Strategies to increase diversity on Micro.blog

Jean McDonald, Community Manager of Micro.blog, posted an essay today entitled “Diversity and Inclusion at Micro.blog: Where We Are, Where We Want to Go“.

The question comes up regularly: to what extent is there diversity in the Micro.blog community? We only ask for a name and an email address to register, so we don’t have any demographics on the users in our community. But I do know, based on skimming the names of those who register, that the percentage of users with typically female names is very small. When I look at users whose avatars are photos of themselves, I suspect the percentage of people of color is also very small.

I have been thinking about diversity on the platform since I started using it, the day it opened to the public in December 2017. Jean’s essay inspired me to publish some of my thoughts.

What do we expect?

The Micro.blog service has not been a publicly available for long. At this point, it is understandable that the first wave of users would be primarily composed of fans of its founder, Manton Reece. Manton is an iOS and macOS developer who blogs and podcasts about his development work and the indie web. If you have come across his work online, you are probably very much like him: an iOS or macOS developer, or at least a passionate user; a tech podcast listener; or a passionate blogger or IndieWeb aficionado. This core group is, for reasons related to historical and cultural biases, not a particularly diverse one.

This core group describes me, and certainly does not describe everyone on Micro.blog, but it does describe a lot of the users I found on the service’s Discover page. Manton and Jean have expressed, from the very beginning, an earnest desire to create a safe community of independent micro blogs—”safe” from the abuse that silences disempowered people, women, and minorities on dominant social media platforms. They, along with the users of the platform, have openly discussed how to increase diversity, and the challenges inherent in doing so. I have learned a lot from reading these blog posts and discussions. Like them, I wish for Micro.blog to attract and retain a more diverse user base. The question we all face now is: how?

Here are a few ideas.

Recognize and publicize that community guidelines are intrinsic to the product

Jean McDonald:

No one should feel unwelcome here.

This should be one of the public-facing mantras that applies to the entire project, much like “Don’t be evil” was to Google for many years. Jean’s quote should be atop the “Community Guidelines” page, and a link to that page should be near the top of the “help.micro.blog” page.

I think Micro.blog should put a lot more focus on the community guidelines and whatever technology or processes are used to enforce them. It’s a key feature of the platform. People behaving well together is the core of the product for me, and a key differentiator between it and Twitter.

Refine the marketing message

What is Micro.blog, anyway? To IndieWeb people, it’s kind of obvious. To everybody else, maybe not.

If asked, today, to sell it to someone, I might say: “It’s the good parts of Twitter, with none of the bad parts.” I might explain that microblogging is simply sharing something about yourself in public, and that Micro.blog is a safe, respectful place to do so, because it has protections against abuse, and strict community guidelines. If they are unsure why they should share thing in public, I would explain that it is empowering to do so. It is putting your best foot forward online.

Promote on podcasts

Having a simple, concise marketing message is essential, but that message needs to be spread somehow. One of the best ways to market these days is on podcasts.

Manton has a podcast and a microcast, which have brought a lot of people to Micro.blog thus far. I think podcasts are a great opportunity to promote the open, inclusive, but safe nature of Micro.blog. While podcast audiences may, as a whole, skew white, male, and wealthy, there are tons of podcasts out there that are hosted by, feature as panelists, and cater to women and minorities. I’m sure that Manton is adjacent enough to other tech podcasters to get some guest spots on tech podcasts that feature or cater to these groups.

Ask users for help

Micro.blog users are all, at this point, early adopters, and most of us are especially committed to the platform and want it to succeed. Ask us to publicize the service. Give us some ideas how to do that effectively, and in ways that will increase diversity. Provide incentives for us to sign up new people, such as additional badges (which are free to provide) or free months of Micro.blog hosting (which of course incurs a cost). I’m sure something will come of it.

Closing thoughts

My list of suggestions is by no means exhaustive, and Manton and Jean are likely in a better position than I am to understand what they need to do, and what they can do. I do want to express that diversity is important for all of us, even white, male, Americans such as myself. If all people are treated with dignity and are allowed to participate in something (work, society, etc.), outcomes will be better, and life will be richer, for all of us. I have seen that firsthand at a small scale, and wish to see it at a much larger scale. Micro.blog is a good place to start.