July 16, 2024
Newsmast brings curated 'communities' to the open source Twitter/X alternative Mastodon

An organization called Newsmast is introducing a new approach to decentralized social media with the launch of an updated version of its Mastodon mobile app that now integrates content from two servers into one interface — a different approach compared with how Mastodon, the open source Twitter/X alternative, typically works. The idea is to offer Mastodon users a way to connect with, follow and join topic-based timelines, called Communities, that can help them make better sense of content scattered across the distributed social web.

With Newsmast’s app, the organization aims to solve a challenge that faces decentralized social networking communities — how best to curate the content and serve it to users so they can find things that interest them.

It’s not the only one thinking about this issue. Social magazine app Flipboard, for example, created “desks” that are human-curated feeds across areas like Science, Tech, Culture and News for users to follow. Newsmast also credits the Mastodon app and Mozilla-backed startup Mammoth for the inspiration around Communities. On Mammoth, Smart Lists offer similar functionality as they curate topics of interest and news sources into easy-to-access lists for others to follow.

Newsmast’s approach is similar to these, as it curates “Communities” — or topical feeds hosted on its own server, newsmast.social. Newsmast has created communities across a number of larger categories, like Government & Politics, Business & Work, Science, Technology, Culture, Sports, Lifestyle and more, which users can opt to follow in its app. For instance, the Technology group includes Communities like AI, Engineering and Programming, in addition to a broader Technology Community.

Image Credits: Newsmast screenshot

In addition, Newsmast offers a system where anyone can build their own Mastodon server with a selection of communities they’ve curated. Users could then connect to that server in place of the Newsmast server within the Newsmast app. For example, someone could make a server focused just on art or AI, and then have dedicated communities within that server that users could follow and engage with.

This “plug-in” server integrates additional content into the Newsmast app under the banner “My Communities.” Or you can scroll over to engage with just the content in one single community, individually.

Like any other post, Community content can be liked, reposted (boosted), replied to, bookmarked, followed or added to lists.

For those who prefer their current Mastodon app, whether the official app or a third-party app like Mammoth or Ivory, users can follow Newsmast’s Community Feeds instead of using the Newsmast app directly. Later this week, Newsmast will also open up its API to developers, which means your preferred Mastodon app could integrate with Newsmast’s Communities, too, for a more seamless experience.

Image Credits: Newsmast screenshot

This plug-in server architecture is an idea of how things could work differently in the world of decentralized social media.

Typically, Mastodon users join an instance (a server — like mastodon.social) and can then browse their local server’s timeline and a federated timeline, which includes all the public posts from users that are known to your instance. Still, this approach can be limiting compared with centralized social media, like Twitter/X, where all the content available across the entire network is available in one place. On Mastodon, server owners can choose to block other servers — like those hosting adult content or spam or smaller servers that don’t have active management, for example. Some server owners have even debated blocking Instagram Threads when it becomes a federated app.

Meanwhile, users on larger servers often have difficult-to-follow federated timelines that may include a wide variety of content and topics posted in many different languages. Because of this, it often doesn’t make sense to peruse this firehose of information to find the topics and people that interest you.

Newsmast’s plug-in server featuring its curated Communities has been designed to filter out NSFW content, but others could choose to build servers that don’t — or servers that filter out bots, filter only for bots (!!), filter only for posts with images or filter out nothing to everything through.

“The community timelines bring a wealth of curated content, so people can explore new topics, make connections and join the conversation,” said Newsmast co-founder Michael Foster, in an announcement shared with TechCrunch. “And the plug-in architecture could be a platform for all sorts of specialist Fediverse servers in the future.”

The Communities the company has curated are created not through scraping or aggregation, but are populated with posts from other Newsmast users or via federation. Unlike following a hashtag, these Communities also encompass factors like follows, filters, and mutes. (In fact, some Mastodon users were confused why Newsmast’s accounts were following them and boosting their content, without understanding the larger purpose.)

Newsmast’s app is backed by a charitable organization, the U.K.-based Newsmast Foundation, which is focused on creating a new vision for social media. The company intends to build a Twitter-like service using a charitable structure, that’s free from advertising, to offer an alternative to Elon Musk’s X and Meta’s Threads. The app soft-launched last summer but didn’t fully federate with Mastodon for several more months.

The Communities are available today in the Newsmast iOS and Android apps and will soon be available on the desktop and as a Progressive Web App, we’re told.

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