As always, a huge thanks to all patrons! Thank you for making the development of a free alternative social media platform possible!
From a "I can't believe I made this thing" perspective, Mastodon's financing looks fantastic. However, compared to other software projects that aren't even half as large or ambitious, we still have ways to go. The fact of the matter is that I currently can't afford to make any new hires. I believe it will take another April-style event to make progress on that front. We don't know when such an event will happen, but if there's a lesson from all the interest waves documented in this blog, it's that they keep happening. So for now, I just want to keep making the software better, so that when we're in the limelight again we'll get even more people to switch.
Also on the topic of onboarding new people! I have finally finished the design of the project landing page, aka the page you can send people to show them Mastodon, without showing them some particular instance: joinmastodon.org
There's more to do there, like adding a choice wizard to the list, and adding translations for other languages, but it's already a big step from the previous situation!
Onto other things: Mastodon releases. There have been a few since the last update, but they've all been patch releases, aka fixing all sorts of bugs in 1.4.x but adding only a handful of new features. That being said those bugs and features are from the 1.5 roadmap, so we're drawing closer to that. The real whammy is still a work in progress.
Speaking of work in progress, the next release will contain an updated design of the instance frontpage (the /about page), which will put more emphasis on what makes the particular instance unique, but (hopefully) also do a better job of making the distinction between instance and software and linking to joinmastodon.org for general explanations.
I also finally have a more or less clean picture of what Mastodon needs in the long term, and not just in the next immediate release. From all the feedback and experience I've gathered:
- Implementation of the ActivityPub protocol as an upgrade from the OStatus protocol we're currently using is a big deal not only because it's more future-proof, but also because it lets us encode Mastodon information using core features of the protocol rather than custom extensions. Specifically I am talking about post privacy. Of course, the question of trusting server owners persists and that one can only truly be solved by end-to-end encryption on the client, but that problem is the same on Twitter and Facebook as well - their admins can read the database all the same. However, ActivityPub supports post privacy out of the box, solving our issue of GNU social servers unknowingly leaking such posts when they are sent those (current alleviation of that problem is lots of UI warnings about sending private messages to followers from other servers, etc). This problem is one of the most mentioned flaws of Mastodon when people are talking about it, so solving it would be amazing.
- We need deduplication for uploaded files. While it can't be perfect because the "same" image cannot always be detected as such due to different resolutions or slight changes or quality losses, there are still so many cases when people upload the exact same file with different toots (seagulls, anyone?), that I believe storage gains would be significant.
- Mastodon needs to offer better integration options with existing userbases. I am thinking CAS, I am thinking LDAP, single-sign-on - there are so many organizations, forums, or other types of websites that would want to have a Mastodon for their users without everyone having to make new separate accounts.
- The admin tools need even more love. We need a better role system, so that it's not a single switch between normal user and all-powerful user - there are many "admin" functions that make sense to be delegated to new roles such as "moderator". It would also be useful to have indicators for local admins/mods so people know when they're talking to a real admin/mod of their instance vs an impersonator. And admins/mods need to be able to attach notes to users to keep track of transgressions and warnings between themselves.
- Consuming a single stream of content can get unwieldy. Many people share the desire to be able to subdivide their home timeline into separate lists, for example a list of artists that they're following, or a list of tech people, with the home feed remaining a catch-all. That way missing content from people you care about is harder. I am interested in implementing that.
- We're still working on a new, more recognizable logo (just to clarify - only the logo, the elephant friend is not going anywhere!), and are looking into options for providing people with "follow me" and "share on mastodon" buttons, which is a challenge due to the decentralized nature, but not impossible.
All of these amazing new elephants, like before, are courtesy of dopatwo.