In the open

from inside Write.as

Next up on our roadmap is support for cross-posting to Mastodon!

If you haven't seen yet, our little Mastodon instance Writing Exchange has been growing into a nice little community lately (I'm active over there @matt).

I think federated services like Mastodon are what the web really needs, so I'm excited to add it as our next new publishing channel. We'll launch support in a few different working stages:

  • Cross-post to Writing Exchange. Users on our instance will be able to cross-post to their accounts there, and toots will essentially be the same thing cross-posted to Twitter, except with a 500-character limit.

  • Cross-post to any instance. Once we work out any potential issues, you'll be able to connect any Mastodon instance and cross-post there.

Once this is all done, we'll start on ActivityPub support. That will let you directly interact with the fediverse by optionally making your blog itself an account that people can follow and interact with from Mastodon (or any other service that speaks ActivityPub) — imagine a handle like @matt@write.as or @janedoe@write.as. You can see what this will look like in action on PeerTube, where people can soon comment on videos via Mastodon — it's really cool.

ActivityPub support is also a major milestone in our work towards an open source, fully-federated blogging platform — a distant goal of ours. There will be more information about that soon, but for now, keep an eye out for Mastodon cross-posting!

~ Matt

On today's internet we're surrounded by numbers: how many “likes” a photo has; the number of times an article was shared; the average number of “stars” an app (or product or restaurant or movie) has received, and how many people have given it stars; how many times an app has been downloaded. On Write.as, right now we show how many views a post has.

Numbers are used for representing many things, but are generally only useful when combined with more data. Restaurant ratings won't necessarily tell you whether or not the food is good, or the service is bad, or some combination of those. App ratings won't necessarily tell you about missing functions in an app, or whether it'll solve the problem you're looking for. Ratings are only useful when paired with written reviews.

The way that numbers allow us to quickly compare things is great when we're in a rush, but bad when we care about discovering new things. A campsite might not have as many stars as Disney World when you're looking for something to do in the area, but you might still have a much more profoundly enjoyable time camping. A musician might not have the most downloads or plays, but could still easily become your favorite artist. An article with few “shares” might still be worth reading, just like one with few “views” might.

Basically, popularity numbers don't necessarily correlate with quality or enjoyment, but still tend to factor in to our natural decision-making. And we at Write.as want to be sure that numbers don't speak louder for writers than their words. So we're hiding public view counts from all posts, anonymous or not. They'll still be available for everyone through our API, but will only be shown to the original author on the web, since they benefit the most from knowing that people are seeing their work.

We hope this change will make the reading experience more enjoyable for everyone, and as always, we'd love to hear your thoughts!

We've kept read.write.as a simple space so far, as a foundation to help get your words out to the world, and give readers a place to go when they take a break from writing. It's since grown to include a deep, diverse set of writers on a whole range of topics. As it continues to grow, we're now ready to start moving on to our next phase.

Soon, we'll be taking a minor step and adding the option for content notes on your blogs. This will let you mark your public blog as “not safe for work,” for example, and will simply show that content note (instead of the post's preview) on read.write.as. Adding a note won't affect your blog in any way outside of RWA, that is, the note won't show up while someone is already on your blog or reading its posts. This is simply the first step of many in letting readers have more control over their reading experience.

Next, we'll add new reader-focused features that'll let you customize the experience more and spread your favorite writing farther. For example:

  • Do you like “night mode” in the Write.as editor? You'll be able to read in that mode, as well, across all Write.as posts.
  • Want to keep track of a particular writer or let them know you like their writing? There will be a variety of simple ways to do that.
  • Want to help organize and curate writing into something new? You'll be able to.
  • Want to read on the go? Simple, dedicated mobile apps are on the roadmap.

These and more features will form a flexible space where anyone can go to hear new perspectives on a variety of topics, all from the writers on Write.as — and eventually other places on the web, too.

If you'd like to see us reach our big goals, you can help by spreading the word about read.write.as:

As always, keep in touch and let us know what else you'd like to see.

We're replacing the JSON export option for posts, which currently requires a Pro subscription, with a zip file export option available to everyone. You can export your posts now as a registered user.

There are a few reasons: based on our analytics, the JSON option is rarely used, especially when compared to CSV exporting. But most of all, a collection of plain text files is universally helpful, and furthers our goal of data freedom. And while Pro users can still export all of their data as JSON, all users can always access their data through our API. But let us know if you'd like the JSON option for posts back.

Since launching blogs last year, we've heard from several people that they'd like to be able to have static or persistent pages on their blog, for creating things like an About or Contact page.

As you can see on our roadmap, we're working on this feature now. In our normal style, it'll be a tiny addition that works by letting you “pin” individual posts to your blog, adding a link to the top of its home page, without any extra work from you. Any pinned post's title will become the link text, and for now, they'll be added in the order you pin them in. Later, we plan to make it easier for you to rearrange them.

Pro users will see this new feature as soon as we launch it within the next week.

A URL is is the first thing someone sees before reading your posts on Write.as. Right now they can be a little unwieldy:

write.as/vbw14j2rv9noid03

Yikes. We're not even sure why we thought 16 characters were necessary. Maybe we were a bit overzealous.

So we'd like to make them into something simpler, like this:

write.as/vbw14j

Ah, that's better.

Casual and Pro users will see this in the coming weeks.

We're considering hiding non-HTTPS images on blogs by default, with some sort of “show” button nearby, for users to click if they're okay with loading insecure content. This would impact a few things:

  • Readers would always see the lock icon in their browser on all non-custom-domain blogs
  • Anyone who's embedded insecure images would need to host their images securely to prevent them from being replaced with some sort of “insecure image hidden” message (or one less scary-sounding)

Because it could adversely affect some writers, we want to make sure most everyone is on board with / prepared for this change. It is ultimately better for everyone, both writers and readers, and falls in line with our goals to support a more widely-secure internet. While we are launching an image hosting product soon (Snap.as), it's not the primary reason for this idea, and it will be just one of many options for users to securely host images for their blogs.

Let us know what you think of this change, especially if you think it'll negatively affect you.

-Matt