Wrapping My Head Around Micro.blog and IndieWeb

After the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica catastrophe and recent Twitter news (and retraction) about support for 3rd party clients, I found myself wondering about Micro.blog again, after hearing about it on Kickstarter a little over a year ago.

On the surface, it’s an indie Twitter-like app, in the vein of the now-defunct App.net, but whereas App.net was a Twitter clone – a silo where all interaction took place within the App.net platform – Micro.blog is more like a bit of glue to create a social app out of the larger web. (Brent Simmons has an excellent post about the differences.) You can pay $5 a month to get them to host your microblog, but by adopting some web standards like RSS and webmentions, you can host your microblog on your own site. If you’re on WordPress you can publish to your site using the Microblog iOS and Mac apps. Replies are a bit of a bugbear, though: they’re handled entirely within Micro.blog if initiated using the app’s Reply functionality, or threaded in properly if you post from your own site with the proper webmention URL.

It sounds a lot like a social RSS reader.

At the same time I was considering all this, I came across another post by Brent Simmons talking about the “IndieWeb”.

IndieWeb

The IndieWeb is a people-focused alternative to the “corporate web”.

Even the IndieWeb website doesn’t do a great job of explaining what it is, or what it means to “join the IndieWeb”. As far as I can tell, it’s a collection of practices and technologies that connects independent blog-type websites together into a quasi social network. Sound familiar?

There’s a lot of overlap between Micro.blog and IndieWeb (webmentions being the most significant commonality), and IndieWeb isn’t one monolithic thing. It’s a collection of independent-but-related stuff like IndieAuth (for authenticating yourself online based on your website) and microformats (a feed like RSS, but using HTML classes on your site instead of data on a separate URL). There’s also an overarching philosophy – which I’m not sure I entirely subscribe to – of community, owning your own content, and nostalgia for what I think they’d call the pre-siloed web.

JSON Writes

I’ve recently moved this blog from my own Concussion blog engine to WordPress. Concussion was getting annoying to write for1 and there were a few things I wanted to try out that wouldn’t work well on a non-CMS-based system.

I’ve got it all set up for Micro.blog and a bunch of IndieWeb stuff. (You can find me at micro.blog/sadlerjw.) Anything I post here automatically gets mirrored to Micro.blog and Twitter, and replies in either location get routed back to my site as comments.2

It’s interesting stuff, and it was fun to re-implement my site as a WordPress theme, but I feel like some things are missing. For instance, if someone replies to a post on Twitter, the reply gets sent back here as a comment. However if I reply here to that comment, it doesn’t get sent back to Twitter. Alternatively, I could write a brand-new post using the Twitter reply as a “reply-to” URL, and that would correctly be sent back to Twitter, but then the conversation as visible here would be scattered and hard to follow. I’m going to be experimenting with some other WordPress plugins to try to apply some finesse.

So: so far, so good. It does feel a little odd, as someone whose friends aren’t on these platforms, and who’s not a prolific blogger or “content producer”. We’ll see how it goes. If nothing else, it was a fun experiment!3

In the meantime, if your RSS subscription is including my title-less micro posts, and you don’t want that, check out the links on the Feeds page.


  1. I had to add new posts using git, without a way to preview how they would be rendered; my article parsing regex was also failing on a new post I was writing, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why. 

  2. I’ve got commenting turned off for now while I try things out. 

  3. And a little PHP refresher. (Yes I know that’s a dumb example, but it’s funny.) 

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@sadlerjw You’ve certainly found a few of the remaining pain points within the broader community and specifically with WordPress. There are obviously some UI bits like properly threaded conversations across multiple syndicated silos that could be better. I’ve written a tad about how threaded comments work between sites using WordPress, though didn’t touch on the idea of doing so also using Twitter or micro.blog: http://boffosocko.com/2017/12/15/threaded-replies-with-webmentions-in-wordpress/

Ideally in the end, everything would support Webmention and needing to syndicate to outside services would be somewhat moot.

As long as the conversation for something on micro.blog starts on your own site, the replies that occur there will generally flow back to your site via Webmention, but sadly one needs to use some manual chicanery to get a similar back and forth effect with other services like Twitter.

I suspect that in the coming months/year(s) things on this end will improve as the community marches forward.

Either way, congratulations on what you’ve done with you’re site! Hope to see you around either via reader or micro.blog.

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