Return to ActivityPub Conference 2019

Federated Blogging with WriteFreely

This talk by Matt Baer can be found at https://archive.org/details/apconf-talks/Talk8_Matt_compressed.mov. Matt is the founder of a company called Write.as, and is the lead developer for WriteFreely.

WriteFreely is a minimal, federated blogging platform made just for writing. It has no ads and no distractions, you just write. It is built around plain text, but you can also do rich text with Markdown. It is private by design, and is lightweight and easy to install because it is written in Go.

It all started with Write.as, which was founded in 2015 as an anonymous blogging platform – just write and publish, no signup required. It was a simple idea, but there were a few principles:

  • Privacy – You didn’t need to sign up to read a post.
  • Interoperability – Not another walled garden
  • Longevity – create a business model that is sustainable

It did evolve, though, based on feedback from users, into a somewhat more sophisticated blogging platform, while keeping the anonymity and adding support for multiple identities. It also supported cross-posting to other sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, and Medium for easier distribution. And they opened their API to everyone. And while they were doing all of this stuff they heard about ActivityPub. They had not set out to create a social network, just a simple blogging tool, but found that some social features worked well for them. Using the Go-Fed and other libraries they were able to implement ActivityPub in mid-2018. Three months later the Write.as code was released as WriteFreely, and Write.as remains as a flagship instance.

They decided to be Minimally Social:

  • Goal: only include what’s needed
  • Readers can follow blogs
  • Readers can boost/Announce blog posts but the author is not notified.
  • Readers can favorite/Like posts, but again the author is not notified. They are essentially bookmarks for the reader only.
  • They do plan to allow replies to posts in a future release.

They also have created a long-form blog reader using ActivityPub called Read.as, which is also what he describes as “minimally social”. The idea I am getting from this presentation is that Matt regards a lot of social media as distractions he would just as soon do away with. With WriteFreely, not being notified about reader reactions to your posts means that your phone is not constantly going off (I agree, which is why I turn off most notifications on my phone.) And with Read.as, the idea is that you just read.

Now, this is a company and mentioned before a sustainable business model matters since people need to eat. Their solution is to employ a LibreSaaS model, which means they provide a platform for a fee, but avoid any lock-in. Write.as, which is their flagship instance, offers you a platform for your blog for a very reasonable fee, and they also offer Write.as Pro and Write.as for Teams as products. They also offer hosting for WriteFreely communities. The idea is that people want to have communities and interact but are not necessarily technical, so offering SaaS, particularly when it respects your privacy, is a good solution. Because they are selling the service, they may be more attuned to their customers than some open source projects. But they also want to keep to their principles of Privacy, Interoperability, and Longevity/Dependability. By doing these things they think they can make it easy for anyone to join the Fediverse.