More Mastodon Tools for You: One New Web App and Three New GitHub Repositories

As I spend more time digging into Mastodon’s API and considering the possibilities of decentralized social media search, the extant search engines around me seem rather… flat.

That makes sense inasmuch as Google and Bing and other search engines are designed to get you from point A to point B with minimal effort on your part. There have been criticisms about Google’s efficiency at that lately, but putting those criticisms aside, that’s what search engines were designed to do.

After getting under the hood of Mastodon’s API, I find myself unsatisfied with web search. Google is 25 while web search is roughly 30, which means that web searching as an aspect of our daily life is maybe 20 years old. And yet our current search engines don’t take advantage of the fact that the searching audience has become more sophisticated over time. Even if you don’t use social media, you understand the social signals of reposts, replies, and favorites. Even if you don’t use Twitter you can understand the impact that verified identities had on that platform when they worked (and the havoc they’re wreaking now that they don’t.) (These shortcomings don’t even address search engines’ failure to wield user-intuitive persistent metadata to shape search spaces, but I’ve already ranted about that.)

Mastodon’s fully-open API is giving me the opportunity to explore how search might look and I intend to take full advantage. MastoGizmos is now at fourteen one-page Web apps to make your searching and exploring of Mastodon easier, and I’ve added three new GitHub repositories as well. Here’s the update.

Browser Mastodon Instance Directories: David’s ‘Dex

The complaint I hear about Mastodon  is that it’s too hard to find people to follow. I’m trying to help with that — I’ve made Hashtag Harvest and MastoWindow and Wikipedia/Mastodon Thing. To your Mastodon fam-finding toolbox I’d like to also add David’s ‘Dex. David’s ‘Dex lets you explore Mastodon instances users by the domains they link to in their profile.

A screenshot of David's 'Dex, showing a three-column layout which is browsing the Mastodon.Online user directory.


Start by choosing a Mastodon instance to review. David’s ‘Dex will crash if you try it with really big instances like Mastodon.Social – is set as the default. Once you specify an instance, DD will download the instance’s user directory, organize the users by the links they use in their profile metadata, and present those to you in a drop down directory, with an additional checkbox available to filter for only those links which have been self-verified by users. Once you’ve chosen a domain you’ll get a list of users who have that link in their profile (in this case verified.)

A screenshot showing a list of user names on Mastodon.NZ which have verified links to GitHub.

Click on a user and you’ll get their user information in the middle with a clickable link to their profile page. In the third column you’ll get the links from their metadata fields and their last three Mastodon posts. I had a grand time yesterday finding science- and humanities- instances and looking at the users who linked to GitHub, ResearchGate, ORCID, etc, clicking on the profile links of all kinds of cool people. And if I wanted to follow them? Following someone on Mastodon outside of your Mastodon client can be a little awkward, but I made it easy-peasy with a bookmarklet.

Easy Mastodon Follows: Mastodon Follow Bookmarklet

Bookmarklets are bookmarks with JavaScript added in. As you might imagine the addition of JavaScript adds lots of possibilities. With Mastodon Follow Bookmarklet , you highlight a Mastodon user name, click on the bookmarklet, and get taken to your instance’s follow confirmation page. Boom! Done.  The GitHub repository is a snippet of JavaScript. Just save it as a bookmarket after following the directions to customize it with your Mastodon instance name. (If you’re not sure what your instance name is, plug your username into Mastodon Username Helper.)

Even if you follow tons of people on Mastodon you might find your information flow unsatisfactory when breaking news happens. That’s because the decentralized nature of Mastodon means you’re only seeing a limited amount of content. Much more content flows through big instances than small ones.

There are instance-level tools to address the problem of limited information flow to instances, but I think that users should have options as well. So I made a couple.

Monitoring the News From a Small Instance With Mastodon

Make a News Monitoring Perch With Mastodon Stadium Seats

The first time I tried to follow a scheduled political event on Mastodon – a  debate – it was a disaster. I had to run around trying to find the liveposters and the flow of posts from the hashtags I set up was just sad. So I made Mastodon Stadium Seats (which has little CSS and is very rough.) It’s an HTML file. Download it and customize it with the hashtags you want to monitor and the instances you want to monitor, and you’ll get a plain, full-screen display of the last 14 posts from those hashtags on those instances. It’ll automatically refresh every 90 seconds.

A screenshot of Mastodon Stadium Seats. It's very basic, just two lists of Mastodon posts side by side.

Set Up a Passive News Screen With VibesMasto News

A plain, frequently-updating screen is fine when there’s breaking news, but what about when you want to keep a more general eye on what’s happening? That’s what VibesMasto News is for. It monitors general trending links on Mastodon.Social and a list of Mastodon hashtags you specify, but it also has a section for an external RSS feed (the default feed is the front page of the New York Times.) Like Mastodon Stadium Seats, VMN is an HTML that you download, customize, and open in your browser. When nothing specific is happening, I cast this page to a monitor that’s beside my computer.

A screenshot of VibesMasto News. The first column has New York Times news and trending Mastodon.Social hashtags. The second column has trending links from Mastodon.Social, and the third column has hashtags I'm monitoring on Mastodon (like RSS.)


I’m just getting started. Stay tuned.




Leave a Reply