I want to take a little time here to report on recent developments in the Fediverse. A fewf things that are promising have occured, and I think they help illustrate why the Fediverse can be so nice.
Screen Readers and Mastodon
The first is some welcome accessibility information from someone using the screen name of Changeling. He is himself a blind user, and has taken the time to put some tips together in what he calls Changeling’s Guide to Mastodon for Screen Reader Users. This is something near and dear to my heart because some years back, in the early days of the Web, I was in charge of my University Web site, and brought it into compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and actually had to overcome some resistance since it was said “none of our students are blind”. To this day I always put ALT text on any images I post.
Changeling has written this in the form of seven chapters, and at this time 5 have been written and the last two are in process.
- Chapter One: Introduction.
- Chapter Two: A Closer Look, Joining Instances, and Signing Up.
- Chapter Three: Creating Your Profile and Sending Your First Toot.
- Chapter Four: More on Posts, and Following.
- Chapter Five: Timelines and Interacting.
- Chapter Six: Settings, Tools, and Apps. (Coming soon).
- Chapter Seven: Final Thoughts. (Coming soon)
One of the things I like, and it is a small thing I know, is that he has set the links to open in a new tab instead of overwriting the page. I try to always to that on my site because I think it makes navigation easier.
This tutorial is not about any specific screen reader, rather it is about how to use a screen reader with Mastodon to get the best results. So I would suppose that means you need to know a little something about the screen reader you are using. But the good news is that Mastodon appears to be designed for accessibility from the beginning. That said, the author felt there was a need to help other users who may encounter issues or frustrations, so he wrote this guide. And it not only does what says it will do, it also gives some good basic information on Mastodon for those who may not be familiar with it and are looking for an alternative. And he usefully points out that while Mastodon may be better than Twitter in some respects, it is still a place where people hang out, and some of those people can be pretty bad, as the Wil Wheaton case makes clear. As I pointed out in a previous article on Mastodon, each instance has its own rules of behavior, and I am on an instance that suits me quite well, and I support the maintainer through Patreon because they put in time and money to keep it going and deserve the support. My own experience has been quite good on Mastodon, but I am happy to block someone from my feed if they bug me.
Changeling also goes into some features that I omitted in my inital review of Mastodon, but have come to understand and appreciate. One of these is Content Warnings. These overlay your text and give you a chance to warn readers of content they might wish to avoid for whatever reason. Some common types of warning include:
- Sexual content, nudity, etc.
- Mental health.
- Body image, body harm, body horror, etc.
- Gender, gender dysphoria, gender identity, etc.
- Mentions self-harm, thoughts of self-harm, etc.
For a sighted person, you can do this by clicking the CW button at the bottom of the Compose window, but Changeling shows how to do it on a screen reader using keyboard clicks. This is very useful, and is part of the community I belong to on Mastodon. I see it frequently for posts that contain political rants, and I think that is a useful courtesy. But remember as we said before, every instance of Mastodon can have its own rules and its own culture, and who you choose to follow and who chooses to follow you also has a lot to do with your community.
This is an excellent guide, and while it is specifically aimed at users using screen readers, there is lots of information that would be valuable to any new user. And it looks like he will finish the last 2 chapters pretty soon, probasbly by the time most people read this
This is a new site put together by the folks at Pixelfed, with assistance from Framasoft, and looks like a good development in this ecosystem. And while Pixelfed was the driver here, they want it to be independent and impartial. As they said in a Toot:
This represents more than just Pixelfed, and we recognize how important it is to remain unbiased and not use this to further our own project.
Our long term goal for https://fediverse.info is to turn it over to a reputable, non-profit organization if possible!”
It looks as if the intention is to develop this site as an information resource for people interested in the Fediverse, and right now there are three kinds of information. First is a directory of people that uses hashtags to identify interests. So if you wanted to find people to folow, you could tray a few hashtags and get back some suggestions for pople you might want to follow. And there is a procedure to add yourself if you need to get more people to follow you, and they explain the procedure for doing this. I have already been seeing people post in Mastodon that they have added themselves to this directory, so word is getting out.
Second is a list of projects that are part of the Fediverse. The selection criteria seems to be projects that use ActivityPub or OStatus protocols to communicate with each other. This means you won’t see projects like Diaspora that use some other protocol, even though they may well be federated, non-centralized projects. But there are lots of projects to check out, and I would wager some you never knew existed, such as GotoSocial, a Golang server.
Third is a list of mobile apps to use with Fediverse projects, and both Android and iOS are represented. Most of the apps are for Mastodon, though there is one PixelFed app. And among the Mastodon apps is one that says it is accessible, Metatext, which is an iOS app for Mastodon. Being an iOS app, you get it through the Apple Store, but I noticed in the reviews that it supports image descriptions and has a 4.5 out of 5 rating.
In addition, there is an FAQ section is just getting started. It has only a few basic questions (e.g. What is the Fediverse? What is a hashtag?), but I imagine it will add more material over time. So this site is not the be-all and end-all of Fediverse information, at least not yet, but it may well grow into that, and is worth a look now.
Finally, we have news of a WordPress plugin that will let you connect your blog to the Fediverse. It is called ActivityPub for WordPress. This will let people on Fediverse apps such as Mastodon follow your blog, see your blog posts in their timeline, comment on them, like them, and share them. This only works for independently hosted instances of WordPress, since free sites on WordPress.com are not allowed to use plugins. Of course, you could go for a paid option there, but it is expensive. In any case, this is one more way the Fediverse is making it easier for us to share information. As I write this, it is in beta and works on the following platforms:
Remember that any platform using ActivityPub can let you read, like, comment, and share any posts from any other ActivityPub platform. That is how this is supposed to work.