Mastodon 2.9.3 and work on 3.0

I have been working on the 3.0 release for about two months now. It's shaping up to be a large one in terms of code changes. There are a few major features that are already done:

A secure mode ("authorized fetch") which allows servers to have better control over which other servers can retrieve data from them (helpful for e.g. enforcing domain blocks). It's almost fully backwards-compatible, however, it is because it's only "almost" backwards-compatible that it cannot be on-by-default yet, even if I think that in the long-term, it should.

Building on top of that, there is the "whitelist mode", allowing one to completely lock down a Mastodon server, and tightly control which servers (if any) it federates with. This is meant entirely for an academic context, e.g. schools teaching students how to use social media in a safe, controlled environment.

I have reworked how autocomplete works for accounts, making the results more accurate and useful (so far as the server is configured to use ElasticSearch). For the first time, I have added a similar autocomplete for hashtags. Previously it only suggested hashtags you yourself have used in that browser session, but now it's more real, ranking suggestions based on which hashtags other people use. This should hopefully increase hashtag use and in turn make content discovery easier.

The status search (which is available, once again, when the server is configured to use ElasticSearch) now supports a little more advanced search syntax. For example, you can now use "phrase search", i.e. if you want to find exact matches of a sentence, you can wrap them in quotation marks, just like on Google, Bing, etc. If you want to exclude a word (or phrase) from the results, you can prefix them with a minus sign.

Moreover, all searches now allow loading more results progressively, instead of being limited to 15 items total.

I have also reworked the interface for controlling the "focal point" of media uploads and entering alternative text for them. It is now a modal window that unites those two functions. At the same time, I have added a client-side OCR tool that can auto-fill the text in the image into the alternative text field with the press of a button. It both makes entering alternative text easier, because you see the media in a large format on the same screen, and it makes the "focal point" function more obvious, as a lot of people didn't know what the "change preview" link did, previously.

Audio uploads now have a dedicated, pretty player component instead of re-using the video player.

As I have mentioned in my previous update, 3.0 will remove the OStatus protocol from Mastodon. That is now done. A lot of old code, that has not been used often and has not received as many performance optimizations, has been successfully removed.

The warning e-mails that moderators can send to users can now optionally include statuses from the report the warning is being generated from. In simpler terms, it should be easier to see which of your posts broke the rules and caused moderator intervention. This should reduce a lot of confusion.

Mastodon will now display trending hashtags, with a safety-first approach. Hashtags will only be displayed as trending after a moderator of your server has reviewed them. This is meant to prevent spam, TV show spoilers, personal attacks and the like. You have the option of hiding trends from your interface. Server owners have the option to turn off the function entirely. Content discovery has always been a challenge in Mastodon, so being able to see what people are talking about, and which hashtags are worth using, should be a welcome relief.

Speaking of discovery, the profile directory feature has been severely underused. I am currently revamping it. It will now federate, i.e. include opted-in users from other servers in the directory, which will now be available in the logged-in web interface (and conversely, in apps through the API). Visually, it will now feature prominent follow buttons, include a line of the bio text, and users' header images. This should make following people from the directory a lot quicker and allow creative people like artists to use headers to stand out.

There are a lot of bugfixes and small UI improvements. The most urgent fixes have been released in 2.9.3 on August 10. You can view the changelog for 2.9.3 here.  Work on 3.0 continues.  It is close to being done (all of the above are things I have already finished), but there are some unfinished and unpolished parts.

In other news, it took some time but I have updated and restored the 1-click install image on DigitalOcean which was temporarily gone from their marketplace. I am overseeing the development of a high-performance streaming API re-implementation in Rust which is nearing completion. An improved documentation website is also in the works (early stages).

As always, thank you for your support! 🐘 This would not be possible without my patrons.

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