What Micro.blog Needs

The sky is falling on Twitter. Maybe. Probably. Nobody knows for sure but we do know one thing: giants fall, especially on the web.

With that in mind people who at one point or another waved a flag for Twitter and social media in general are beginning to think back to when the web seemed less scattered and fragile, even if it wasn’t actually, and remembering that blogging is a thing! Yes, it still exists, and lots of people do it, and they do it well!

As the shock of that idea settles in your mind and you take a look at Micro.blog let’s also talk about where the platform is lacking, specifically with mainstream social web users in mind – basically, you’re looking to spend less of your time in Twitter, Facebook, whatever, and want to actually replace it with something – and a little about how improvements can be made:

  • Cost
    • Paying for a social network platform is considered a non-starter, especially for people who want you to know that. The truth is that Micro.blog is free, however posting is built with blogs in mind – the name says it all! – and blogs need hosting to exist, which in turn costs money to provide.
    • A possible way to improve this is finding a way to offer a free version; perhaps with limitations attached, such as X amount of posts per X amount of time.
    • It is true that you can grab a free blog from WordPress, plug the feed for that into Micro.blog and that will be your posting for free on top of the free features you get with Micro.blog itself. Obviously this is not as streamlined as having all-in with Micro.blog but it is at least an option.
  • Moderation
    • The age of mainstream social media has seen the rise of an inevitable fact: people must be given the ability to protect themselves on the web. Whilst there are generally agreed upon ideas centred around account security, it is also crucial for individuals to have control over the availability of their contributions to a platform.
    • Whilst it is true that the open web offers a greater chance of exposure in return for greater freedom, the fact is Micro.blog is not a wild thing in the web but instead a platform owned and run by the people who develop it; this involves manual curation, a process the Micro.blog team have in fact touted in favour of an algorithmic approach and so if anything they have gone out of their way to not make any room for bad excuses should anything go wrong.
    • Saying that, the platform lacks all but a newly released Mute feature that both only works for people and is the only tool available to as many people as possible; the other tool, reporting people, is only available on the Mac app. These limitations are particularly glaring in light of Twitter’s fairly robust user-side toolset, long overdue thought it might have been.
    • The ability to block people, an expansion of the reporting and mute tools, and a continuation of the already established broadcast from the Micro.blog team regarding these issues would all make for significant improvements to the current system. It should also be noted that the Micro.blog team are open to discussions about this and related issues, to the extent that of the two full-time developers one is the community manager.
  • Metrics
    • You can get valuable feedback from following counts and the like, whether that’s for personal use or if you’re using social media for work – the lines between personal and work often blur on social media, especially for power users and so they will often make loud calls for the importance of metrics.
    • Micro.blog already has some metric-based implementation within the platform but it is much less obvious and does not follow the broadly accepted design of the closed web platforms.
    • The next step in this process could involve implementing the most in-demand metrics but pair that with an option to switch it off or opt-out for those who are not interested in either side of this data; robust support for anonymity is important not just for usability (having options makes better quality platforms) but also for the integrity of user safety.
  • Discovery
    • There is no search, no hashtags, no Trending, no Moments… the values of the establishment have very much failed to land on Micro.blog when it comes to finding people.
    • Micro.blog does come with a Discover timeline, tagmoji (basically, tagging posts using emoji), and a behaviour driven approach called ‘Micro Monday’ which is a well-considered version of Follow Friday and an accompanying podcast by the same name.
    • Whilst search and tagging can be used to manipulate a platform and thus spoil it, as we have plainly seen across lots of social media platforms, an implementation of them with as much care and consideration of the rest of Micro.blog would be a significant improvement for Discovery. Perhaps these features would be only available for Verified users (to verify yourself on Micro.blog involves either a paid account or enough effort for free users as to discourage malicious users).
  • Apps
    • On the side of people using Apple products Micro.blog is well served, with a first-party (official) app on both iOS and the Mac; on top of that there are two first-party apps for the photo and podcast side of Micro.blog. Unfortunately people using Android and Windows are left with no first-party support outside of the web.
    • Whilst social media has become an ecosystem of first-party apps, Micro.blog is built on the open web and as such includes a culture of embracing third-party developers. Not only is there an existing third-party client on iOS with enthusiastic backing from the Micro.blog team, there are now also two options on Android also backed by the Micro.blog team.
      • Best of all, the Micro.blog developers make themselves available for helping the third-party developers in a way that is much more flexible and open to fast improvements when compared to the behemoth companies of the closed web.
      • Unfortunately Android continues to be difficult for development, as is the case for most platforms and services, whilst there has been nothing save for vague comments about any sort of Windows app.
    • It is clear app development will continue to be a process dependent on other factors in a bigger way than the other issues, mostly with regard to the need for more people to be on the platform. In the meantime the best way to counter these issues is to make the web the absolute core of Micro.blog; by making the web app the prime version of Micro.blog it makes the platform accessible to as many people as possible as well as providing a robust back-up for times when access via app is difficult.

These appear to be the flagpole issues surrounding the idea of Micro.blog as at least some sort of alternative to Twitter and mainstream social media platforms. It is still entirely true that Micro.blog does not exist to replace these platforms for every single person, nor is it likely to ever be that.

However, the more these issues are tackled the more likely people will find Micro.blog to be a viable alternative for exactly that which many people have already embraced it; a place for thoughtful, considerate posting with space for lots of ideas, discussions, and more than supportive of the quick-post culture that initially pushed Twitter into the mainstream of web culture.

Mumblings @simonwoods
An IndieWeb Webring 🕸💍