What is This?
This is the fourth in a series that explains how to use Mastodon if you are a screen reader user. It is an alternative form of documentation to the existing Mastodon documentation. It is not intended to replace the documentation for Mastodon or your screen reader. The content in this chapter is fairly advanced, so you should go back and read the first three chapters before reading this one.
The Road so Far…
- Chapter one gave an introduction to the series and explained the structure of the series.
- Chapter Two explained what Mastodon was, what an instance was, and how to join an instance.
- Chapter Three guided you through the process of creating your profile, and concluded with your first post, “Hello world.”
What is Covered in This chapter?
This chapter gives details about working with all of the elements in the post box. Each element will have an explanation of what it does, as well as steps for using it with your screen reader.
Terms in This Chapter (in order of discussion)
- Alt text.
- Status privacy.
- Content warning.
- Remote follow.
More on Posts
The last chapter concluded with your first post, “hello World.” At the time, I listed for you the elements in the compose box, but wanted you to ignore them, the ultimate goal being to do a basic toot. It’s now time to take a look at all the things you can do with toots. If you haven’t already done so, log into your instance, and navigate to the compose box with your screen readers jump command for edit boxes, or with the shortcut key Alt+N. Make sure you tell your screen reader to ignore jump commands for the next few sections. Move to each element with the Tab and Shift+Tab commands.
Many operating systems give users access to emoji by default. If you can’t find the emoji you want, you can insert one through Mastodon by doing the following.
- Tab until you hear “Insert emoji”.
- Press enter to expand the dropdown. Your focus will be moved to the searchbox.
- If you’re looking for something specific, type it into the searchbox. Use your up and down arrows to navigate results, and press enter on the one you want. You may need to let your screen reader know to go beyond the searchbox.
- If you want to just browse, skip the searchbox and use your arrows to browse. Press Enter when you find something you like.
- Once you choose an emoji, you should return to compose box. If not, navigate there. Turn off jump commands.
You can add several types of media to your toot. This includes audio, video and pictures. You can upload one video or four pictures. To insert media:
- Tab until you hear, “Insert media,” followed by a list of filetypes Mastodon accepts.
- Press Enter. You will be taken to a browse dialog to select files for upload.
- Select your file, and press enter to insert it.
- If you uploaded a picture or pictures:
- You have the ability to add alt text, a description of the photo for screen reader users.
- Tab until you get to the edit box labeled “Alt Text”.
- Type your description into the field, then navigate back to the main compose box.
You can add a pole to toots, meaning you can ask users a question, and have them vote. To add a pole:
- From the compose box, type your question. For example, Do you think dragons exist?
- Tab until you hear “Add a pole”, and press Enter.
- Your focus will land on “Remove Pole”. You get two choices that appear as edit boxes by default. Shift+Tab twice to get to the first choice.
- Add your choices. For example, yes, no, maybe. If you need more than two choices, use the “Add Choice” button.
- Tab to the duration dropdown for the pole. The default is one day. Activate the dropdown to change this.
You can adjust the status privacy of your toots. There are four options. To adjust privacy:
- From the compose box, Tab until you hear “Adjust Status Privacy”, and press Enter.
- Use your up and down arrows to move through options:
- Public: Posts to public timelines. More on timelines in Chapter Five.
- Unlisted: Does not post to public timelines, just the home timeline for your instance.
- Followers Only: Only your followers will see your toot.
- Direct: Only lets mentioned users see your toot. More on mentioning users in Chapter Five.
- Press enter to make your choice.
Content warnings are one of the most popular features of Mastodon. How you use them will depend on what your instance’s code of conduct says needs a CW, what you personally feel needs a CW, and how you understand the concept of its function. A content warning is text that goes over the content of your toot, and hides it from people who may not wish to see this type of content.
It was intended to give users the choice of whether or not they wish to see content others may find offensive. You can also use it like a subject line in an email, an appropriate comparison, since Mastodon usernames look like email addresses. Here are some popular content warnings:
- 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.
To insert a content warning:
- From the compose box, Tab until you hear, “Text is not hidden”, and press Enter.
- Your focus will land on the edit box where you can type your warning.
- Type your warning, then tab to the main compose box.
Once You’ve Tricked Out Your Toot
Once your toot has all the features it needs added on, press CTRL+Enter to send. Alternatively, Tab until you hear “Toot”, and press Enter.
Following other Users
Now that you understand how to get your content out to the Fedeverse, it’s time to find other people to follow. This means that their content displays in your timeline, and you can interact with it. We’ll be talking about timelines and interacting in Chapter Five, but here are the things you can do:
- Reply to a toot.
- Boost a toot.
- Favorite a toot.
- View a user’s profile.
There are things you can do to interact with users, too, but we’ll save that for the next chapter.
How to Follow
There are many ways to follow a user, but most of them rely on your ability to interact with timelines. Since we haven’t discussed how to do that just yet, we’ll be using the searchbox on the home page of your instance that appears after you log in. Once Chapter Five comes out, you should consider reading Chapters Three, Four, and Five together to get a better understanding of how all of these things work together.
Using the Searchbox
There are two ways to move focus to the searchbox. The first one is to use your screen reader’s jump command to get to the searchbox, and then turn off jump commands to let you type in it. The second is to turn jump commands off, then press S to bring focus to the searchbox. Once you’re there type in your terms, then Tab to “Search” and press Enter.
Results are grouped by people, toots, and hashtags, and each section is indicated using a level five heading. Once you get to the desired section, use standard navigation to see what your search turned up.
Following SomeOne Using the Searchbox
Here are the steps for following people using the searchbox.
- Navigate to the searchbox.
- Type your search terms, and activate the search button.
- Navigate to the “People” section.
- Next to the person’s display name and username, find and click the “Follow” button.
Following Me Using the Searchbox
- Navigate to the searchbox.
- Type ChangelingRandy into the box, and activate the “search” button.
- Navigate to the “People” section.
- Click the “Follow” button next to my display name and username. The display name is Changeling Mx, and the full username is ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social.
Remote following is following Mastodon user that is not on your instance. The only thing that is different is the following process. Otherwise, your interactions are exactly the same. The exception is if your instance’s admin decides to block that person’s instance, or vice versa.
Remote following works like this. I live in one house, my Mastodon instance. Ashley lives in another house, her Mastodon instance. We aren’t part of the same house, but we are part of the same community. We can interact with each other from our own houses. The exception to this is if one of the landlords decides that people from the other house aren’t their kind of people and banishes them.
How to Remote Follow
Let’s assume you’ve done the search and found someone on another instance. Now:
- Click the “Follow” button. Depending on the version of Mastodon your instance runs, you may need to do nothing else.
- If this is not the case, you will be taken to another page where you can remote follow.
- On that page find the edit box that asks your username and instance that you want to follow from. Write it like ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social.
- Tab to and activate the “Follow” button.
In Chapter five, we’ll be talking about how to use timelines and interact with posts. In the meantime, go follow some people so your timelines have content.
Step 2. Get excited, download app, create account.
Step 3. Discover that all the cool people were last seen last year because they’ve moved to a new platform.
This is my life in the technoverse.
What is This?
This is the second in a series of posts that explains how to use Mastodon if you use a screen reader. It is an alternative form of the already existing documentation for Mastodon, subject to my interpretation of concepts. Therefore, I suggest that you use this guide in conjunction with the official documentation, linked to later in this post. I also suggest that you go back and read Chapter One. Once you’ve done that, continue reading this chapter.
What is Covered in This Chapter?
This chapter takes a closer look at what Mastodon is, deals with the concept of instances, explains the differences between Mastodon and other platforms, offers suggestions on choosing an instance, and concludes with a brief description of the signup process. If you’ve already done these things, go on to Chapter Three.
Terms in This Chapter (in order of discussion)
- Federation, fedeverse
A Closer Look at Mastodon
You probably have an idea of what Mastodon is by now, or else why would you be reading this? Just to make sure I’m covering my bases, however, let’s take a closer look. Mastodon is a service that offers its users a microblog, a space to share short posts with no title, and the option to attach media such as pictures and videos. Other users can then interact with these posts in a number of ways, discussed in chapters and Five.
Doesn’t That Already Exist?
It sure does. These days, Twitter is synonymous with microblogging, because it’s the most popular. This is similar to how America Online (AOL) was once the most popular form of Internet access, but it was not the only service like that, and it certainly not the Internet. Just like forms of Internet access, email, and many other services, it is to be expected that different microblogging services would have some features in common. I’ll briefly discuss some of those now.
Common Features Between Twitter and Mastodon
- The primary form of communication is short statuses. On twitter, this limit is 280 characters, and 500 on Mastodon.
- The ability reply to, like/favorite, and repost posts. (More on this in chapter Five.)
- Being able to follow and be followed by other users. (More on this in Chapter Four).
- The ability to create custom timelines by creating and adding users to lists. (More on this in Chapter Six, coming soon).
- The ability to filter out unwanted content. (Also discussed in chapter Six.)
With So Many Similarities, Why Not Just Stay on Twitter?
Let me take this opportunity to tell you that I have no special reason for you to leave Twitter if you’re happy there. I mean, we’re in Chapter Two of this guide, clearly there is more to come, and if you’re still reading up to this point, it’s because you’ve already made the decision to at least consider having a presence on Mastodon. With that said, there are plenty of differences between the two services, but we need to take a look at a few concepts before we can discuss them. This is a lot like how when you got your first email address, you probably read the documentation of something like Gmail before you decided to switch providers, or at least that you needed a second email address.
The Argument I Refuse to Make
The most common argument I hear for using mastodon is something to the tune of everybody is so friendly on Mastodon. I’ve never had a bad experience on Mastodon, but the fact of the matter is Mastodon is a place for people, and people have the capacity to be hostile regardless of the platform. The most infamous example of this is the situation concerning Wil Wheaton from last summer, followed immediately by many users’ decision to block one Instance when they found out it was admined by someone who had done work for the FBI. In both cases, people had their own reasons for behaving the way they did, but it was still aggressive behavior. If you’re going to be online, if you’re going to interact with people, there’s a chance you may experience some form of hostility.
Don’t Let Me Scare You off
If you’ve come this far, don’t let me scare you off. If you choose your instance carefully, you can minimize the chance for hostile encounters. As you’ll see in the next section, it’s a lot like picking a neighborhood to live in.
Before you can find out what an instance is, you need to know how Mastodon works. With a service like Facebook or Twitter, you and I, the users, sign up for an account, managed by one central server, accessed when we open our browser and log on to something like twitter.com. To find a user, you put a slash after the web address, so if you wanted to find me on Twitter, you’d go to twitter.com/changelingmx. From there, you can click the follow button, and if I can verify that you aren’t a porn bot, won’t clog my timeline with Bible quotes, etc., I’ll probably follow you back, and we’re connected. We’re interacting within one ecosystem. This is just fine until the ecosystem dies (looking at you, Google+!), in which case we all die, digitally speaking.
As explained on joinmastodon.org, rather than being one website, the Mastodon network is a collection of websites powered by the mastodon software, which enables them to interact with each other. Each of these websites is called an instance.
You pick your instance the way you choose your email address. In fact, my Mastodon address looks like ChangelingRandy@mastodon.social. If you’re reading this on an iPhone and click that link, you’ll actually launch the device’s Mail client. If you want to find me once you join your chosen instance, click here, or see the H-Card widget in the sidebar of any starshipchangeling.net page, which has every link for every service i actively use. If you don’t want to see all of my Mastodon interactions, but want to follow this blog, you can follow it via Mastodon by typing “email@example.com”, minus the quotations. All of these websites together form the fedeverse, or, as Mastodon calls itself, a decentralized, federated social network. This detail becomes particularly important starting in Chapter Four. For now, what you need to take away is that instances can interact with each other, meaning that some on mastodon.cloud can follow me on mastodon.social. It’s also important to understand that instances can block each other, which happens from time to time since anybody can run a Mastodon instance, regardless of whether or not their opinion is a popular one.
How Do I choose My Instance?
To paraphrase a passage from Ernest Cline’s Armada, this is an objective, rather than a subjective task, so there is no right way to do it. It’s not uncommon for someone to join an instance, realize it’s not a good fit, and change instances. You may go through that process, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some suggestions to guide you.
Choose Based on Interest
Anybody can run a Mastodon instance. This means if you can think of it, there’s probably a community for it. The “Getting Started” section of joinmastodon.org has a form you can fill out to get server suggestions. Parameters include everything from what language you speak, to your hobbies.
Choose Based on How You Feel About Rules
Since anybody can run a Mastodon instance, the code of conduct from instance to instance varies. Theoretically, I could start an instance that requires users to be able to quote every line from Disney’s “Aladdin” upon request. Realistically I’d be the only member of that instance. Seriously, though, pay close attention to the rules of the instance. Each instance has them. Here is the code of conduct for mastodon.social. Please believe me when I tell you that these rules are usually strictly enforced.
Considerations for Screen Reader Users
The following is a list of questions a screen reader user should consider before joining an instance.
- What version of the Mastodon software does the instance run? Newer versions often have accessibility improvements.
- Does the instance run beta versions of the mastodon software? If so, make your life easier by considering the following:
- Have a backup of your data in case you need to leave. (described in Chapter Six).
- Have a backup account on a stable instance. This will help you troubleshoot any problems you may have by enabling you to distinguish between caused by beta software and bug in a stable release.
- Do uploaded images appear as links you can click? This will make it easier to download images for further analysis by AI.
In Chapter Three, we’ll be looking at how to complete your profile, as well as send that first post. In the meantime, go ahead and pick your instance and join it, so you will be ready for the next installment.