Indie Microblogging, by Manton Reece (review)

· NJR's Prose Blog

The Cover of Manton Reece's book, Indie Microblogging, showing Indianapolis Union Station

Apparently, there’s no evidence that Gandhi ever said

Be the change you want to see in the world

though he did say something not wildly dissimilar.¹

Either way, the saying could be have been invented for Manton Reece, author of the remarkable, soon to be self-published book, Indie Microblogging (full draft available online).

I think a good argument can be made that Manton may have spent more time thinking carefully about what makes healthy and unhealthy social networks than anyone else running a social network, and the evidence is collected in his book.

Manton’s own story is interesting. He was a very early and enthusiastic Twitter user who created various tools using the Twitter API,² most notably Tweet Marker, a service that allowed people to synchronize their positions in the Twitter timeline across different devices and apps. Early Twitter had a very open API, allowing third-party developers to build a thriving ecosystem around Twitter itself. In fact, many of the things people now think of as core parts of Twitter were created by the third-party client ecosystem, with Twitteriffic, from the Icon Factory, having had a particularly large influence on the development of the service. But around 2017, after floating, Twitter developed a much more hostile relationship with third-party developers, curbing API access and actively discouraging third-party clients. It was around then that many of Twitter’s more active users started actively considering moving to other services, including the then very young Mastodon.³ On 13th January this year (2023) Twitter effectively finally killed off API access for some of the most popular third-party Twitter clients, including Twitterrific and Tweetbot, at least on iOS, leading to this magnificant rant from Twitterrific developer Craig Hockenberry.

Manton Reece was way ahead of others in losing faith in Twitter. By 2012, he had grown so offended by the company’s behaviour and vision—to the extent that it had one—that he stopped posting to his account, @manton, and moved to, an early, and fairly short-lived, would-be Twitter competitor created by Dalton Caldwell.

In 2017, some time after the closure of, Manton launched a Kickstarter campaign for a book—the very book I’m here reviewing, Indie Microblogging—and an associated “microblogging” service—

The headline for the Kickstarter was “Indie Microblogging: owning your short-form writing”, and the opening sentence was:

I'm writing a book about independent microblogging, and launching a publishing platform called

The Kickstarter goal, which was the minimum backing for the project to go ahead, was $10,000. This was reached in a matter of days. After a couple of weeks, Manton added a stretch goal of $80,000, saying:

If we reach $80,000, I'll hire a community manager for to help build a safe community from the start. See this update on Kickstarter for details on the stretch goal and a new feature called Safe Replies.

3,080 people backed the campaign to the combined tune of $86,696, so Manton duly hired as’s first employee, a Community Manager—Jean MacDonald. Straight way, that tells you something about Manton’s priorities for

# The Idea of and Indie Microblogging

You can get a really strong sense of what Manton is trying to do with a couple of key excerpts from the book:

Remember, most Twitter clones fail. With the platform based on blogs, the worst case if doesn’t work out is that you’ve still got your own blog! Instead of being left with nothing, you have all your microblog posts, domain name, and design. You can still cross-post to other social networks and move on to the next thing without starting over.

This is how the web was supposed to work. We’ve gotten away from it and now it’s time to find our way back. The IndieWeb has long been working toward this.

— From the chapter Your Blog, in Part 5, Decentralization in the book.

There’s quite a lot to unpack here:

# Better Social Networks is a social network unlike any other. It eschews public likes and follower counts. It has no equivalent of retweeting or quote tweeting. It doesn’t use hashtags or have a global search function. There are no ads, for while there is a limited free tier for people who fully host their own content, most users pay actual money for the service. There is no algorithmic recommendation or promotion: you see the posts from people you choose to follow in reverse chronological order. Although it isn’t a Mastodon instance, you can follow Mastodon users on, and they can follow users, because they both use ActivityPub, a key IndieWeb protocol for which Tumblr has also announced planned support. posts are HTML, just like the traditional web, and can include ordinary good-old-fashioned hyperlinks—a blue, underlined, clickable word or phrase that points somewhere on the web. is curated by a human, and that human is Jean Macdonald, the very same person Manton hired when he hit his Kickstarter “stretch” goal. She (mostly) hand curates a set of interesting posts that she collects together in a “Discover” section that users can browse if they choose. And if people behave badly on the network, they are kicked off. It is, in my experience, a remarkably unshouty, civil, positive, place, with none of the anxiety or compulsiveness we see elsewhere, no trolling, and little content that would drive people to “doom scroll”.

All of these features are conscious choices, explained in detail in the book, and they all serve the overlapping goals of promoting a strong, decentralized web where people own their own content (the “IndieWeb”), of creating safe, pleasant, non-toxic communities, and of removing anxiety.

Manton argues that (public) likes and follower counts are drivers of anxiety and take focus away from the content, leading to a popularity contest. He thinks that hashtags, retweeting and quote-tweeting combine with engagement-seeking algorithms to promote destructive virality, misinformation and mob culture. And he focuses on microblogging, because it has the lowest barrier to entry—just a box you start typing into, or attaching a photo, video or link to, without the need to come up with a title or to categorize anything. In fact, slightly confusingly, is actually a “full” blogging platform, and if you go past its micropost limit of 280 characters, a title box appears allowing you to turn your micropost into a full-blown blog post. But there isn’t much of a difference—just the (still optional) title and the fact that it’s longer. Microposts and full posts co-exist, and Manton usually calls someone’s collection of posts simply a blog.

# Part Book, Part Manifesto, Part Service, Part Guiding Light

Indie Microblogging is a remarkable book, unlike anything I’ve read before. As I was reading it, until close to the end, I thought it was slightly spoiled whenever Manton talked about specific features and choices in itself, because eighty or ninety percent of the book is really just what its title suggests—a book about Microblogging independently. But now I’ve read it all, I think the book is actually stronger for talking about Manton’s concrete implementation of his ideas, in the specific form of I can think of very few software passion projects (which clearly is) that are as strongly grounded in a social rather than a primarily technical vision and purpose. Although only launched in 2017, it’s clear that its roots go back at least to 2012, when Manton left Twitter and adopted the ill-fated It’s also obvious from the way in which the service continues to develop that the ideas, as expressed in the book, form a very bright guiding light, and it’s almost impossible to imagine Manton making decisions that violate the core principles and obectives he outlines so clearly in the book. is strong evidence that Manton Reece not only talks the (IndieWeb) talk, but walks the (IndieWeb) walk.

¹ Gandhi did say: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” Originally published in Indian Opinion, August 9, 1913, and reprinted in: The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 13, chapter 153, page 241.

² API. Applications Programming Interface. APIs allow different pieces of software to communicate with each other programmatically. Twitter’s API allows programmers to write software that fetches tweets, posts tweets, retrieve followers and so forth.

³ In fact, I created accounts on two Mastodon servers in 2017, but didn’t really start using them until this year.

⁴ Tim Bray, a venerable Web grey beard writes about link rot on his long-running blog, Ongoing.

⁵ A is the bit of a web address after the www, or after the name@ in an email address– and are domains. Anyone can buy a domain, and many of them cost only $10 or so a year. Once you own a domain, if you keep paying the fee each year, you can have it in perpetuity. lets you associate your domain with your account on so you that people see your content at URLs on your domain. But you can relocate the actual place your content is held, and from where it is served, to anywhere else on the internet. This is the sense in which owning your domain give you full control of your own content.