Micro.blog

Way back in 2017, Manton Reece (who'd previously made Tweetmarker, a last-read-syncing service back when multiple Twitter clients existed, but then he quit using Twitter!) had a Kickstarter for a microblog/Twitter-like service where you'd host your own content, and a book about that.

3 years on, what's happened with micro.blog? How's it compare to blogging, fediverse, and Twitter?

No book yet, he's kicked the deadline down the road from 2018 to February 2020. Necromancers have a more strict understanding of "deadline". I have no leg to stand on mocking someone else's procrastination, but I do it anyway. Not just out of "where's my book?", but also it'd hopefully explain why he's made some of these decisions.

The service currently mostly hosts content on his silo, a Dreamhosts Hugo configuration, either free as micro.blog/username, or paid as username.micro.blog or your own DNS name pointing at the silo. Or, you can syndicate posts from any other blog, but there are difficult limitations.

There's no easy way to tell, but I believe the userbase is in the high hundreds or low thousands, mostly free. I follow a good number of busy people and see far <100 posts/day.

Microblogging: Micro.blog is, as Manton describes it, only for microblogging. Which means different things to different people.

To me, the Twitter experience was finding your friends at meetups, and links to long blog posts and art, often reposted widely, and then you'd have a discussion in replies. We wanted to see all our friends' replies because that's how you found out what was interesting to them. It was a social RSS reader.

Later as Twitter sabotaged the community to try to become a new Facebook, it devolved into brainless blipverts and morons shouting at you. I think the restriction of short posts cuts off oxygen to your brain and you start to die, which is why people panic and hate so much there. That's the part you shouldn't emulate. I blame Twitter for much of the political situation of the US.

fediverse has a few defense mechanisms against becoming Twitter. Long posts, and content warnings (intended to hide adult or possibly annoying content, often used as humorous titles or to minimize long posts for those not interested) encourage thinking about a post. You can have an intelligent discussion, not screaming slogans at each other.

The early Mastodon (specifically, not so much the other servers) community was rabidly anti-business and anti-celebrity; and I do mean rabid in the way they attacked Wil Wheaton, of all people (he said "Don't be a dick!" and they were dicks to him). There's places more neutral now, but most extremists are still federated. Gab's ludicrous move to fediverse didn't do much for them, since many servers block them and even try unpersoning anyone who doesn't. But mastodon.social is a hive of scum & villainy like Twitter, so beware of large instances.

Manton's view, as I understand it, is that microblogging is just conversation in short SMS-like messages (280 chars for m.b, which maybe provoked Twitter into doubling its 140? But fediverse posts are 500+). Titles are not allowed, or it becomes just a link with no context, summary, or images (except the current bug/design flaw which does post 16x16 flyspeck icons of your images).

In WordPress, titles are not realistically optional. The scheduler and batch editors are nearly unusable without them, all the blog themes look bad and can't be easily navigated. WordPress is for writing—I don't like the Gutenberg editor, but they clearly understand the power of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press—generally long, coherent thoughts and essays. Even short linked-list content, like my music of the day, needs to say what it is first, and I put effort into writing puns, poems, or suggestive descriptions. Just irreconcilable.

Art: m.b does sort of support photography. Originally it cropped all photos square, compressed to some small size, run thru one of a few ugly filters like it was still 2010—but now if your post is hosted on the silo, it'll post a photo unmolested, I believe. If hosted elsewhere, and you have no title, and low enough char count, it might post your images, rescaled to some smaller size, after some processing time; all the joy of 24 Hour Photos for the 21st Century. There's even a separate iOS app Sunlit, sort of an Instagram clone, but rather pointless since the main m.b app or Icro (a 3rd party iOS client) will read the whole timeline and also post images. Now's a good time to see this in action, as there's a "pin" for posting a photo every day for the month.

If you have a title, you get the flyspeck icons instead of actual art. This might be my biggest problem. I put effort into making a post fun & interesting, and it's stripped to a bare text link.

Tagging: m.b has its own solution, which is a limited (10? 4 of which are America-centric sportsballs) set of emoji. If you post 📚 it'll show up in a discover tab about books. It's pretty quiet.

This is totally incompatible with WordPress, where categories are named, or Twitter or fediverse, where is standard, so you need both to syndicate your taxonomy. Since m.b doesn't pick up any post content with a title, I'd have to put emoji tags in the title which is weird and puts a bunch of hex escapes in the URL slug. And most of my posts are unclassifiable, because I don't talk about sportsball; where's the Scheme programming emoji? The Sumerians invented a system of syllabic writing 5200 years ago to get away from pure hieroglyphics because they couldn't have enough symbols to represent every idea. Maybe in another few thousand years this new hieroglyphics idea will fade out.

There's no search function in m.b, though search engines generally crawl some or all of the timeline. Search in fediverse is limited to your own posts and stars, public hashtags, and user accounts, but also search engines and all sorts of research and marketers scan the public timelines, it's easy to find anything. Blogs are nice and persistent, and search engines work fine with these.

Reply hazy: In Twitter, a post has a permalink, and if you click that it shows the post & replies, as you'd expect from a silo. Actually, it now makes you hit "more" links all thru the thread because Jack hates the Twitter-that-was.

m.b has no visible permalink in the apps, but does on the site. Except where it doesn't, like in replies, where you need to click the reply date to see the reply & one parent, then the upper name, and you can see the thread.

WP of course only has comments, but they're just down there.

fediverse permalinks show only immediate parents & replies, except the root post shows all replies (sometimes including 1000+ reply "hellthreads" which will peg your CPU, it's great fun).

In theory, all of these are connectible by webmention protocols and ActivityPub and IFTTT, in practice even nerds like me only have patience for one cross-wiring.

Identity: Possibly the weirdest part of micro.blog is the sign-in system, which has no password. It sends a token to your email, you click the link and you're logged in until you clear cookies, which I do rather often. Since there's no username/password, the browser can't remember it for you, and there's nothing in 1password. Somewhat more dangerous than other email recovery systems, since there's no "something you know and something you have", it should probably have at least a recovery PIN.

Remember the "pins" from Art? They're achievements, but hidden away in the site, Account, pins; there's no way to see anyone else's, or compare to global stats, or anything like that. Likewise, you can't see anyone's follower/following count exactly, tho it does list "Following N users you aren't following".

The profile if you're using the free account is incredibly minimalist; an avatar and short bio, no ability to theme it. If you pay for the silo, you can theme your Hugo instance, but it's fairly limited because most Hugo themes don't work with title-less posts, either.

Back in the day, Twitter let you customize your colors and page background, but now it's generic with a little header image if anyone looks at your profile.

fediverse has a much more extensive bio, up to 4 key/value links (I use them for Blog, BBS, Patreon, and Pronouns), and tabs for all your pings (aka toots/awoos/posts, depending on server), pings & replies, and media posts.

Of course, you can do anything with WP; I'm on the Twenty Sixteen theme, but heavily customized, and I may strip out the stock CSS soon to make a few tweaks easier.

Where are we? So, this blog seems nearly ideal to me now. I need to clean up my categories, and there's a few site & style hacks I'd like to make, but it's the happiest I've been with a technical system in a long time. Audience is good, at least by current standards. I'd love to get more, but Scheme, RPGs, music, movie, videogame, & book reviews, and space news may just be a niche intersection.

Syndication is my big problem, and unfortunately micro.blog is by far the least capable of the 4 places my posts go out to, and aside from commenting does nothing an RSS link wouldn't do better.

I couldn't, or wouldn't, go back to a SMS-level Twitter service, so posting on m.b the way it's "intended" isn't useful.

Twitter to Join Fediverse!

Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard. 🧵

Which to me just sounds like ActivityPub with extra steps. My immediate shitpost reaction was "Twitter's new servers will only federate with Gab and 4chan."

But to be serious a second:

  1. Mastodon.social has 423K users; 10% are "active". M.s is a social mess, really an open sewer; reading the Federation timeline on it with a LOT of filtering is unpleasant or impossible. Much of the content there is kind of unpleasant; it's more left-wing but just as bad as Twitter is. For a while, I had the instance blocked, but it interfered with me following & being followed by friends who live there. I'd like them to leave for a nicer suburb, but they won't yet.
  2. Pawoo.net has 590K users, but it's on the fringes of Fediverse and gets blocked or silenced by a lot for porn publishing. shrug
  3. Twitter has 330M users; probably 1% are "active", but that's still 3.3M users, 6x more than the biggest Mastodons. Every social problem of M.s is going to be vastly worse, and it'll need a fairly different software architecture than Mastodon or even Pleroma (which is more efficient, but we haven't seen any big Pleroma instances).

I think if Twitter does adopt ActivityPub, they'll need to split into a bunch of servers. Ideally they'd take a cue from GeoCities and have regional or interest-based servers, so there'd be california.twitter.com, paris.twitter.com, hongkong.twitter.com, hiking.twitter.com, apple.twitter.com, etc., and on a big naming day they'd make everyone pick their new home. Cap them at 100K or something sane. Then they could participate in Fediverse like everyone else.

More likely Twitter will be intensely boring and character-less, and name them 1.twitter.com, 2.twitter.com, etc., and have some hack where the front end routes users to their shard, there won't be a Local or Federated timeline at all, and they'll just wreck the Federated timeline with the Twitter firehose of shit.

@Jack is Hacked? Or is he Wack?

  • @jack is hacked: Is Twitter bullshit news or entertainment? I've seen worse movies.

Yeah, sure. The posts are deniable, Discord's able to secure their services far faster than Twitter. But is it real?

Was there anything posted that Jack wouldn't? Maybe it was a trial balloon to see if his open swerve right would be OK. That's why it took so long, they needed response metrics.

In either case, the claim that he only works on his iPhone, and rejects a laptop because it's too heavy, is maybe the douchiest thing about this incident.

New Twitter UI

Speaking of social fucking media. The new Twitter UI is ridiculous. It's now impossible to have a bookmark to your "Latest Tweets" view or set a preference to only see that instead of "the algorithm" picking shit for you, have to manually click a star icon which has no mouseover text, title, or hints, I want you to see the source for this button (turn away if you're squeamish):

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Latest Tweets</span>
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Are you fucking kidding me.

They removed the ability to set your own profile's background color & image some time ago, back in the day everyone's Twitter pages (if they knew what they were doing) looked unique and like a home page, but now it's entirely gone. There's a little swatch of image behind your profile photo, but nobody'll ever see it.

Conversations are even harder to read, but the site's been just broken for conversations for years. Kara Swisher's interview/monstering of Jack proved that.

I'm sure there's more to hate.

Come over to Fediverse, if you actually want a quieter place to have a few conversations, and a relentlessly non-algorithmic timeline; Mastodon's more baseline what-Twitter-was-like for good and bad, Pleroma's a better server and client but often smaller, isolated instances (porn and weirdos, yay!). Don't be a gigantic flaming asshole there and it'll be fine; well, and Gab is sorta federated except everyone blocks them, so even flaming assholes have a home.

Twitterversary

A day that will live in infamy: Twitter emailed me to make sure I knew I joined Twitter 11 years ago today (really?). And then put a banner in front of my notifications (which I still see even if I don't read my timeline), so I said fuck it and hit post, made the swamp a little shittier.

But. 11 years ago, Twitter was really fun. WWDC lunch & event planning, and other nerds finding our weird Objective-C hobby useful and profitable, and all the weird social events which even antisocial nerds would enjoy because it was software-mediated. The normals hadn't really found their way there yet.

At first there was just a little post form on a page, and you had to reload to get updates. Then nice clients came out, like Twitterrific (great for just reading the stream, invented "tweet" and the bird icon, his name is Ollie), Twittelator (great for lists and filtering), and Tweetie (neat UI design, invented pull-to-refresh). And favrd, which was like a leaderboard for funny Twitter.

Then everything started to go wrong. Normals and their predators got on, and humor took a nosedive as thieves stole jokes and reposted memes. Twitter started making their web app usable, and limiting their API, and telling the client devs to go away. Eventually they bought Tweetie and mangled it and then killed it, because everyone at Twitter is too stupid and tasteless to maintain good software.

I've told of the time around App.net and on in Mastodon. I'm still there, generally quite happy with it; there's a bunch of App.net refugees around. I'm kinda sad a bunch of people I like are still on Twitter, there's a hell of a good world out here away from all of that.

Kara Interviews Jack

But I can't read all the tweets in Safari, because the "moments" feature doesn't work: "403 Forbidden: The server understood the request, but is refusing to fulfill it." Reloading it in Chrome worked. Neither of them has me blocked.

As @ashleyfeinberg wrote: “press him for a clear, unambiguous example of nearly anything, and Dorsey shuts down.” That is not unfair characterization IMHO. Third, I will thread in questions from audience, but to keep this non chaotic, let’s stay in one reply thread.
—Kara Swisher
I grade you all an F on this and that's being kind. I'm not trying to be a jackass, but it's been a very slow roll by all of you in tech to pay attention to this. Why do you think that is? I think it is because many of the people who made Twitter never ever felt unsafe.
Got it. But do you think the fact that you all could not conceive of what it is to feel unsafe (women, POC, LGBTQ, other marginalized people) could be one of the issues? (new topic soon)
—Kara Swisher
Yeah, it's Chinatown, Jake.
—Kara Swisher

I would've quoted Jack, but he literally said nothing of substance in the entire thread, only "we tried". Tried and failed, Jack.

What a catastrophe, a giant horrible threshing machine of hate with a doofus asleep at the wheel.

The right solution is to shut Twitter down and switch to federated systems. Fediverse routinely "blocks" instances which allow abusers; those instances can remain their own little world, but not interact with the rest of us. And users can block or mute people and domains based on their own needs. I recently muted mastodon.social, the "flagship" instance, because it has many abusers and little moderation. The Federated timeline I see now is so much nicer without m.s. If I want to see what Eugen or their local timeline is doing, I still have an m.s account I can check in with, but I don't bother unless someone refers to current drama and I feel up to reading drama.

HuffPo interviews JackTwit

Not that picking on Twitter should be a steady activity for me, but it's just so noxious even from a distance these days, and just read this goddamned interview:

(Warning: HuffPo is like 90% ads by page volume, so have AdBlock/uBlock/Better/etc set to kill, not stun)

ashleyfeinberg: Those are certainly words, though none of them appeared to answer my question.

ashleyfeinberg: And is there any situation at all in which you would decide to delete the site?
jack: Now I remember why I unfollowed you! Because that’s all you DM me, “delete the site.”
ashleyfeinberg: Well, that’s ... Maybe half the time.
jack: But how is that going to help?

Seems like a damned good idea to me.

Using Twitter as a Bad RSS Feed

So, there's no individual RSS feed for The Macalope on the rotting corpse of MacWorld. The Macalope used to have its own blog with an RSS feed, but it hasn't posted regularly in months, maybe years. But, there is a Twitter feed @themacalope.

Back in the day, Twitter actually had RSS feeds for users, but then took them out along with closing down the API, because they want to be the Empire.

"The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers."

Turns out, FeedBin will let you add a Twitter URL and treat it as an RSS feed!

So the happy ending is I can see important current events like this, without opening birbsite:

Now let us turn to the person we would naturally turn to for the definitive last word on Apple.

“It’s hard to be a two-trick pony,” former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told me Thursday.

The Macalope just raised his eyebrows so far they went halfway down his back. He wasn’t even aware he could do that.

Did You Know Twitter Still Exists?

I mostly forgot Twitter was a thing. Fediverse/Mastodon is more interesting, blogs more in-depth, Discord & Slack more immediate. Google+ is shutting down, MeWe is still small and kinda weird, reddit's poison, but they're all more fun. I guess Twitter was a big deal once? Kind of like that Facebook thing I deleted? It's been weeks since I've seen a link to Twitter, and my feeds used to have so much t.co junk in them.

So, this beta app. The first and most obvious point, the color scheme and conversation UI. iMessage has set the standard of blue=secure Apple person, green=disreputable Android person (literally: no iMessage end-to-end encryption, could be anyone over insecure SMS). Here, it looks like (contrary to the text) white is randos, green is followees, blue is you. And it's upside-down, newest-bottom; this is a very common disorder, but I don't know why anyone does it. Oldest should always be at the bottom, newest at top, because that's how you blog/microblog, and you mostly want to see the newest posts in a conversation.

Tapping to display the star ("heart" as they call it now, well I'll tell you favstar was not favhearts) comes from the old Tweetie app they bought and killed to make their terrible apps. Removing it is typical flailing-around-without-ideas Twitter. Discord & Slack let you respond to any post with an emoji, which is clearly the coming thing. Micro.blog hasn't yet made this a silent interaction, but it's not uncommon to reply with just an emoji.

Pinned tweets, they already have that. Just checked, mine's still my favorite scotch review:

Mark @mdhughes
6 Apr 2011
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: Smells like ash & wet fields, tastes like the sweat off your girlfriend's boobs, feels like your first heartbreak.

Mastodon has pinned posts, but I don't use one, since the profile text and custom fields (just "Blog" for me) are long enough: @mdhughes@appdot.net

"a status update field (i.e. your availability, location, or what you are doing, as on IM).": Isn't that what Twitter is? The input field used to just say "What are you doing?" Admittedly, you can't spam your iTunes music to that, or you can but everyone will hate you. My AIM status was always an important but silent signal of what you could message me about. On Mastodon I often change my "real name" to show emoji of my current status, currently ☃️⌨️🖥, but it'd be even better as a custom field. Maybe I'll see about finding or writing a command-line utility for that this week.