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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Follow: @c2dev2, RSS, JSON, Feedly, Micro.blog.

Jack Baty on follower counts

Jack Baty:

Years ago on Twitter, I would use follower counts as an indicator of authority or perhaps as a way to gauge someone’s impact on a community or topic. With so many followers, he or she must have useful or interesting things to say, right? That probably wasn’t a great way to think about follower counts even then, but it worked as often as not.

I quit Twitter with thousands of followers. Many of which I’d say were bots. Accounts with millions of followers also have a huge percentage of bots following them. I restarted my account from scratch and now only have dozens. Follower count means nothing about the person behind it.

Reminds me of this 2014 post.

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: Cabel Sasser re: Apple update caching

👉 Cabel Sasser on Twitter:

macOS 10.13 Tip: have lots of iOS / Mac devices in your house? And a Mac that’s usually on? Turn on “Content Caching” in Sharing prefs, and updates will be downloaded to all your devices from your Mac, saving time and bandwidth. LINK

Threads now officially supported on Twitter

Sasank Reddy, on the Twitter blog:

Now, hundreds of thousands of threads are Tweeted every day! But this method of Tweeting, while effective and popular, can be tricky for some to create and it’s often tough to read or discover all the Tweets in a thread. That’s why we’re thrilled to share that we’re making it simpler to thread Tweets together, and to find threads, so it’s easier to express yourself on Twitter and stay informed.

I am not a fan of threads. They are ungainly, hard to follow, and a terrible reading experience.

That said, you cannot control how people will use a platform that you create. You can try to stop things you don’t like. You can attempt to ban a behavior. But that usually doesn’t work. Or you can make adjustments to make it a better experience. Like when Instagram introduced Stories to cut down on people making second accounts. Twitter has chosen to try to make threads on Twitter a little easier to do and hopefully a little easier to follow.

Before I pass judgement on how they’ve done this, I’ll let them iterate on these new features a few times to see if they can get it right. But, overall, I’m not a big fan of threads so even if they build an incredible UI for them I still do not believe I’d like them. But, again, (I can’t write this strongly enough) people are going to write threads on Twitter whether or not Twitter supports them.

As Manton Reece mentioned, I do not think threads are good for the web. But I don’t think they can be eradicated. I like how Micro.blog chooses to turn longer posts into “blog posts” (whatever that means these days) but that wouldn’t be right for Twitter. It is very right for Micro.blog.

I wonder? If I didn’t have a blog – and also didn’t really know how to set one up or had no desire to do so – would I appreciate this feature? I’m thinking I would. Or, I would write longer posts on Facebook and link from Twitter to those posts. Shiver.

Follow Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram:

Today we’re introducing the ability to follow hashtags, giving you new ways to discover photos, videos and people on Instagram. Now it’s even easier to stay connected with the interests, hobbies, passions and communities you care about.

This is an excellent feature. I won’t even go into all the ways Twitter should have been first to things like this (seeing as the hashtag was invented there).

If you’re building a platform that supports hashtags you may want to consider doing something like this too.

Doug Lane on Microblogging tone

Doug Lane, on thinking a bit more before publishing on his own site than he would on Twitter or Facebook:

If I let moments of anger or frustration sit for a bit, one of two things will happen. Most likely, I’ll move on to something more meaningful without shoving valueless negativity in anyone else’s face. Or, if something negative is still on my mind after some time has passed, I still have the option to post about it. But it’s likely that whatever I post, even if it’s still negative in tone, will be more thoughtful and constructive than a vent in the moment would have been.

I’ve recently jumped back into the fray. This is something I’ve notice immediately. I’ll post absolute drivel on Twitter whereas I curate and sensor myself far more here on my blog. Though, some of you likely wish I did that a bit more.

It also reminds me of an opinion that I have about Snapchat. I’ve mentioned it in the past. I think that it is totally fine that you feel a bit more free on Twitter or on Snapchat to post things that you may otherwise think are worthy of the bin. Because they are made for that. I actually like having the separation.

Colin Walker “be careful what you wish for”

Colin Walker:

I spent years blogging about social media, trying to think about ways to drive mainstream adoption. When we reached the tipping point I had to ask “what now?” but still managed to find things to write about for a while.

But, for the last several years, I have become increasingly disenchanted with social networks, and the way they operate, leading to the deletion of my Google Plus account and shuttering of my Twitter profile.

This strikes very close to home. For years and years I beat the social media drum. In fact, I’ve personally installed Twitter on people’s phones and signed them up to the service. But then, when I deleted my Twitter account, people thought I was nuts.

Wanting any social network to “take off” falls squarely in the “be careful what you wish for” department. If “everyone” was using your favorite network – you may not like it anymore. That is the case with Twitter*.

* Twitter problems are myriad. But a big one is that their community is full of wolves.

Twitter’s new character UI

Josh Wilburne, Designer at Twitter:

With this in mind, we designed a system that defines two types of written languages, dense and non-dense, and expands the character limit for non-dense languages. By grouping languages this way, we can give people writing in non-dense languages like English and Spanish the same space to express themselves as people writing in information-dense languages like Japanese. This will make sharing thoughts and ideas on Twitter a lot less frustrating for many more people, while maintaining brevity on Twitter overall.

Twitter’s recent character count increase isn’t as simple as 140+140 (even though Jack tweeted thus). They seem to have done this thoughtfully. I think once the #280characters meme dies down a little things will settle in nicely for Twitter. I’ve already seen some great cases where it was used.

I also very much like the UI they’ve designed for showing you your progress which Wilburne covers in his post.

Rob Weychert reflects on 10 years of tweeting

Rob Weychert, reflecting on 10 years of Twitter usage, and the next 10:

I don’t know how the positive experiences I’ve had with Twitter stack up against the harm it’s caused, and I don’t know if I’ll be writing another post like this ten years from now, but I’m glad to have had the opportunity to collect these thousands of tiny moments over the last decade, and to have this milestone to reflect on them.

See also.

Side note: I downloaded all of my tweets before I deleted my Twitter account. I’m unsure if I’ll ever bring them back in any form but I’m glad I have them all.

Mike Monteiro on Twitter

Mike Monteiro on Medium on Twitter:

Twitter today is a cesspool of hate. A plague of frogs. Ten years ago, a group of white dudes baked the DNA of the platform without thought to harassment or abuse. They built the platform with the best of intentions. I still believe this. But they were ignorant to their own blind spots. As we all are. This is the value of diverse teams by the way. When you’re building a tool with a global reach (and who isn’t these days) your team needs to look like the world it’s trying to reach. And ten years later, the abuse has proven too much to fix.

We all miss the old Twitter. But it is gone and isn’t coming back. Many of us bloggers have covered this for the last few years. We all need to move on. But I’m glad Mike took the time to write about it. It is cathartic.

Jason Snell on Twitterrific for Mac

Jason Snell:

I started using Twitter because of Twitterrific for Mac. When the Iconfactory first released the app, I signed up for a Twitter account and started chatting with my friends. That was ten years ago.

Ditto. I actually started using Twitter via SMS in 2006 then saw it bloom at SXSW in 2007 but then when I saw Twitterrific in 2007-2008 it became a daily (heck, hour-by-hour) habit.

Twitterrific for Mac

Iconfactory:

The Twitter app for people who actually use Twitter. Now all-new for macOS.

Imagine if Twitter cared as much about their desktop and mobile apps (and the people who used them) as Iconfactory does.

Twitter is solving the wrong problem, again

Twitter:

We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).

Twitter’s largest issue* is gaining and retaining active users. The platform hasn’t meaningfully grown in many consecutive quarters. While I think it is totally fine to expand the character limit on tweets I do not believe a single holdout will come to Twitter now because of this change.

As far as my opinion about going from 140 to 280 I’m with Fred Wilson:

I don’t like the constraint when I compose tweets, but I love it when I consume them.

I’m sure the current user base will be split on this but I sit here thinking if I were on the Board of Twitter I’d be asking “is this all there is?”

* This is their largest issue purely because they are a public company with revenue based solely on ads.

Following Twitter accounts via RSS

I haven’t missed Twitter that much since deleting my account. The first week or two I missed Moments – but once that subsided I realized that Moments are generally a waste of time. Realtime reporting of most newsworthy events result in ill-informed, unsubstantiated tweets. I’m at a point now where I’d much prefer to get the real story after-the-fact rather than realtime.

There are instances where realtime reporting can be incredibly useful, such as when there is a fire, a traffic accident, or a natural disaster happening. Those tweets can save lives. But, in general, I’m perfectly OK with reading up on the news once or twice daily to see what really happened.

I do miss certain Twitter accounts. Especially those that do not have a blog or web site counterpart that I can follow along through another medium. And since Twitter is still web and developer hostile (meaning their API is far too limited and they don’t support open web distribution technologies like RSS) I’ve missed out on a lot of great content from those Twitter accounts.

So today I went searching around for some RSS feed generators that would use what little access to Twitter they have (presumably the limited API or HTML scraping or both) to create an RSS feed from accounts or hashtags or lists. And there are a number of services out there, some of which you have to pay for, others that toss in some ads, or others that are severely limited.

Then I found Publicate. I’m using Publicate’s Twitter RSS Feed Generator to create a few feeds based on some Twitter accounts I miss the most. You simply type in the URL you want to create a feed from, give them your email address*, and they provide a feed URL. So far it seems to be working. I’ve created a new collection in Feedly to store these feeds. Hopefully I’ll get the tweets I wanted to see most and I won’t have to deal with the drivel and hate I’ve seen on Twitter over the last 18 months. Or even Twitter itself!

* I certainly don’t mind my email address being a form of payment to a company. So I gave it to them. But, if you’re a bit of a hacker it is quite easy to dismiss the overlay, read the page’s source, and grab the feed URL without giving Publicate your email address. I want this tool to stick around so if my email address helps them to keep it up-and-running so be it.

JSON Feed to Twitter using PHP

In 2009 I scrawled together a simple PHP script that tweeted links based on an RSS feed. I then updated it to support OAuth and open sourced it on GitHub.

I haven’t really touched it since (though I get about 3 emails a month about it). Just a small update here and there.

This morning, with all of the JSON Feed hubbub going on, I decided to recreate that same simple script to parse JSON Feed rather than RSS. I also updated to the latest release of the PHP Twitter OAuth class by Tijs Verkoyen.

You can download the latest release or clone the repository on GitHub.

This took me mere minutes thanks to JSON Feed being much easier to deal with.

Avoid being great at Twitter

Seth Godin:

You can be good at Twitter in about five minutes a day. Spending ten minutes doesn’t make you twice as good… in fact, there’s probably little measurable improvement. To be great at Twitter might take five hours of daily effort.

At over 48,000 tweets I do not need any more Twitter practice. Lately I’ve been spending just 30 minutes now-and-then to go through my Twitter Lists and retweet that which I find positive, interesting, creative. Twitter has become such a mire of hate and political bunk that I simply avoid it otherwise. So while Seth’s advice is to save time by being happy with being good at Twitter as opposed to being great at Twitter I’m limiting my exposure to it simply for my own well-being.

Side note: the above may lead some to believe I no longer find value in Twitter. I do. Twitter Moments and Trends and Searches are still incredibly valuable. I simply find no value in keeping Twitter open as I used to. Partially due to the fallout from the US political core but also from Twitter’s own product decisions to algorithmically castrate its timeline.

The slow web and POSSE

David Mead:

This year all of my posts, replies, and retweets on Twitter will be coming from this blog and not using the Twitter app (#OwnYourData). That probably means doing it at the end of the day. I’m hoping that will make them more considered (something we may all want to be in the coming years).

I have most notifications off (and have for years). And I plan on keeping it that way.

But, I’m not doing so well on what he’s talking about in the quoted bit above. POSSE, as the indiewebbers call it, is posting on my site here and then syndicating it elsewhere. My blog posts are syndicated to Twitter the way I’d like but not Facebook or Instagram (the other two networks I use the most). And I also find myself lazily posting directly to Twitter rather than through my site because the apps are so easy to use. I wish I did better.

Here is what I would need to do to pull this off personally:

  • Post status updates, posts, audio bits, and photos to Facebook
  • Post photos to Instagram
  • Be able to retweet or quote tweet posts easily from my site (no idea how to do this)
  • Show Twitter likes, replies, retweets, quote tweets on my site
  • Show Facebook likes, replies, shares on my site
  • Show Instagram commends and likes on my site

I wouldn’t have to do all of these to be happy, but I’d at least like to push the content to those networks. Maybe I’ll start there.

App.net shutting down

Dalton Caldwell:

We envisioned a pool of differentiated, fast-growing third-party applications would sustain the numbers needed to make the business work. Our initial developer adoption exceeded expectations, but that initial excitement didn’t ultimately translate into a big enough pool of customers for those developers.

I’ve been a paying subscriber to App.net for the entire life of the platform (that is, until they cancelled my subscription this week).

When App.net launched many were drawing a line of comparison between it and Twitter. And since this announcement I’m seeing many drawing a line of comparison between App.net and Micro.blog. This isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.

If you read Dalton’s vision above, it doesn’t read anything at all like Twitter or Micro.blog.

App.net was an API for application developers to build on top of. Yes, something Twitter-like could be build on top of it. But so could so many other things. It had a data storage service, a push notification service, and even a crowd-funding feature called Backer that would, presumably, allow developers to pre-charge for new features for apps.

App.net was a very ambitious platform that, I believe, got pigeon-holed into a Twitter comparison because they created Alpha – a Twitter-like microblogging platform – as a demonstration of their own API. I think this muddied their messaging to the point where most people would describe App.net as a Twitter alternative.

Manton Reece’s forthcoming Micro.blog is not anything at all like App.net. Though, many are confused about Micro.blog similar to how many were confused about App.net. (I’ve had at least three conversations about Micro.blog where people have no idea what it will do.) They are comparing it to Twitter even though Manton doesn’t usually draw that line himself. And I think he will have to find a way to communicate its decentralization and the fact that it will work with your existing blogging platform so it too doesn’t get packaged and framed as simply a Twitter replacement.

Manton Reece on Twitter at 10 years

Manton Reece, like me, recently passed his 10 year anniversary on Twitter. I like this point he makes about how to see Twitter going forward:

It used to be impossible to imagine that Twitter could fail. And today, it’s still unlikely to vanish or even change much overnight. But the web will be better if we assume that Twitter is a lost cause. From the 10-year view, it’s clear that Twitter has already changed.

Assume Twitter (or any other service) could disappear and make adjustments where needed. I like it.