I’ve been struggling with the decision whether to start a microblog or not. Actually, I had already decided ‘yes’, but then had trouble deciding the software or on-line platform. I actually preferred a self-hosted solution (otherwise, I’d feel the need to backup or even mirror everything myself anyway). Trying to choose a solution took me so much time that I actually reconsidered the need for microblogging. What is it, after all, that attracted me to it?

The first reason that I consider microblogging a great idea is context. I have all these little jots in my computer and bookmarks spread all over the place and most of it is completely irrelevant and should probably be deleted or at least buried and forgotten. Everything that I blog about is immediately buried and I can forget about it, knowing that I can pop it back up whenever I want to by Googling for it or by doing a quick tag search. When I’m blogging about something, because I know it’s going to be published, I take care to put it in proper context so that I’ll know its relevance when I later stumble upon it. A very important piece of this context is the date on which I post something. Every post being dated is also a very important factor in being able to ‘bury’ it. There’s nothing like having a date in the URL for saying: “This might have been important then, but it might not be so now.”

So, I wanted a microblog to be able to much easier organize all these little thoughts and links I encounter by simply dropping them into a stream, but not a data stream. No, not a data stream. del.icio.us, for example, isn’t really working for me because it’s just the same as having a whole lot of crap URLs on disk. I don’t bookmark stuff because I want to have a neat catalog of the world; I bookmark stuff because I want to get it out of my head and get on with what I’m doing. Then, later, I might want to revisit depending on the context. Normally, when bookmarking something, you might be assigning tags and everything and even a description in which you could put the same as you’d put in a post to a microblog, but I’m still in a different mode than when I’m saying:

  • While researching microblogs, I just stumbled across Ping.fm
  • I’m really wondering: shouldn’t I simply use Twitter?
  • But what about the crap limitations on length and layout? I want to be able to put in at least a paragraph.

Even as I’m writing this, I notice how much easier this flows as a method of note-taking than trying to turn something into a coherent story. Note that the context is immediately apparent because the posts follow each other in time.

What has basically hijacked my desire to start a microblog is Twitter, which allows you to send updates by SMS, which imposes a ridiculous limitation on the length of posts. The problem with this is that is confuses my choises, because the second reason to want to start a microblog is sharing. With Twitter and its competitors it’s possible to reply to others in your status updates and some even support a rudimentary form of tagging and groups. This promises a lot of social advantages which I’ve also enjoyed with this blog. However, being limited to interaction within the walled garden of Twitter to me is no better than posting everything as status updates to Facebook (or Hyves, the Dutch social network). It’s actually worse, because at least Facebook has a convenient interface and less arbitrary restrictions coming from SMS.

To solve the walled-garden problem, there’s the OpenMicroBlogging (OMB) protocol with two open source implementations: StatusNet and OpenMicroBlogger. Both can be installed on your own web host, but both also have a free sign-up service (OpenMicroBlogger and identi.ca respectively).

Some guy has even figured out how to post from Laconi.ca (now StatusNet) to WordPress. But, I have to wonder: why did I want to impose the OMB restrictions on myself in the first place? I still can’t use mark-up. This makes me having to use weird line-noise such as ‘@’ and ‘#’. But, worst of all, it means that putting in an URL quickly makes the post exceed its maximum length, because it’s all simple plain text and every character is counted. And that’s my problem with OMB and many of these services in general: 140 characters is just a little too restricting, especially if I’m going to use it for URLs. I simply don’t like URL shortening services. So, why was it that I’d want to use OMB? Interoperability. But my blog has excellent interoperability. Why would I need to torture myself by requiring even more protocols, while all I could really need is some custom theming for short posts. There’s plenty of microblogging themes for WordPress to prove this point.

There’s just the issue of blog posts being a bit meta-data heavy: they require a title, a nice slug and tags. But, on the other hand: OpenMicroBlogger, for example, has already added support for meta tags because inserting lots of little ‘#’ characters in your posts makes them look like line-noise.

I have to resist the temptation of sticking my nose into every new fad and network. It’s simply the reality of the day that the whole World Wide Web is a disjointed mess of data islands, each with different context definitions. For now, I think that I should restrict myself to the context of the blogosphere.

In the end, with my blog blog interoperability is actually better than with a OMB microblog, because of nice features such as trackbacks and the ability to comment without the commenter first having to register with a microblog themselves.


  • Louis Gray has written quite a bit about Identi.ca and microblogging in general.