like this new app:
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.
There has to be a line, a point where a comment is just that and not a reply. It’s a question of semantics but not everyone’s answer to “what is a comment and where does it belong?” will be the same.
I struggle with this a lot.
It is likely the point I should have made in my post regarding Micro.blog becoming a commenting service (and the fact that I don’t like that). I don’t want to reply on my blog to every reply to my posts on M.b because then I would have dozens and dozens of posts on my blog that would be very tough for readers to follow contextually. I believe the commenting mechanism that has been around for decades, even un-threaded, is far more useful than dozens of desperate posts stitched together loosely with a link that says “in reply to”.
Webmention attempts to bridge that gap between post and reply but that also is tough to follow along if the thread gets unwieldy.
However, I also don’t want to reply to every reply on my posts directly on M.b either (though, I do from time-to-time) as that isn’t much better than using any other silo like Twitter or Facebook. Should M.b go away, all of those conversations would be lost.
This isn’t a new issue nor is it exclusive to M.b. If I replied on my own blog to other people’s posts on their own blogs (like I am in this post to Colin Walker’s blog) then one side of the conversation could disappear at any time. I can only control my side of the equation. But at least if I have my own blog I have control of that one side.
I think it is good that these topics are being discussed again. The same debates have been swirling since blogging began, they swelled again when the indieweb movement began to take shape, and I think they are happening again as a result of M.b’s growing community. I do not believe there is one single answer to many them. You have to do what is right and sustainable for you.
For now, here are my personal rules for replying to posts. These will most definitely change over time.
As an aside: I know some of you do not want to leave a public comment. I love getting reader emails. I get a fair number of them. And some of them have been excellent conversations. So please don’t hesitate.
* I no longer have a Twitter or Facebook account. I do have a M.b account but I’m beginning to wonder if I need one as I have my own fully functional weblog. If I didn’t and I wanted a microblog and didn’t want to use Twitter, I could see having an account. If I wanted a more fully featured blog I still believe WordPress is the best tool for that. Also, I’m sure as the M.b community grows it could mean that my content would be discovered by more people. I think M.b may end up being a thriving, well run, community and service. It is why I backed Manton’s efforts via Kickstarter. But, if I have my own blog, and if I really don’t care much about my content being discovered, then I see little reason to syndicate to it. For the time being I’m still going to as I want to see how the service matures.
I miss my iPhone SE. Everything I ever wrote about it here on my blog was awash with my overwhelming love of the device. I still believe it is the best phone Apple has made to date.
The only reason I use an iPhone 7 Plus is the camera. I said I wouldn’t switch from the iPhone SE but I did once I saw the dual-camera. It was almost as if I bought a new favorite camera and was forced to turn in my favorite phone to have it.
I was reminded of this topic by Manton Reece. He recently wrote:
The iPhone SE was an incredible value when it first shipped — a perfect balance of size, great camera, and nearly-flawless design. I still love mine. It’s arguably the best overall phone Apple has ever made.
The iPhone SE likely won’t see an update until next spring. At that point, the camera that was competitive at launch will be 2 generations behind. This isn’t a surprise; we knew this was coming. It’s just the more I see the photos from Traci’s iPhone 7 Plus camera, the more I’m pulled back to the cutting edge. The dual-camera approach is a major step forward.
Over 18 month’s ago I wrote:
I only have one feature request for the iPhone SE. Make it waterproof.
Now I have a few more requests. Make an iPhone SE at the exact same size with an edge-to-edge display, the dual-camera system, and make it completely waterproof. Oh, and you can throw in USB-C too. That would be the perfect iPhone.
We’ve been improving Micro.blog’s support for Webmention. When you reply to a post on Micro.blog, from the web or iOS app, it will ping the site you’re replying to, giving that site a chance to include the comment.
Kudos to Manton as Webmentions seems to work beautifully is Micro.blog. The improvements show and the value is starting to show too. So I guess I just need to stop complaining. I’ve been harping on webmention for a little while. I feel terribly about it. Because I want it to work so badly and I’ve just been frustrated that is seems so inconsistent! So I plan to shut up now and sit down and get it working properly. I’ll likely do that within the next few weeks.
To see Micro.blog’s webmentions in action you can see a few on my posts there and here on my blog. I’m looking forward to their presentation being much more valuable on my blog. My email inbox is open for suggestions.
I wanted to take a few moments to jot down a comparison between my wish list for this year’s WWDC and what was announced. Also, towards the end, some quick thoughts on the surprises that were announced.
Here are my wishes, in order from the previous post, and whether or not we got them.
My last minute wish that I threw in was for driving mode. And that is a huge yes!
If we’re keeping score that’s like 8 nopes, 1 kinda, and 4 yeses. Which doesn’t seem like a good score but somehow I was very impressed with WWDC overall. I think we’re in for a great year of software updates coming from Apple.
Now, onto some of the surprises.
There are of course many things I haven’t mentioned but ll-in-all a solid week of Apple updates.
One last thing; recently Tim Cook has been quoted as saying that Apple is focused on autonomous driving (which we knew) but that they are focused on it as a category rather than a feature. Apple finds autonomy as an interesting area moreso than simply self-driving. I’m very interested to see how this idea manifests itself in future products.
With JSON Feed, it’s not about disrupting RSS exactly. RSS is great and widely deployed; it’s not going anywhere. But we can take what was good about RSS, improve a few things, and maybe jumpstart new tools and apps that work together. Developers use JSON everywhere now instead of XML, and Brent and I felt that maybe XML was even holding RSS and blogging back.
As I thought. These are great reasons for JSON Feed to exist.
The rest of the interview is worth reading as well.
Manton Reece and Brent Simmons have created a new specification for creating feeds using JSON. They write:
We — Manton Reece and Brent Simmons — have noticed that JSON has become the developers’ choice for APIs, and that developers will often go out of their way to avoid XML. JSON is simpler to read and write, and it’s less prone to bugs.
JSON Feed has been implemented on a few platforms already and it was talked about a lot since its debut. I’m glad someone has created a spec around this so that the developers that would like to use this can now rally behind a unified specification. However, JSON Feed won’t be replacing RSS any time very soon.
RSS is something you could call a “good enough” solution. It is already in place, tons of stuff supports it, and works fine. And while the developers of all of the apps and services that use RSS could update their software to create and parse JSON Feed it is doubtful they will very quickly as the benefits aren’t all that great. The advantage of JSON Feed mostly comes when creating new services not replacing old ones.
I don’t think Manton and Brent believe JSON Feed will replace RSS. I don’t think that is why they created the spec. I believe they feel this is a good alternative for the developers that would like to use it and that they wrote the spec out of a need that they had. Which is good.
I’ve discussed the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON in the past. Me, in June 2015 on one of the benefits of replacing RSS with JSON:
RSS is a fairly bloated specification. It is a bit verbose and the file sizes for even a small blog can get relatively large quickly. JSON is, by its very nature, a bit more succinct. This would result in faster load times, easier caching, etc.
So while there are definite benefits, it is doubtful that RSS is going anywhere for a long time. There have been a few attempts to replace RSS with something that is smaller and easier to parse over the years and they simply didn’t catch on. This weekend Dave Winer (the inventor of RSS) chimed in on JSON Feed and he has a similar reaction to it as I have had; it is great that the specification exists but it will not be replacing RSS for news or blogs any time soon.
I’ve added a JSON feed to this blog because Manton created the WordPress plugin already.
Side note: How did I not see this one coming?
I love that blogs can scale from the trivial to the important. The microblog post about what you had for breakfast. The half-baked rant about something you’re passionate about. And sometimes, the rare essay that really hits the mark and makes people think.
Publishing most of my “tweets” here first has led to some frivolous posts. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Takes the pressure off of me to have every post be significant before hitting publish.
Jonathan LaCour, SVP, Product & Technology at Dreamhost:
We’d like to make it as easy as possible to launch a WordPress-powered microblog on DreamHost that integrates well with Manton’s upcoming Micro.blog service. In order to support that mission, DreamHost is kicking in a $5,000 pledge to the Kickstarter.
Nice move Dreamhost.
Manton Reece has added a thoughtful stretch goal to Micro.blog’s Kickstarter campaign:
If the Kickstarter reaches $80,000, I will use some of the money to make my very first part-time hire for Micro.blog: a community manager. The community manager will help set the tone for the service, work on documentation and best practices, and be responsible for curation when Safe Replies fails to automatically catch emerging problems.
Safe Replies sounds like something Twitter should have had a long time ago. Run over there and help Manton reach this new goal.