It’s funny how things change. Once I relied heavily on Twitter for current news and links via tools like Listimonkey and Nuzzel. Now both Listimonkey and Nuzzel are long dead and Twitter’s disinformation and hate speech problems get worse almost by the hour.
But ResearchBuzz is still here, and I still need to do content curation in order to bring you interesting news twice a day. RSS feeds and Google Alerts remain important parts of my toolbox, but I also need tools to monitor the current events link flow that takes place on social media. Nothing exists that is both suitable and affordable, so I’m making my own. Because its API is open and free, I am focusing on Mastodon. And because it’s the right thing to do I’m sharing the tools I make with you.
Mastodon Stadium Seats
One of the disadvantages of Mastodon’s decentralized social media is a lack of a single flow to follow. If you’re on a big Mastodon instance like mstdn.social and news breaks, you will likely quickly get a lot of news and links about it. On the other hand if you’re on a small Mastodon instance, it might be a while before news trickles down to you unless you’ve put in a lot of work and followed a lot of people from larger instances. ( I know there are relays available but that’s not a solution for an end user.) I made Mastodon Stadium Seats for when a big news event is happening and I want to see what’s going on even from my tiny instance. It works by querying the larger instances for specified hashtags and showing the results on an HTML page. In the code there’s a space where you can specify the instances and hashtags you want to monitor:
Once you’ve downloaded the HTML file, edit the values above to your preference and open the file in your Web browser. It will give you a plain display of the last 14 posts mentioning your hashtags and it updates every 90 seconds.
This tool isn’t meant to be fancy — it’s just a cheap “stadium seat” where you can see more of what’s happening across the fediverse. For “regular” news days (I have to put that in quotes, it’s 2023, regular news days don’t exist, just less-busy ones) I have a more polished tool that I cast to a second monitor. It’s called VibesMasto News Monitor, and it’s named after Vibesmaster G-Nice.
VibesMasto News Monitor
I only use Mastodon Stadium Seats when there’s breaking news or a large event which much of social media will be watching (like a political debate.) For everyday news monitoring I use VibesMasto News Monitor. As you can see in the screenshot above it uses external content (in this case, headlines from the New York Times) and a list of trending links from Mastodon.Social in addition to hashtag monitors. I’m not really looking for specific information with this tool so much as I want a one glance display that tells me what’s happening (and links to more information if I want it.)
Like Stadium Seats, this tool is an HTML file that you can download and run locally. To customize it you change three parts of the code:
const rssFeeds = [
This changes the tags you’re monitoring in the third column. You can change either the tag (the “opensource” part of opensource.rss) or the instance (the “mastodon.social” part of the URL.)
const response = await fetch(‘https://mastodon.social/api/v1/trends/links’);
This changes the trending links in the middle column. All you have to do is change the mastodon.social part with the instance name of your choice — for example, https://journa.host/api/v1/trends/links .
const feedUrl = ‘https://rss.nytimes.com/services/xml/rss/nyt/HomePage.xml’;
This changes the news source at the top of the first column. You should be able to use pretty much any RSS feed as long as it doesn’t have crazy formatting. Once you’ve downloaded the HTML page and made the changes you should be able to open it locally in your browser. I keep mine in a folder on my desktop and review the hashtags every morning before I launch it.
I cast VibesMasto to a second monitor that sits beside my computer and glance at it from time to time. It keeps me informed without me running to check news sites all the time and without alerts bleeping and blooping all over the place. But it doesn’t do the heavy lifting that something like Nuzzel could do. Nuzzel was valuable because it could go through Twitter lists and aggregate all the interesting links that your followings posted so you could review them at your leisure.
Mastodon is decentralized, so instead of gathering links from follows I made a tool to grab them from instances. Let me tell you about Mastodon Link Ripper.
Mastodon Link Ripper
Mastodon Link Ripper does just what it says — rips links from the current timelines of the Mastodon instances you specify. It then removes duplicates and presents them to you in aggregate. A basic filter allows you to remove posts based on keywords. The site is also hardcoded to filter out posts more than 48 hours old, but you can adjust that. (The code is well-commented and shows you what you need to change.)
Like the other tools I’ve mentioned so far, this is a single HTML file that you download and open locally in your browser. Unlike other tools I’ve mentioned so far, this one has text input forms so you don’t have to edit the page itself. Just enter your keywords, any filter words, rip the links, and have a good skim.
Twitter is only getting worse, Google’s search engine is filling up with infosewage. At this point I’ve been writing about search engines for almost 30 years and I’m discouraged. It seems to be more and more about giving the shareholders dollars and selling advertising than it is helping people find things.
Was it probably always that way? Possibly but not this baldly. We are surrounded by endless authoritative structures — FCC license databases, local business license records, secretary of state business filings, local government resource lists — and they are so rarely applied when we’re searching for real, true information. Why? There are structured resource lists available from places like Wikipedia that we could apply to our general Web searches. We don’t.
Well, they don’t. I do. And I will keep working on this problem. I’m only one person and I don’t count for much but I deeply believe there are ways we can counter what’s happening and I will keep trying to make tools for it and I will keep sharing them with you. It’s important.