Breaking Safety Systems

The first time I was told about third-party apps made to reblog photos on instagram, I was just confused. The social network had been designed without that functionality in order to focus on original contributions, so I couldn’t understand why people would be think a third-party workaround would be a good thing. On tumblr, reblogging is built in, so doing it is inherently beneficial for both parties. The sharer gets interesting content, while the originator of the content is promoted to new eyes. The instagram third-party reblogging apps have the figleaf of not being outright theft by printing the name of the creator in the corner, but the reality is that the conversion from one account to the originator is going to be tiny when a viewer has to memorize the usename and search them manually. So, the rise of these apps means that bit by bit the platform drifts from original creators showing their work to aggregators of others’ content.

Along similar lines, Micro.blog has made the decision to not show lists of followers. This avoids the social networking focus on user counts as a crown of legitimacy, and the subsequent anointment of Influencers on the platform. Instead, you can only see the list of who a person is following, which opens up the breadcrumb trails of people to follow. It’s an interesting decision and one that has a nice impact so far.

What I wonder is if M.B were to grow large enough to spark the interest, would some enterprising developer bridge that gap? It would only be a matter of scraping the data of public follow lists and rearranging the results into follower lists, ultimately producing the all-obsessed over follower number. It would probably be easy. It would probably be terrible and toxic.

These two examples highlight a problem of social networking–creating spaces where the format encourages our better nature also means an arms race to block out natural impulses that have negative effects when stretched over millions of people. I love that photo, let me share it. I want to know where I rank, let me see the number. And yet, taken as a whole these impulses corrode the very things we love.

On Blogging and Micro.Blogging

Having spent a few weeks on Micro.Blog, I have a few thoughts on the functionality and interaction between a home blog and the M.B system. Yes, I’m going to be That Party Guest, but as the platform is developing I think it is important to discuss where the design intersects with experience.

One feature that I appreciate is that initial posts start from your home blog, keeping your creations your  property, while ongoing responses stay in the M.B system so that you don’t overwhelm your blog with short @ responses. Additionally, the deliberate design decision to not include likes/favorites and instead push the community to use our words to respond is a good one. However, I’ve noticed that in practice these two things mean that my timeline of people I follow  on M.B has turned into a long string of decontextualized short responses to other people. It makes reading my timeline a bit like walking down a pristine white hallway and catching snippets of people talking here and there, a field of disconnected sentences that require that you open the conversation to investigate what sparked the comment.[note]Having written all this, I did find the ‘Show mentions to only people I’m following’ option, but it doesn’t exactly fix the problem I’m having. I want the discoverability of others, but with less friction.[/note] Many posts are nothing more than versions of “@— I agree.” or “@— You raise an interesting point.” Taken in isolation, these kinds of comments make me curious about the original post, but when my entire feed consists of these lines, each requiring me to click on the post, click Conversation, and then pop to the top of the thread looking for the original subject, it starts to look like work to decipher other people’s enthusiasm.

Of course the solution that Twitter implemented for this challenge is that of being able retweet, sharing what someone else has posted directly to followers. Since that function has been turned into a tool for harassment, I think on the whole this is a better design but I also think there is some room for creative improvement in how we can show enthusiasm for someone else’s creative work.

That all said, the feeling of work might be more a fault of the design of the pop-up interface used in the default M.B app than anything. Even switching to Icro‘s more Twitter-like “swipe to see conversation” functionality[note]Edit: Turns out the default app has it too, but you have to be careful not to tap when you attempt to swipe or else you get a pop-up menu instead.[/note] makes it seem more fun to jump into conversations. [note]I would really love it if the colors in Icro didn’t skew so orange/red. Anytime I swipe left and select a reddish option, my brain screams that I am deleting something.[/note]

A related problem is that even though I followed people for their blogging/social posts, these are getting lost in the strings of responses. It makes me appreciate the functionality of separating Tweets from Tweets & replies in a way that I hadn’t really thought closely about before. I’ve seen some conversation about the relationship between M.B and an RSS reader. As it stands, I’m happy to keep those two things separate[note]Though some way of easily finding which of the many blogs I follow are on M.B and a way to easily switch from following in one place versus another would be welcome. That might be more of a matter of creating a common practices for the bloggers to follow rather than a functionality to be built into M.B.[/note] but I would value a timeline view that doesn’t include replies. As it is, I find myself drawn to the Discover feed because I am in many ways more likely to see people I follow’s main posts there than in my Timeline. Being aware that my responses to others causes the same diluting effect on my own posts also makes me question whether a response to a person has value for followers as well[note]Assuming there are people following me, of course. :)[/note]. That’s a performative calculation that I’d prefer not exist in M.B.

The other major challenge with the structure of M.B is how it requires posts to forgo a title. By design, social media-type posts can only include text in the body of the post. If you put a title in, M.B automatically switches the post to a link with a title. This works great for an essay but would be silly for a one- or two-line post. So, in practice that means many posts with no titles, which works fine on a day-to-day function but for long-term post management in my WordPress install, it’s a mess. My list of posts after a week has already become a wasteland of (no title), distinguished only by their categories. When I went to clean up photos in my media folder, I needed to check which version of a photo I had used in the final post. Doing this through the wordpress backend was such a waste of time that I finally just went scrolling through my public blog pages instead. This is unfortunate in a platform that is billed as being built on blogging–the functionality should add, not complicate.

These issues aside, I have been pleased by the framework and community that is already in place at M.B. I just hope that as it develops, there will be continuing conversation about how best to balance the blog with the micro.[note]After spending so much time reading tumblr, it feels like I should end with a “In this TED talk, I will…” conclusion. Is there such a humorous denouement convention in M.B?[/note]