Setting up WordPress

January 11, 2018

We think Micro.blog hosting is the easiest way to start a new microblog. It’s $5/month and includes hosting, themes, short and long posts, standalone pages, and support for custom domains. But Micro.blog also works great with existing WordPress blogs.

WordPress is used by over 29% of web sites on the internet. It’s had a huge influence on blogging and it improves regularly. This section will go through the basics of microblogging with WordPress, although many of the tips here are just as applicable to other blogging systems.

Short posts

Everything starts with short posts. Without short posts, there’s no “micro” in microblogging. While there’s no formal rule for how long a post should be, I’ve found that 280 characters is a good guideline. It’s short enough that it encourages quick posts, but long enough to fit a full thought with proper punctuation.

Of course, 280 was intentional. It’s double the original 140-character limit from Twitter. Any limit is arbitrary, so I like picking a number that is symbolic of the move beyond Twitter.

If you want to continue to post to Twitter, it’s useful to keep its limits in mind while writing. I keep most of my indie microblog posts within 280 characters so that they cleanly cross-post to Twitter. But when I feel constrained by the limit, I don’t hesitate to go over. It’s more important to me that I get a full thought posted than to stay within the limit.

No titles

In most modern blogging platforms, the first thing you see when starting a new post is the title field. If you know exactly what you’re going to write about, maybe it’s fine to start with the title. But for many people, just picking a title is a kind of burden. It’s another opportunity for a choice, which means it’s an opportunity to give up before finishing the post.

We see how titles can introduce friction in the writing process outside of blogging too. In 2009, Daring Fireball author John Gruber wrote an essay about friction in programming languages and why it’s common to type into a new untitled window that has never been saved:

Friction is resistance. Hence untitled document windows containing hours of unsaved work — there’s an idea in your head that you want to express or explore, and the path of least resistance is to hit Command-N and just start working.

That’s how blogging should be too. Just start writing.

Part of indie microblogging is getting back to the simplicity of title-less posts. When you’re writing a microblog post in WordPress, just leave the title blank, and if necessary update the post template to not include the title in HTML or the RSS feed.

You may find that some feed readers don’t gracefully handle posts without titles, often inserting “Untitled” for the title because they expect something to be there. If you see this, the best solution is to email the developer and ask for them to address it. Working around the issue with fake titles — dates, numbers, or portions of the text — will only ensure that client developers never improve their apps to handle title-less posts.

Post formats

Newer versions of WordPress have the concept of post formats. Normal blog posts have a “Standard” format, but there are also these types: Aside, Image, Link, Quote, Status, and others.

While not all themes support post formats, most of the default themes do. If you’re using a common WordPress theme, chances are good that it has basic support for “Status” or “Aside” already.

It might be tempting to embrace all the post formats — for example, using the “Image” format when posting a photo to your microblog — but that adds some complexity that won’t be well-supported in most tools. To keep things simple, use “Standard” for longer posts with titles, and “Status” or “Aside” for all your microblog posts: short posts and photo posts. You can always introduce additional formats later when you’re comfortable with the basics.

(Ready for more advanced post types? The IndieWeb-friendly Post Kinds plugin from David Shanske introduces even more post types such as photo, check-in, reply, and like.)

Categories are another good way to group post types. If you use the Status post format for all microblog posts, try using separate categories such as Photos, Snippets, or Microblog. You can use categories to filter posts on your site, or have separate feeds for certain post types by including the category in the feed URL.

RSS and JSON Feed

WordPress includes an RSS feed at /feed/. This default feed will include all your posts, both long-form and microblog posts.

If you’d like to have separate feeds for different types of posts, use the category to control which posts are included in the feed. You can find the category ID in WP Admin under Posts → Categories. (Look for the “tag_ID” parameter on each category link.)

For example, to only return posts with category ID “5”:

/feed/?cat=5

To return all posts except that category, prefix the number with a minus sign:

/feed/?cat=-5

Micro.blog can work with RSS, Atom, or JSON Feeds. JSON Feed is a good default choice if you’re just setting up your account.

To install the JSON Feed plugin, in your WP Admin dashboard go to Plugins → Add New and search for “JSON Feed”. After you install and activate the plugin, you will now have a JSON feed at /feed/json  with the same posts as your RSS feed.

Themes

The default WordPress themes are named as years, such as “Twenty Seventeen”, with a new theme each year. These themes have basic support for microblogging.

The most important thing to look for in a theme is how it handles blank titles and post formats. Create a short post without a title and use the “Live Preview” button when selecting a new theme to see how it will look on your blog.

(The default WordPress themes have limited support for an older version of Microformats. Microformats can be used to add data to posts in a way that will be useful as you integrate more features such as replies into your microblog. More IndieWeb-friendly themes with support for Microformats include Independent Publisher and SemPress.)

Cross-posting

Now that you have a blog that contains all your microblog posts, you can wire it up to Twitter to automatically cross-post them as tweets. You’re writing on your own site first, but the posts still go out to your Twitter followers.

There are general tools such as IFTTT and Zapier that can take some action based on an item in your RSS feed, but none of them really natively understand microblogs. When building Micro.blog, I wanted to bake all the correct logic for cross-posting directly into the platform.

Some of the things Micro.blog handles: sending short text to Twitter as if it was a regular tweet, extracting the first link in a post and appending it to the tweet, truncating long posts with a link back to your site, downloading photos and attaching them directly to a tweet, and Facebook posting. You can enable cross-posting under Account → Edit Feeds & Cross-posting in Micro.blog.

Posting from iOS

You can post to WordPress directly from the iOS app for Micro.blog. Tap Settings inside the app and choose “WordPress or compatible weblog”. Next time you start a new post, Micro.blog will prompt to enter your WordPress URL and credentials.

The Micro.blog apps have a formatting toolbar that uses Markdown. To support Markdown automatically in WordPress, install the Jetpack plugin.