(The following interview took place over Slack DMs on 5/22/17. Light editing for clarity and spelling was done, mostly on my side.)
Ben: Manton, thanks for taking the time today to chat. Before we get going, could you give me a little bio on who you are — for those two readers who aren’t aware of you just yet?
Manton: Sure, I’m a long-time Mac developer — from the 1990s when Apple was doomed — but these days I mostly do iOS and web development. A couple years ago I quit my regular job to work on my indie software company Riverfold Software full time, where I’ve shipped a few Mac and iOS apps, as well as web services like the Tweet Marker API. My latest project is Micro.blog.
Ben: I think it’s fair to say that the general sense that Apple is doomed has amazingly yet to subside. Micro.blog is certainly a major project that you have going on, but you also just announced JSON Feed in conjunction with Brent Simmons. Both are disrupting the norm (if you will) of the internet. Which is more or less Twitter and RSS. So I have a simple question for you: why? Why go after these two norms?
Manton: Micro.blog and JSON Feed share a common goal, which is to encourage more blogging on the open web, and new tools that can make blogging easier. I feel like we’ve gotten off course a little since the early days of blogging, with so many people now putting all of their writing into closed, centralized platforms like Twitter or Facebook. I think we can make it easier to own your own content, have your own domain name, and maybe learn from the UI in modern social networks too.
With JSON Feed, it’s not about disrupting RSS exactly. RSS is great and widely deployed; it’s not going anywhere. But we can take what was good about RSS, improve a few things, and maybe jumpstart new tools and apps that work together. Developers use JSON everywhere now instead of XML, and Brent and I felt that maybe XML was even holding RSS and blogging back.
Ben: RSS always feels like it is just a few weeks away from having zero support for readers of blogs, so I for one was very happy to see movement on helping spread the content I produce — without me having to give up control to someone like say — oh — Medium. It seems like your largest project right now is Micro.blog — and you and I actually started talking about it in June of 2015 if you can believe that. I was sure it was just a few months ago. Knowing that, it seems like this is clearly something you’ve been thinking about a lot, so what is the ideal outcome for Micro.blog?
Manton: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I thought Micro.blog would ship over a year ago. But that’s how software goes sometimes… It’s improved significantly since the first prototype, and one area that it’s improved in is that it’s more than just another attempt at a Twitter-like social network. It’s also a full blog publishing platform, so that if you don’t have a blog we can host one for you and make everything easy.
The fact that it can help people blog actually shifts the ideal outcome a little. Because it means that Micro.blog is useful right away. Normally a social network has to grow to many thousands of users to be useful, so that your timeline isn’t empty and you have friends to follow. But you can just as easily use Micro.blog to publish on your own site, with your own domain name, and so it has value immediately to people.
The ideal outcome is still to encourage people to blog, and for there to be enough users to have a great community and discussions on Micro.blog. But I’m really happy that it can still be a great tool for people today, even if it never grows to millions of users like a normal social network would have to.
Ben: I think in one way people are always scared of what is commonly referred to as “App.net outcome” meaning they jump fully on board, only for the service to slowly erode away over time. To my eye you’ve gone through a great amount of work to make sure that doesn’t happen here — as you mentioned it’s not really a “new Twitter”. Do you want to address that directly?
Manton: I was a huge believer in App.net. I built apps for it, and really think that even as it was fading away, the founders deserved a lot of credit for taking it as far as they did. It was an important milestone in all these attempts to build a Twitter alternative.
I’ve now come around to one of the key points that the IndieWebCamp believes in, though: that it’s okay to post to your own site, and cross-post to Twitter. It’s okay to own your content, but still participate in social networks if you want to. That’s the approach that Micro.blog takes, and why it tries to have the best cross-posting from your own microblog to Twitter.
Ben: And I think it certainly does — that’s something I love about the service. Ok, I know you have to go in a few, so a few rapid fire questions for you: what’s your current bag of choice?
Manton: At WWDC, Apple used to give you a new bag every year. I think I used their 2005 backpack for about 10 years before it started to break. My current bag is one I got for the iPad Pro: Tom Bihn’s Daylight Briefcase. I wanted something much smaller for the iPad, but I like it so much that I just use it for my 13-inch MacBook Pro too.
Ben: Good bag, good choice.
The iPad: great device, or greatest device?
Manton: Great device. I love the iPad, and sometimes when I need to focus on one task — writing or blogging or just catching up on email — I’ll just take the iPad Pro to the coffee shop and use it exclusively. I’m not as productive on it as my Mac, but it’s just a fun “computer” to work on.
Ben: Manton, thanks for taking the time to chat today, where can people find you on the web?
Manton: Good to talk to you! My blog is the best place to start: manton.org. Lately I’ve been blogging there about Micro.blog and linking to news about JSON Feed. My microblog posts are also automatically cross-posted to Twitter at @manton2.
My thanks to Manton Reece for taking the time to chat with me. Be sure to check out Micro.blog — it is how I’ve been posting all of my stuff to Twitter since it launched.
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