What is Micro.blog up to?

Micro.blog is usually considered to be a nice platform. Its community is nice and cheerful, it is simple and minimalistic, and some IndieWeb people even seem to think it is proper IndieWeb.

Micro.blog is not an alternative silo: instead, it’s what you build when you believe that the web itself is the great social network.

Brent Simmons

Well, I agree: Micro.blog is not just an alternative silo. It’s worse than your average silo. It’s worse than Twitter. From the point of view of IndieWeb, it’s even worse than Facebook.

Yes, I just said that: Micro.blog is worse than Facebook.

Facebook does not pretend to be a part of IndieWeb (or the Web in general, for that matter). It discourages external links, it closed up its API, it is a thing in itself, closed and walled against the outside world. That’s ok, it’s Facebook’s choice and Facebook’s problem, not ours.

Twitter is more friendly (people on Twitter are not, but Twitter is). It has a working API, and using something like Brid.gy you can actually integrate Twitter in your IndieWeb life quite nicely. Yes, you need a Twitter account for that (that’s why we call Twitter a silo), but that’s about it. I can (and do) interact with Twitter from my site: my posts get published there, I get replies in the form of webmentions, I can reply to tweets and like them right here on my site, and I do all that without ever having to log in to Twitter, or even opening Twitter in my browser, for that matter. Twitter is a good silo.

A proper IndieWeb platform would allow me to do all the same things without using Brid.gy and without having an account. Known is a good example: I don’t have a Known account (any longer), but if your website is on Known, I can like and comment your posts, I can receive your replies, and so on, and so forth, without any issues. That’s what IndieWeb is all about: you have your site, I have mine, and we just interact, no need for any social network. There are ways to turn Blogger and WordPress sites into first-class IndieWeb instances, too. There are other ways to make an IndieWeb-enabled site. I use Hugo. It doesn’t matter what you use, as long as it’s IndieWeb, we can have our interactions.

Micro.blog tries hard to look like it’s a first-class IndieWeb platform. It is all over the IndieWeb wiki, it has a nice article describing it, and it even is listed as the first option(!!!) in the “Getting Started” article. Manton Reece, its founder, uses the word “Indie” more than a handful of times in his blog, and tries to pitch Micro.blog as an “IndieWeb-friendly architecture”. Which it isn’t, and wasn’t designed to be.

At the first sight Micro.blog looks rather nice. You can get an account for free, and have your blog’s RSS feed syndicated into it. You can use webmentions to interact. You can have your posts automatically syndicated to big silos like Twitter or LinkedIn. And if you don’t have a blog, for a modest amount of cash (and a very reasonable amount, too) Micro.blog can host your content and, in essence, be your blog. What’s not to like?

It does look like the IndieWeb dream, doesn’t it? Register, pay a little, and here you are, a first-class IndieWeb citizen! Very close to what Known promised back in the day… But let’s take a closer look, shall we?

First of all, try replying to a Micro.blog post from your IndieWeb site. Look in your logs, your webmention is sent and accepted, but it looks like it didn’t get through! Yes, right, you need a Micro.blog account to interact with micro.blogs. Yes, it’s a silo, not an IndieWeb platform. Well, at least once you register you don’t need Brid.gy as a middle-man. Maybe it’s not that bad?

Theoretically, people on Micro.blog can reply to IndieWeb sites, and their replies are sent as webmentions. I have not seen such interactions in the wild, but it supposedly works. That’s a good IndieWeb thing. But let’s say you have registered an account and sent a reply to a Micro.blog post, and then fellow micro.bloggers try to reply to your reply. You’d expect those replies to be sent to your site as webmentions, right?

Wrong. The only place you will ever see those replies is your Micro.blog timeline. They never get sent back to your site. So not only do you need to register an account, you actually need to log in to Micro.blog and look for replies there if you want any kind of quality interaction! You need that tab open in your browser to look for those replies. That’s worse than Twitter, right there.

So what Micro.blog does is a) force people to register and b) force them to actively visit Micro.blog if they want to interact with it. So far we have only discussed the facts, and the facts show Micro.blog is worse than Twitter from an IndieWeb user’s point of view. Now let’s step into the assumptions area because my next question is: why?

You see, it doesn’t make sense if you are all about IndieWeb. Making people register and making them actually visit the site simply increases the load on your servers. Mind you, those are not the paying customers, you don’t get any revenue from them. Well, you would, if you showed them ads, for example, but Micro.blog doesn’t have ads. Why, then?

OK, let’s assume Micro.blog was desperate for new users when it started. Once you’ve registered, setting up your Micro.blog to show the posts from your blog is a natural thing to do. Maybe all this was initially just a way to fill up the “Discover” tab with posts and show the potential new users that they are not alone on this platform. Maybe that’s still the case. Maybe.

But now that you have those users registered and filling your platform with content why on earth would you want them to log in for the meaningful interactions? Being a good IndieWeb citizen and sending webmentions out as replies would do just fine to not let all those standalone IndieWeb bloggers forget about Micro.blog’s existence, and would reduce the load on the servers. So why?

Call me paranoid, but when things don’t make sense, I start to suspect malice. And the fact that the only way to log in to Micro.blog (other than using apps) is via a link sent by email doesn’t make me less suspicious. And all the pitching of Micro.blog as a decent IndieWeb platform while in fact it is nothing but a silo, and not the most convenient one, doesn’t help either.

And that’s why Micro.blog is worse than Facebook. Facebook is a known evil. Facebook doesn’t pretend. Their strategy is clear, it does make sense, and admittedly it does work. Our data is not safe there. We know it and we stay clear of it. Micro.blog, on the other hand, pretends to be our friend. It pretends to be a good IndieWeb citizen. It is not, and its actions don’t make sense from IndieWeb’s point of view. Something shady is going on here. Maybe we’d better stay clear of it, too.

And we most definitely should stop promoting it as an IndieWeb solution.



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