micro.blog

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Twitter for a long time now I guess. The love comes from a single, admittedly huge, facet: the sub communities there. While Twitter itself is a mess, it’s one of the few places online that I can find certain groups of like-minded people. The love mostly stops there.

Everything else about it is either already terrible, or turning that way while Twitter don’t seem to care. I love short-form writing, but we can probably all admit that 140 characters doesn’t work very well. I rarely enjoy the mental gymnastics required to fit something in to the character limit, and I’ve particularly seen it repeatedly screw over those participating in longer threads that need real chunks of information to be added in order to succeed.

140 wouldn’t be so bad if there was support for some basic formatting that didn’t count towards the limit. A bit of bold and italics can go a long way to imparting extra meaning to (English) text. Instead we get cack-handed attempts to make certain Twitter idioms not count towards the character limit, rather than decently increasing the limit itself.

Then there’s the matter of how Twitter is paid for, and how Twitter is changing as a result. Twitter’s business is entirely funded by advertisers, who pay to have things inserted into your timeline as you consume it. Twitter’s official clients for iOS and Web surface those ads, and like anything advertising related on the modern Internet, the ads are obnoxious, track you and erode your privacy, and are generally poorly targeted. That naturally drives people towards ad blockers, or alternative clients, both of which threaten Twitter’s core business by reducing direct revenue.

I’ve never been comfortable with businesses that make that tradeoff, selling your eyeballs on the screen that’s delivering their service with the placement of ads, and the online advertising industry seems reluctant to rethink how adverts are used to pay for stuff. If Twitter offered the ability to pay for an account, where the money was used to globally disable ads on the service, I might not even be writing this.

As it stands, the poor value proposition of being sold to Twitter’s advertisers, combined with the inability for Twitter to deliver at least what I want to improve the service, means I’m about ready to call it a day there, despite the strong hook of community I mentioned in the lede.

Enter micro.blog, a recently launched (in beta for backers only) service that attempts to solve a bunch of problems with the online short-form writing model that Twitter embodies. Take my short critique of Twitter here and invert it and that’s what micro.blog is today.

It doesn’t have the community yet by virtue of its infancy, but it nails the basics with support for text formatting, more space to write, and a business model that’s clear and simple. You pay micro.blog some money and in return they they provide micro.blog’s system. No garbage side selling of your time on micro.blog, as you read and interact with the content there. No ads.

Crucially, you also own your own content. micro.blog’s model is that the timeline aggregator doesn’t have to display content stored in its own database of posts. You can ask it to fetch content from your own blog, hosted on your own infrastructure. You can also go in the other direction, asking micro.blog to cross post to other services, ranging from other blogs to Twitter. The on-the-wire interaction with micro.blog happens with open standards.

The de-centralised aspect of micro.blog sets it apart from app.net, the recently defunct Twitter competitor (I know that sells app.net’s functionality short, but that’s what it was mostly known as being) that was centralised in a way that micro.blog fundamentally isn’t. That said, it was valiantly ad-free in a way they (sadly, in hindsight) couldn’t sustain as a business.

That ownership of your content inside the aggregated timeline is important. It turns the increasingly common siloed model of Internet services inside out. I believe that’s required to keep the ‘net open and acting honestly and in the best interests of its users, rather than the in the best interests of the shareholders of the ad-funded service monoliths.

So while micro.blog still has the critical mass of community problem that still keep Twitter compelling, I think it attempts to solve certain problems inherent to the ‘net today in a way I’d like to support, and therefore do my bit to build community there by being a part of it. That means giving them some money for the service to let them have a crack at it, and making it the place my short-form content originates, cross posting to Twitter to start with, at least in the shorter term before I take advantage of the fact that my micro.blog aggregated content can come from my own infrastructure.

It’s hard to predict if micro.blog will work out, but the core tenets of the service seem sensible and sound to me, and attack the centralised and badly funded mess of something like Twitter. Micro.blog is only open to its Kickstarter backers while they iron out the main issues, but when it opens generally I’d encourage you to take a look if you enjoy creating and/or consuming short-form writing online.