Defining a Micro Blog

Thursday, November 01, 2012 – 267 views

— by nitinkhanna

Title: Defining a Micro Blog Date: 2012-11-01 09:09

I've been thinking a lot about micro blogs and their definition. The first one we think about is, of course, twitter, which the world has set as a standard for micro blogs. The tiny size of each post is a relic of our SMSing past. It is no longer truly valid for it's defined purpose and twitter itself has found many ways to circumvent this restriction. The best one being the use of embedded multimedia. Images from image hosting sites and Instagram, sound snippets from SoundCloud and news snippets from popular sites now adorn the footer of each tweet, allowing users to tell a more complete story despite the short space in which to write.

The second popular micro blog is Tumblr. Themes, image, sound and text updates and the popular concept of reblogging define this platform. Marco Arment's baby is pretty, popular and as close to normal blogs as can be.

The third place is shared by a host of services that are now dead, dying or marginally, including Identi.ca, Diaspora, Plurk, jaiku, Emote.in, Google Buzz and Google Wave. The list can be extended to more localized blogging platforms like Sina Weibo or even to the place where the concept of short status updates started - IM, chatrooms and IRC.

Then there are the rising stars - ADN and tent.io, both trying to make a place on the Internet in their own way.

But there is one more small niche of micro blogs - StatusNet, Plurk, OpenMicroBlogger, WordPress LiveBlog, BuddyPress and the Microblog plugin for WordPress, that has a slightly different definition of micro blogging than most of the services defined above. I'll come to that later.

First, I'd like to challenge the concept of 140 characters as the ideal length of a post. The length of a tweet was chosen by Twitter because of their own restrictions and has been blindly followed by more than enough services who assumed that following the leader is the best way to be popular among the masses. This cliche has been broken by App.net and Tent.io, both who use 256 as the correct length of a post, giving users much needed room to breath without needing to resort to tricks like 'i gt2 b smwhr.u?' or use add-on services like twitlonger. Even after Twitter moved from people's SMS inbox to their smart phones, the legacy length did not go anywhere, propagating a myth that has now been broken by the popularity of the new services. I believe that there should be no limit on the length of a micro blog post. It should be left to the imagination of the author to understand what length of their thought process can be defined as a micro post and what should be posted as a regular one. This freedom gives the authors to choose the way they want to convey their message to the public, instead of having to work around max characters or limits on the type of posts they can make.

Secondly, the niché I mentioned above has one very special commonality - that of allowing an administrator to install them on their own server. Yes, that is the very definition of a good blogging software - the ability of a user to take the software and install it on their own systems, regardless of whether the software is open source or not and I believe that this ability should be extended to a micro blog as well. It is worthy to note that there have been experiments such as diaspora, which have failed because of the complexity associated with maintaining a personal server as well as the lack of enthusiasm towards a new, less popular software. Towards that, I'd like to point out that WordPress, the popular blogging engine, has many forms and plugins to extend it's functionality. I've grown very fond of the BuddyPress and LiveBlog plugins as well as the option of hosting your own WordPress.org installation or choosing to go for a hosted solution on WordPress.com. I sincerely think that a micro blog, while an independent solution in itself, should be associated with a proper blog as well. This symbiosis is visible in both the BuddyPress plugin, where every user can post short status updates as well as longer blog posts, and the newer relationship between ADN and ADNBlogs (now called LongPosts). The ability of a user to explain their point of view in both short and longer form is essential to the growth of an idea.

Lastly, I believe firmly in the online identity of a person being associated with their blog. I myself have started using my blog as my openID provider, despite the apparent death of OpenID as associated with Wordpress blogs. In the scenario of micro blogs, in case I'm a regular contributor to two or more microblogs, one of them can act as my identity, helping people associate my accounts and thus assimilating my identity and my thought process. This is already in action today as we're able to use more than one of our online identities to login and sign up for new services. Extending that courtesy to different installations of micro blogs will help people associate accounts and will help online services in gathering our updates on various servers to display in one continuous stream. Again, I fall back to the example of the WordPress.com identities that can be used to comment and even login on various other services and WordPress blogs across the web.

That is my definition of a micro blog. It's not perfect, but I strongly believe in the three tenets I've laid down for such a service. As always, suggestions, editions and arguments are welcome.


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