Browsing the Fediverse

A month ago, when the Great Discontinuity happened, I started working on a Steampipe plugin to enable SQL queries against the Mastodon API, along with a companion Steampipe “mod” (suite of dashboards) to display and chart the results of those queries.

I expect these dashboards will soon be available in Steampipe Cloud, where it will take just a few seconds to pop in your Mastodon access token (from, e.g., https://mastodon.social/settings/applications/new) and begin using the dashboards.

Meanwhile, if you’re so inclined, you can find the plugin here and the dashboards here. If you’re reasonably technical you can pretty quickly and easily install Steampipe, clone these repos, build the plugin, and start using the dashboards.

Why would you want to? My own motivation, originally, was to do Mastodon analytics. I thought Steampipe’s SQLification of the API would be a handy way to discern and monitor activity trends during a period of extraordinary flux. And that’s proven to be true, to a limited extent. Here’s a snapshot of the dashboard that uses the instance activity API.

I’m watching this chart with great interest. Where does it go from here? I’m not going to hazard a guess. Everything’s up in the air right now, and anything could happen.

But as I added tables to the plugin to encapsulate more of the Mastodon API, and added dashboards to visualize those tables, my focus shifted. I began to see the suite of dashboards as a Mastodon reader/browser that complements the web and phone clients, and that’s how I mainly use them now.

I think the key benefit is one of Edward Tufte’s core principles: information density. Each of these dashboards shows more activity than you can see at a glance in the web or phone interfaces. I find this very helpful for searching and browsing. When I see items of interest that I want to interact with, I click through to the web app in order to boost, reply, or favorite.

Will this way of browsing Mastodon appeal to you? To get a feel for what it’s like, here are snapshots of some of the dashboards I’ve built so far.

dashboard.Favorites

dashboard.Following

dashboard.Home

dashboard.List

dashboard.Me

dashboard.Notification

dashboard.PeopleSearch

dashboard.StatusSearch

dashboard.TagSearch

For me, at least, this approach has become an effective way to browse the fediverse, find interesting people, read what they boost, and keep track of my own activity.

If you are dev-minded, by the way, please note that these dashboards are just one way to skin the results of queries against the plugin. Any SQL client can connect to Steampipe’s Postgres endpoint. You could use dashboards like Metabase or Grafana, or you could embed Steampipe as a component in an app.


1 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/11/28/autonomy-packet-size-friction-fanout-and-velocity/
2 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/06/mastodon-steampipe-and-rss/
3 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/10/browsing-the-fediverse/
4 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/17/a-bloomberg-terminal-for-mastodon/
5 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/19/create-your-own-mastodon-ux/
6 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/22/lists-and-people-on-mastodon/
7 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/29/how-many-people-in-my-mastodon-feed-also-tweeted-today/
8 https://blog.jonudell.net/2022/12/31/instance-qualified-mastodon-urls/
9 https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/01/16/mastodon-relationship-graphs/
10 https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/01/21/working-with-mastodon-lists/
11 https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/01/26/images-considered-harmful-sometimes/
12 https://blog.jonudell.net/2023/02/02/mapping-the-wider-fediverse/

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