Micro.blog and Micro-Communities

In a previous post about diversifying the Micro.blog community, I mentioned “micro-communities” as one of a few possible use cases that could expand Micro.blog’s appeal to a broader audience. By micro-communities, I was referring to loosely connected groups of people who connect online to share a common interest or life experience.

It’s a use case that might be temping to dismiss as a stretch for Micro.blog. After all, online groups already gather in many different places: email lists, IRC channels, forums, ad hoc groups in messaging apps, Slack workspaces fashioned into topical groups, and, of course, Facebook.

But there is something about an informal collection of independent blogs by people with a shared passion that makes for a much better micro-community experience than social networks or other online group platforms. I’ve experienced this first-hand with a couple of blogging communities I’ve participated in: an informal network of blogs by adoptive parents and the pen and paper enthusiast blog community.

Some of the advantages I’ve found with micro-communities comprised of independent blogs are:

  • Blog posts are generally written with more thought and pride of ownership than drive-by group posts (and subsequent drive-by reactions)
  • While anyone can show up to a group and broadcast their thoughts to everyone, it’s possible to tightly control which blogs are deserving of your attention without closing yourself off to new voices
  • The act of commenting on someone’s blog or responding with a blog post of your own is a much richer interaction than most social media or online group exchanges

Micro.blog can magnify these advantages. In particular, the experience of using blog commenting functionality sucks. The process of managing comments on your own blog also sucks.

Micro.blog shifts these interactions into a more enjoyable, lower-friction format. I guess you could argue that it’s just as easy to post a drive-by garbage comment into Micro.blog as it is into a Facebook group comment. But the dynamic seems very different so far, which I think its owed to the fact that Micro.blog interactions are extensions of blogs. If you took the time to create a blog, you likely take some pride in it. Posting garbage on Micro.blog is like dumping garbage on your front lawn. It just doesn’t feel right.

Micro.blog does need some additional functionality before it can serve the needs of micro-communities well, most notably a method for people with shared interests to find each other and stay engaged.

Hashtag support in the most obvious approach that comes to mind. There are many social networks where hashtags aren’t particularly useful, but I think Instagram comes the closest to getting it right. There seem to be true communities centered around hashtags there. For example, the cat people and the bookworms are very easy to find.

Instagram’s new capability to follow hashtags is also intriguing. But I think Micro.blog can take a concept like this so much farther. Instagram is a broadcast and react platform, while Micro.blog is a far superior vehicle for two-way or multi-party conversations.

Whether it’s a hashtag model or a new approach or some kind, a method of connecting micro-communities could draw in a diverse population of users. Finding, joining, and participating in micro.blog requires some effort and expense. But making it the best destination for people to enjoy their passions and make new connections with people who share them will provide the necessary incentive.

Doug Lane @douglane