Out on my trail walk this morning I was listening to a recent episode of Dot Social , a podcast about the fediverse hosted by Mike McCue of Flipboard. (Sidenote: Really enjoying this podcast.) In this episode he’s interviewing a co-founder of WIRED, John Battelle. Something in the discussion set my mind to thinking about two recent posts by Manton at Micro.blog, both of which resulted in excellent conversations.
In mentioning recent coverage of the fedivese and ActivityPub Manton wrote:
I don’t mind flying under the radar. There are benefits for a product to start small and grow slowly. But I’m still kind of puzzled why Micro.blog is rarely mentioned when articles talk about platforms that support the fediverse.
As the year winds down, thinking about the fediverse, I want to do a better job in 2024 of making the case for independent blogs. Lots of platforms with thousands of users on each server talking via ActivityPub is great, but more blogs also helps with portable identity and a more distributed web.
I chimed in a bit in the responses to the first post. And similar conversations have been revisited by micro.blog folks often over the past couple of years. Questions about how micro.blog fits into the larger fediverse often followed by folk asking for a variety of features found on Mastodon and other, older corporate social media, namely boosting/re-posting, favoriting and the option for better searching and discoverablity via hashtags.
Thus far these are all features that Manton has repeatedly stated will not be added to micro.blog. And many micro.blog users are satisfied by that decision. But some are not. My ongoing frustration has been that within the micro.blog community I cannot find others with similar interests. Search and discovery are so limited by the human curation of a community timeline that it is basically useless. It will likely remain so given the deliberate limits currently in place.
But I’ve also realized that discovery and search of micro.blog from the fediverse is also completely broken. I think many of us that are excited about having a blog that is also connected to the fediverse assume that there is at least some cross platform search functionality. As far as I’m aware the only search that works is specific username search. The text of posts and profiles is, in terms of search and discoverability from Mastodon, invisible.
And so I’ve been considering the place and benefit of Micro.blog as an ActivityPub service/client. It’s one of several fediverse communities outside of Mastodon but connected to all others via ActivityPub. One of the recurring questions in the micro.blog timeline and help forum is “Can I just use my micro.blog account as my only ActivityPub account?” And the companion question: “Do I also need a Mastodon account?”. The answer is always along the lines of it depends on what you want to do. When compared to the Mastodon experience you’ll be missing certain features. And that shouldn’t be ignored because Mastodon (and older social media) has set the bar and expectations.
So, today, listening to the above linked podcast and thinking about these questions I asked myself, what is it that I really want from an ActivityPub connected blog? How well does the current micro.blog app and website hold up? What is the ideal that I’m looking for? I’m taking the time to write this because I see it come up quite often, often enough to know I’m not the only one.
What I want is a paid, hosted ActivityPub blogging service that offers a website/client app that:
- Allows me to write/publish posts in markdown
- Allows me to follow other ActvityPub accounts
- Lets me organize the accounts I follow into lists based on interests. I do the same with my RSS reader.
- Supports searching tags in posts and users as Mastodon does
- Supports searching of keywords in users' posts.
- Supports boosting, favoriting of others' posts as well as viewing boosts/favorites of ones own posts
Micro.blog has no problem with the first two but falls flat on the last 4. Due to the limits of search within the micro.blog community timeline I’ve largely accepted that it’s not for me. And I’ve confirmed that my site is properly indexed by search engines so that’s not an issue. I can add hashtags and will start doing so to all my posts going forward will be more searchable in the Fediverse. It’s something that’s frowned upon by many micro.blog users because it’s “unsightly” and clutters up the timeline. Frankly, that’s not a take I agree with. It’s a degradation of function and search. And search on micro.blog is already terrible.
Which brings me to the next point, whatever is going on behind the scenes, posts hosted at micro.blog are not indexed or searchable in the larger fediverse. If hashtags are added they do seem show up as expected. But just doing a keyword search provides zero results from Mastodon accounts.
The end result is that as a micro.blog user I know that my blog is connected to the fediverse and yet it’s only a partial connection. I can function within the fediverse, but only half way. Yes, I can find, follow and engage with other fediverse folk with comments. A big thanks to Manton on this because to my knowledge there is no other blogging platform that has this level of ActivityPub support. Write.as offers blogging and ActivityPub support but does not support commenting. WordPress has a plugin but the last I tried it was less than optimal and had far less functionality.
But the culture of the fediverse includes boosting and showing appreciation with favoriting/liking and I miss out on all that. Those are real interactions that just disappear for micro.blog users. They’re not even an option. It feels like a high-minded, ethical choice that I’m subjected to.
What perturbs me is that it just feels like stubbornness to not offer as options some of these features that are considered by many to be core features. A choice and limitation is made for me based on values that are not mine. It’s a degradation of user experience that causes more friction as it requires me to have a second ActivityPub account at Mastodon. Which is to say, it feels not just limiting but somewhat broken.
And that brings me back to Manton’s posts linked above. I know and appreciate that Manton has worked hard to make micro.blog a first class citizen of the fediverse with full ActivityPub support. He was on it from early days. I know he has plans to improve that support. Based on his recent posts above it seems he thinks there’s still room for micro.blog to grow and that it deserves more recognition for its ActivityPub support. I don’t disagree. But I do think that at least some new users and journalists that spend time getting to know micro.blog as an AcivityPub client will rightly question the lack of features that many expect. And I think it’s a safe assumption that there are users that don’t stay on micro.blog because of these misses.
I plan to stay because the hosting is good and because I know that Manton deeply cares about and loves blogging. It’s easy to see. Manton and micro.blog perfectly demonstrate a slower, more human and social web. But a part of the social web is, you know, to be social. For some that is a comment. For others it’s a quick “favorite” and for still others it’s a repost/share. Not knowing when people have done those things means I’m in the dark about possible connections.
Let me underscore a thought here: there are people on the other side of those non-comment interactions. People that are expressing appreciation, thank you or wow, I like this enough to share it. Manton and others here seem to have a cynical take on these things. And I get that Facebook and other corporate social media have set a precedent for a kind of crazed, out of control, keep them hooked on the likes dopamine fest.
But the flip side of this is that I’m missing connections with people that might mean something. It may be that such shows of appreciation are from people I might be interested in getting to know. On Mastodon when someone likes a post or reshares it or follows me I go to see who they are. And often I find someone that interests me. I follow them back and am now regularly interacting and conversing with several people that I likely would not be if I had relied on my Micro.blog account as my only fediverse account.