Indie Microblogging by Manton Reece

Mission to movement

“Progress depends on our changing the world to fit us. Not the other way around.” — Halt and Catch Fire

Basecamp started as the Chicago-based 37signals, a web design company known for pushing back against accepted conventions. They used to say that copywriting is a form of user interface design:

Great interfaces are written. If you think every pixel, every icon, every typeface matters, then you also need to believe every letter matters.

The best products don’t just have marketing copy; they have a mission statement. They don’t just sell a tool; they sell a movement.

Sometimes our products are confusing to new users — a UI that is too different, or trying to do too many things. These failures are an opportunity to improve beyond just bug fixes. Instead of only explaining what the product does, how can we pitch it in a way that strengthens a community around the idea, spreading through members in a more meaningful way than we can by ourselves.

And unlike a one-way press release, a community is inherently two-way. Every mention of the idea is both marketing and feedback. Someone blogs about how they’re excited for the product, but also how they wish it had a certain missing feature. Someone in the press writes a review, but also with a list of pros and cons.

This cycle means the product gets better. And if we’re thoughtful in that first approach to marketing copy, then every blog post, review, and tweet that follows is laced with a little part of our mission statement.

Who doesn’t want to build products that resonate so well, that go from nice utilities or productivity apps to something our customers fall in love with?

Kyle Neath echoed this in a blog post, writing that it’s about ideas, not products:

People want to be part of ideas. Being part of a company who builds a successful product is cool… but being part of an idea is a lot more attractive. If you can build a business where both your employees and your customers think they’re part of an idea, you’ve created something special.

The venture capitalist (and blogger) Fred Wilson wrote about focusing on work that is inspiring and that can have an impact:

You must work on something that inspires you and others, you must work on something with a significant impact, and you must do it in a way that makes getting where you want to go as easy as possible and keeps you there as long as possible.

People are increasingly disillusioned with larger companies. When a company gets too big, that company inevitably forgets why they exist. Not even the greatest, mission-driven companies seem to be able to escape this fate. The only way to stay true to your roots is to stay small. And smaller companies will inherently discourage centralization.

It might seem that short and often ephemeral posts have trained us with short-attention spans. To see the movement we must look over a longer period at the collection of all those posts — not just our own posts, but the potential for microblog posts all across the web.

This book you’re reading is longer than I had intended, especially ironic given that its subject matter is short posts. But the goal is big. It’s not about any one new social network. It’s about a new way of thinking about publishing on the web.

It’s not enough to have temporary, viral movements like #DeleteFacebook or outrage over Elon Musk’s latest meme tweets. We need something sustainable that permanently changes the narrative.

What is the mission for indie microblogging? There are four guiding themes in this book that we will keep returning to:

  • Better features. Learning from the user interface innovations of social networks — both the good choices and what we can do better.
  • Open standards. How the work of the IndieWeb and even older blogging APIs can improve interoperability and freedom on the web.
  • Content ownership. Why nearly everything starts with personal domain names.
  • Smaller social networks. The technical overview of, Mastodon, and pushback against massive social networks.

It’s the combination of all four themes that will move the web forward.

Next: The way forward →