News in the fediverse

On a recent episode of You’re Wrong About, Sarah Marshall delivered a crisp summary of how the 24-hour news cycle came to be. This led me to realize that many among us do not remember when news was confined to time slots: the 7 o’clock news, the 11 o’clock news, the morning paper. I think it might be healthy to bring that back in some form. From the excitement I heard in their voices I gather that Sarah Marshall and her co-presenter Blair Braverman feel the same way. When I hear people complain about Mastodon’s lack of breaking news, I think: “Feature, not bug!” Maybe what the 24-hour cycle has been breaking is us.

So when launched last week I was a bit conflicted. On the one hand, I would like to use Mastodon to read mainstream news headlines just as I once used RSS to do. (Full disclosure: is run as a public service by whose founder, Dick Hardt, is a longtime friend.) On the other hand, when reading Mastodon timelines I’m enjoying not knowing what’s happening in the world right now.

What if you could exclude news from the home timeline, put it on a list, and go there when—and only when—in a news mindset? That’s a feature of the Fedilab client, I learned from Keith Soltys.

press coop IDG

What would it take to implement the same idea in the Mastodon reader I’m developing? It couldn’t be just an extra WHERE condition, could it?

Well, actually, it could.

news exclude timeline IDG

Problem solved. Now I can read news in Mastodon when and how I want, and never see it otherwise.

mastodon news list IDG

If you want that same control, you shouldn’t have to use a particular Android client, or Steampipe client, or any other. There’s a Cambrian explosion of such creatures right now. The more they can share important DNA, the better for all of us.

I hope that the Steampipe plugin for Mastodon, which enables the dashboards I’m building using Steampipe’s own dashboards-as-code system, can provide some useful common DNA. A rule like news only on lists, not timelines, once expressed in SQL, can be used (and thus not reinvented) by any kind of Steampipe (read: Postgres) client: psql (or any Postgres CLI), Metabase or Tableau or any Postgres-compatible BI tool, Python or JavaScript or any programming language. Steampipe is a versatile component. Its mapping from APIs to SQL can, in theory, provide the data layer for any application.

My Steampipe + Mastodon adventure notwithstanding, let’s hold on to that larger idea. The fediverse is our chance to reboot the social web and gain control of our information diets. Since our diets all differ, it ought to be trivial for anyone—in any client—to turn on a rule like news only on lists, not timelines. I’ve shown one way it can be trivial. Please show me others!

This series:

  1. Autonomy, packet size, friction, fanout, and velocity
  2. Build a Mastodon dashboard with Steampipe
  3. Browsing the fediverse
  4. A Bloomberg terminal for Mastodon
  5. Create your own Mastodon UX
  6. Lists and people on Mastodon
  7. How many people in my Mastodon feed also tweeted today?
  8. Instance-qualified Mastodon URLs
  9. Mastodon relationship graphs
  10. Working with Mastodon lists
  11. Images considered harmful (sometimes)
  12. Mapping the wider fediverse
  13. Protocols, APIs, and conventions
  14. News in the fediverse

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