Daniel S. Griffin
Searching Mastodon?

05 November 2022 - Everett

After seeing some stray remarks about the lack of full text search on Mastodon, I’ve been curious (and distracted while finishing my dissertation) with how they’ve imagined and constructed #search / #discovery. I’d love to learn more about the technical decisions and the social constructions of search and discovery in these communities (and how these ideas may be helpfully put to practice elsewhere).

I decided to toss the links I’ve found up here after seeing a post from Taylor Lorenz (@taylorlorenz@mastodon.social) 2022-11-05 10:27.

Mastodon docs:

Mastodon’s full-text search allows logged in users to find results from their own toots, their favourites, and their mentions. It deliberately does not allow searching for arbitrary strings in the entire database.

An GitHub issue on the W3C ActivityPub repo: “Controlling availability to search” (from 2017-05-03):

Earlier today someone released a search engine for mastodon and the response included several concerns.”

The above issue links to another, on the W3C Social Web Incubator Community Group repo: “Socially Acceptable Search”:

This includes a link to minutes from a 2017-05-19 W3C meeting that mentions limits to technical countermeasures and the importance of social mechanisms and trust. Mentions also the risk of a “harassment-centric search engine” operated outside the approval of the community.

The discussion includes mentions of “context collapse” (Marwick & boyd, 2011).

Some of this connects with a (failed) proposal I made in a fellowship application (actually, Twitter’s Information Operations Fellowship) in the summer of 2021, to study the search practices of harassers——a proposal I wish was informed in writing the proposal by an understanding of what Mastodon is doing. [I'll see about posting a version of that here.]

Added 2022-11-06: Here is the text of the proposal: Looking at harmful & empowering uses of Twitter Search (prospectus)


Marwick & boyd’s “I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience” (2011), in New Media & Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444810365313 [marwick2011tweet]