hidden features of micro.blog

Micro.blog has some cool features that many users are not aware of. (They’re not really hidden, but that made for a better title than “not especially well-known.”) Here are some of my favorites:

1) An emoji-based system of tagging: for instance, 📚, which will show you books that micro.blog users are currently reading. And here’s a pandemic phenomenon: a tag for 🍞 — next time I’m baking I need to take a picture. And another pandemic-enhanced tag I like: 🌱 

2) Related (and discoverable from the 📚 page): a grid layout of the covers of those books.

3) If you are a micro.blog user and want to record what you are currently reading, the best way to do that is to go to this page and enter the title — or, better, the ISBN — of the book you’re reading. The ISBN will return an image of the cover of the specific edition you’re reading, like so: 

Screen Shot 2020 10 13 at 9 20 22 AM

Click on that image, and you get something like this: 

Screen Shot 2020 10 13 at 9 20 39 AM

Note the link to indiebookclub, a simple, open-web work-in-progress alternative to the bloated, chaotic locked-down mess that is GoodReads. But if you choose to start a new micro.blog post, you get a text field pre-populated with the relevant information. Just click “Post” and you get something like this

4) Micro.blog can also be an open-web, streamlined alternative to the monstrosity that Instagram has become, and if you want to see a good selection of the photos that micro.blog users are posting, then this infinitely-scrollable page is the best way to do it. And if you are interested only in a photo service and have an iPhone, then you might consider downloading the Sunlit app. It’s excellent. If you are on Android, I don’t think there is a photos-only app right now, but there are several micro.blog options for that platform. You can get a list of all the third-party clients for micro.blog here

5) I think this has to be enabled by individual users, but if you’re only interested in the photos that a particular user posts (as opposed to text), then you can usually find a dedicated photos page. Here’s mine

6) One feature I have been meaning to use: podcasting! That link will take you to the relevant information, but in brief: You can use micro.blog to post short-form podcasts (longer-form too, though that seems somewhat contrary to the character of the site). The best way to do this is through the microblog companion app Wavelength, which is to podcasts what Sunlit is to photos. I love the implementation of this feature: You can have your podcasts show up in your micro.blog timeline, but you can also register them with Apple so they will show up in the Apple Podcasts directory. 

Finally: Not a feature of micro.blog, but if you want to know why I believe that supporting such endeavors is important for our social future, please read this essay of mine

getting back to the open web via micro.blog

I was a Kickstarter backer of micro.blog and an early enthusiast, but I eventually drifted away from it because I was having trouble getting it to do what I want it to do. In some cases there were bugs in the system — it’s still a new platform, after all — and in some cases my brain was just not getting in sync with it. But I have continued to pay my monthly fee and to cheer it on, and micro.blog’s founding genius Manton Reece has been working away at improving the platform and extending its capabilities. Now I’ve decided to come back. Here’s why:

  1. My micro.blog page is part of my own domain — it’s on my turf. My data belongs to me.
  2. I need, for the usual professional reasons, to have a Twitter account, and the frictionless cross-posting from micro.blog allows to me to do so without stepping into the minefields of Twitter itself.
  3. I used to have an Instagram account, but I hated having even a tiny place in Zuckerworld, and micro.blog offers easy and clean image posting, plus a dedicated page for all my photos.
  4. Also, I devoted many years to using Pinboard as a bookmark manager, but (a) I was saving too much stuff; (b) the site has only been minimally improved over the past decade — it still lacks a responsive design, which is a crime in 2020; and (c) it’s not on my turf. Why not use micro.blog to post links with brief quotes?
  5. I’ve been thinking about doing — well, not a podcast as such, but occasional short audio, posts, microcasts one might say. The ability to do that is baked into micro.blog.

So basically micro.blog is a way for me to put everything I do online that is visually small — anything small enough not to require scrolling: quotes, links, images, audio files — in one place, and a place on my own site. The only weird thing about this setup is that it will make me look like I’m super-active on Twitter when I’m barely ever on Twitter. But that’s a small price to pay for moving my stuff out of the walled gardens and onto the open web. And maybe when I don’t have a new book to promote I can deactivate my Twitter account — again.

I’ll continue to use this particular wing of the ayjay.org empire for occasional longer posts, but most of the action will be happening over there. Oh, and it has its own RSS feed too — I recommend that in preference to finding my microposts through Twitter.

UPDATE: Deleted my Twitter. Yes.

on not owning my turf

When I bought this domain name I joked that the “.org” in this case stands for “organism,” because of course I’m not an organization. But that may not matter to the private equity firm that wants to buy the whole .org domain.

I have to confess: I didn’t know that this was possible. I thought the various domains were administered by the consortium that runs the whole Web — I didn’t know that entire top-order domains were for sale on the open market. I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog and elsewhere counseling the wisdom of owning your own turf, but this is a strong reminder to me that of course I don’t own my turf — I only have use of the domain name for as long as I am willing and able to pay whatever a private equity firm (should the sale go through) decides I ought to cough up. If they tell me that I can keep ayjay.org for $5000 a year, then this won’t be my turf any more.

It’s sobering. Similarly — and this I did know — if my hosting company, or any other hosting company I might use, decided that as a Christian I am an intolerable bigot who cannot be allowed to sully their good name, then I might still have temporary title to the domain name but would be unable to make any of my writings public.

I have written against the walled gardens of social media and in favor of tending the digital commons, but maybe “commons” was a bad metaphor. Maybe the open web is more like a public park that the city government might at any time sell to developers who plan to turn it into a high-rise. Absence of walls is not presence of public ownership.

I own my computer and the files on its hard drive. That may be all, in the digital world, I own.

indie web in the New Yorker

As a consistent and perhaps obnoxious advocate for the open web — see here and especially here — I was thrilled to see this article by Cal Newport, and more than thrilled to see the shout-out to micro.blog. Please come check it out, along with me.

Just one point for now: Newport writes, “Despite its advantages, however, I suspect that the IndieWeb will not succeed in replacing existing social-media platforms at their current scale.” This is precisely right, but as I commented a few weeks ago, that’s a feature, not a bug. Scale is the enemy.

scale is the enemy

Jeffrey Zeldman:

Along those same lines, can the IndieWeb, and products of IndieWeb thinking like Micro.blog, save us? Might they at least provide an alternative to the toxic aspects of our current social web, and restore the ownership of our data and content? And before you answer, RTFM.

On an individual and small collective basis, the IndieWeb already works. But does an IndieWeb approach scale to the general public? If it doesn’t scale yet, can we, who envision and design and build, create a new generation of tools that will help give birth to a flourishing, independent web? One that is as accessible to ordinary internet users as Twitter and Facebook and Instagram?

I think that’s the wrong question. Of course the indie web cannot scale. But that’s a feature, not a bug. Scale — as-big-as-possible, universal-not-local, something-for-everyone scale — is the enemy. It’s the biggest enemy that community and fellowship and friendship can possibly have. If it scales, I want no part of it.