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  • A Self-Hosted WordPress Blog with Micro.Blog

    Updated 15 January 2018 with a better introduction Updated 20 January 2018 with auto-linking mentions instructions

    I have to admit to being intrigued when Manton Reece was initially discussing his micro.blog project back in 2016 on the Core Intuition podcast. I did not participate in the Kickstarter at all, nor did I continue listening to Core Intuition in 2017 to track it that closely.

    I did look into it a few weeks ago upon hearing about it from some people I interact with on other social networks. From their homepage, micro.blog describes themselves thus:

    Today's social networks are broken. Ads are everywhere. Hate and harassment are too common. Fake news spreads unchecked.

    There's a better way: a network of independent microblogs. Short posts like tweets but on your own web site that you control.

    Micro.blog is a safe community for microblogs. A timeline to follow friends and discover new posts. Hosting built on open standards.

    In many ways, it's similar to more traditional services like Twitter or Plurk. To participate on the service, you join the service, which gives you the ability to create a profile, and respond to other people's posts. There is also a Discover section where you can find other people using the service. So far, so good.

    You can originate conversations on micro.blog in one of two ways:

    • On a micro.blog hosted microblog, which you pay $5/mo for the privilege of having. If you go this route, it's effectively no different than Twitter, Plurk, or any number of similiar services.
    • On your own blog, which could be literally anything that spits out an RSS feed. This option is free, and is where things get confusing for some folks. It is also the route I chose.

    My originating posts to micro.blog appear on a WordPress site I set up specifically for that purpose. I post to it just like any other blog. The native micro.blog clients for iOS and Mac interface directly with my WordPress blog, which means when I use them to post, it looks just like using a Twitter client. I can use any Micropub or WordPress client to post to my blog as well, which will cause a post to show up on micro.blog.

    When I respond to posts on micro.blog, they are stored on micro.blog, exactly the same as if I was responding to a post on Plurk or Twitter. With a few additional steps, I've made it so the conversations around my micro.blog posts are imported as regular comments on my own blog.

    The bad news, the process is not nearly as well documented as it should be. This blog post is an attempt at documenting this.

    Tying WordPress into micro.blog

    I'll leave out the fun of installing WordPress, which has gotten easier over the years. I got a cheap webhosting deal with a provider that uses cPanel, which offers one-click installers for self-hosted WordPress sites. That takes a lot of the pain out of installing WordPress.

    Note that I haven't run personally in years because of all the security issues it tends to have, not to mention poor performance. However, for MicroBlogging, it might be the right choice. You could, of course, run this on wordpress.com if you prefer, but I'm not sure you can use the plugins that will be required for a seamless experience.

    Once you have WordPress installed and configured, you can go into micro.blog account page and configure your blog URL. For WordPress sites, it's usually siteurl/feed. You can see mine below.

    My micro.blog account page

    Once you done this, every post you make on this blog will show up in the micro.blog timeline. Posts should not have a title and should be under 280 characters. They can include images as well.

    If you want to mention someone and have them notified in a post you originate on your blog, you can't just simply use @username, but you need to also make that a link to the user with their micro.blog profile. For example: @PhoneBoy.

    Mobile and Computer Apps

    You can easily browse the timeline and respond to posts from any browser, but originating posts with a self-hosted microblog requires either WordPress, a native app, or a Micropub-compatible app (see next section to enable this).

    The only mobile app right now is the one that Manton wrote for iOS. Likewise, the only native desktop app for micro.blog is for the Mac. Given Manton is an iOS and Mac developer, the lack of Windows and/or Android options is not shocking. Even the apps Manton didn't write are Mac ones.

    What About Replies?

    When you reply to a post on micro.blog (either with the website or a native app), the reply is actually hosted on micro.blog. This means they will not show up on your WordPress blog unless you've set up a few things...and this is where there isn't a lot of documentation.

    First of all, you need to install a couple of plugins. Specifically, the Semantic-Linkbacks and Webmention ones, shown below:

    WordPress Plugins needed for micro.blog

    The Micropub plugin is also useful to support additional third party apps, as noted in the previous section. This is why it is highlighted above.

    Webmention allow you to send and receive a signal that micro.blog uses to handle mentions. Specifically, when someone mentions you, it lets your hosted microblog know that happened and can even create a comment. Unfortunately, that comment is not very useful:

    Webmention Comment without Semantic Linkbacks

    Semantic-Linkbacks is the plugin that will read that Webmention and turn it into a comment on your blog:

    Webmention Comment with Semantic Linkbacks

    Now you can follow the entire conversation from my site without having to use micro.blog at all. All the comments are imported and shown on my site. Not only do I have my own content that I originate, I have the conversation around it as well.

    It should be noted that comments do not appear right away, but only after a delay. I'm not sure exactly what the delay is, but it seems to be up to a half-hour.

    But Those Imported Comments are Moderated

    Yes they are, which is problematic because it creates something that needs to be maintained. If you're ok with periodically going into your site and approving the comments, fine. If you're not, then you should have a way to automatically approve most comments.

    This requires two steps. First, you need to put the following lines at the end of the functions.php file for your theme (in wp-content/themes/yourthemename):

    /**
     * Unspam Webmention comments
     */
    function unspam_webmentions($approved, $commentdata) {
      return $commentdata['comment_type'] == 'webmention' ? 1 : $approved;
    }
    
    add_filter('pre_comment_approved', 'unspam_webmentions', '99', 2);
    

    Second, you need to make sure your Discussion Settings will allow the comments to be auto-approved:

    WordPress Discussion Settings

    Now, when people interact with my posts on micro.blog, they show up as comments on my site that are auto-approved unless it contains an extra link, in which case I will still manually approve it.

    Mentioning Others in Originating Posts

    Mentions are only linked on micro.blog is there is an HTML link in the status update to the relevant username. Since those are a pain to remember to do, much less type, you probably want to automate this. There are two approaches to this, both of which I've linked below.

    Was This Worth Doing?

    For me, the jury is still out on whether or not this was all worth doing or not. Because the potential audience is relatively small, namely people who are some combination of:

    • Mac/iOS/IndieWeb centric
    • Technical enough to set up their own blog
    • Willing to give Manton Reece $5/mo

    The diversity of participants and resulting conversations are somewhat limited and are likely to remain so. This might suit some people just fine, but I appreciate people of different races, creeds, colors, economic backgrounds, and even those with differing political opinions. The kind of people you might find on a more mainstream social media service or the right Mastodon instance.

    Keep in mind just because you host your own content doesn't mean you can do what you want if you want to participate in the micro.blog community. While I have no intention of violating the community guidelines, the way "abuse" gets treated is very much the same way Twitter and Facebook handle it:

    The primary focus of the community guidelines will be replies posted to other Micro.blog users. Many great friendships and interesting conversations can start as an @-reply. We are committed to making Micro.blog a place where these interactions can happen. Unfortunately, abuse and harassment frequently come in the form of an @-reply from someone you don?t follow.

    To combat this type of abuse and harassment, Micro.blog has a feature called Safe Replies. Safe Replies attempts to automatically catch potentially harmful replies to you from people you do not follow. We use this to help filter posts out of your timeline that you may not want to see.

    We may also curate replies to protect users when emerging problems are not automatically flagged. Replies will be subject to the basic community guidelines below. They will also be subject to review if flagged by Safe Replies or reported to the community manager by other users.

    I highlight this because while you may be escaping the toxicness that exists on Facebook and Twitter by using micro.blog, you are not escaping oversight of your communications. You are merely changing who is performing that oversight.

    All of this said, if micro.blog were to go away tomorrow, or for some reason if I was banned from the service, I'd still have all my posts and the conversation around them in a usable format with zero work on my part. Obviously any conversations I had with others around their posts may or may not be available depending on what they've done (or not).

    I'm going to continue using it for the time being, because it's something new and shiny to play with. Is it going to change the world? Probably not, because the potential audience at the moment is a bit too small.



  • Unihertz Jelly Pro Review

    Through various news sites, I had been made aware of the Jelly Pro smartphone, which bills itself as ?Impossibly small, amazingly cute, and totally functional.? Recently, Stephen from Unihertz had reached out to me and offered to send me a review unit, which I took them up on. Does it deliver?

    Jello Pro in Hand

    It?s definitely small. In terms of size, the only phone I?ve had that was even close to this size is the Nokia 6230, which came out back in 2004 and wasn?t even a smartphone! That clocked in at 103 x 44 x 20 mm. The Jelly Pro is smaller than that at 92.4 x 43 x 13mm, fits in the coin pocket on my jeans, and packs a lot more functional punch!

    Just to give you a sense of how small it is, I took a picture of it next to an Alcatel OneTouch Flint that I have:

    Jelly Pro with another phone

    Cute? Well, that?s relative, but I definitely think it?s cute. Definitely reminds me of the candy bar phones of years past, though it?s got a touchscreen and runs a fairly stock version of Android 7.0.

    Totally functional? That?s also relative. It?s definitely functional, more so than I thought, but there are some definite limits to it?s functionality.

    A Usable Small Screen

    I am impressed that it?s possible to actually type on this screen. The default keyboard is the Android AOSP keyboard, but you can easily installed Gboard or any other swipe-enabled keyboard you prefer.

    In fact, you can pretty much install any Android application you want as it has all the Google Apps on it (including Google Play). I installed a handful of apps on the device, such as:

    • Check Point SandBlast Mobile Protect
    • Pocket Casts
    • Twitter
    • Instagram
    • WhatsApp

    They all worked more or less as expected, though the small screen (240 by 432 pixels) may cause problems with some apps. Pocket Casts in particular had issues with the menu. Fortunately, by simply rotating the phone to landscape mode, the interface is usable, as you can see here:

    Pocket Casts Portrait Pocket Casts Landscape

    At least for the small sample size of apps I've tried, the screen size wasn't a significant issue. Your mileage may vary, depending on the apps you use.

    Battery

    The small battery, however, may be an issue. If you expect this phone to be your primary phone, you may be disappointed. Unihertz explicitly warned me about this limitation, which is not surprising given the size of the battery 950 (mAh). Even with minimal use, I have trouble making it through an entire day on a single charge.

    Because of the limited battery life, several optimizations have been added to the OS to increase battery life. This includes aggressively killing background applications, which can sometimes lead to reduced battery life. You do have some control over this with Duraspeed in the settings app so you can allow some applications to run.

    One issue I had with this phone was actually being able to get to the battery. The instructions that were included did not cover this point and I ended up requiring a spudger to pry the back cover off the phone. Unihertz is expected to update the instructions to address this point as well as include a tool to assist with removing the back.

    Dual SIM

    It's also worth noting that this phone is an unlocked dual SIM. This is of limited use for a couple of reasons:

    • The aforementioned battery life
    • The second SIM is only 2G

    At least in the US, the only GSM provider that still supports 2G is T-Mobile, but not for much longer. It may be useful in other countries, of course, but given I currently lack a native T-Mobile SIM, I cannot verify the second SIM slot works. My MVNO SIM cards are not allowed to roam on T-Mobile 2G, apparently.

    Camera

    The phone does have a rear and front-facing camera, which is adequate to the task. It's not the best phone camera I've used, but it's far from the worst. A few sample pictures below.

    Image 1 Image 2 Image 3 Image 4 Image 5

    Does it make phone calls?

    These days, it seems like the last thing we use our mobile phones for is making calls. That said, I did try to use the Jelly Pro for that purpose. It was more than up to the task.

    Other features

    The phone has a wired headset jack, which I appreciate. It also has an FM stereo, which one needs the headset plugged in order to make use of. The speaker on the back of the phone works, but is a bit too quiet for my tastes. The phone has an gyroscope, GPS, and a step counter. The GPS in particular can be a real battery drain.

    Bottom Line

    If you're looking for a tiny yet functional smartphone and can accept some limitations inherent in such a tiny phone, you can't go wrong with the Jelly Pro, which can be had from the Unihertz store, on Amazon.com or Amazon UK for $125 USD.



  • PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 1184: AWS, VPSes, and Cloud Economics

    Amazon Web Services makes it really easy to use their infrastructure...and rack up a huge bill in the process. This is why I tend to use cheaper Virtual Private Servers, which I usually find on Low End Box, looking for the best value for money. Because, in the end, there's not a ton of difference between them. The same goes for the Public Cloud offerings, which is on track to start a race to the bottom in terms of pricing.

    Download the audio file.

    Visit https://phoneboy.com/ps for more information about PhoneBoy Speaks and to find past episodes.
    Donations of audio processing time from Auphonic are welcome!
    PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 1184: AWS, VPSes, and Cloud Economics



  • PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 1183: Sennheiser SC 60 USB ML USB Headset

    Been a few months since I podcasted. Been a few changes in my life lately. ope to get back to it soon. Meanwhile, you can tell me how you think my Sennheiser SC60-USB-ML headset sounds.

    Download the audio file.

    Visit https://phoneboy.com/ps for more information about PhoneBoy Speaks and to find past episodes.
    Donations of audio processing time from Auphonic are welcome!
    PhoneBoy Speaks Ep 1183: Sennheiser SC 60 USB ML USB Headset



  • VoIP is Still a Thing

    I don't write much about VoIP anymore. Of course, I don't write about much. Maybe if I string enough of my WhatsApp/SMS/iMessages together, I could write a book. In fact, I bet we all could :)

    That said, VoIP is still a thing. Businesses are still looking for a way to lower costs and make it easier to connect their employees. What's surprising to me, at least, is that one name is still there from back when I was writing about VoIP on a regular basis: 8x8! The others are fairly new, though Ooma and Ring Central have "sponsored" radio-related things I've listened to recently.

    Me, personally? The only VoIP app I use with any regularity is WhatsApp. Not sure how Facebook makes money off it. But clearly, the solutions below are making some money. And if you're in the market, they're worth a look.


    Via: Phone.com Phone Systems




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