Twitter/X alternative Mastodon appeals to journalists with new ‘byline’ feature

Mastodon, the open source, decentralized alternative to X (formerly Twitter), is today rolling out a new feature meant to make the app more appealing to those who use it to keep up with news and information from writers and journalists. Starting today, the company is adding clickable author bylines on link posts that can direct Mastodon users to the author’s account on the fediverse, if active, allowing them to gain more exposure and increase their following.

The new bylines go beyond the typical @username references that often accompany link posts from news publications and those pointing to other written content, like a WordPress blog or Substack. Instead, the change will feature the news publication’s headline and image followed by another reference underneath that includes the author’s profile photo and name.

mastodon tag
Image Credits: Mastodon

The feature is already rolling out to select news publishers including The Verge, MacStories, and MacRumors. (It’s in the queue here at TechCrunch as well, we understand!)

To access these new bylines, you’ll need to be using the main Mastodon server at either on the web or in an official mobile app, for the time being. If using another Mastodon server, it will need to support the recent Mastodon nightly release, but the feature will only work for moderator-approved websites.

In addition, the company says the new bylines will also be supported by its API, which will make it possible for third-party apps to support the addition going forward.

On the backend, the innovation drives the feature is a new kind of OpenGraph tag, Mastodon says. These are the same kind of tags you’d have on your website that help determine what sort of thumbnail image appears alongside the preview for the page when shared to other services, like Mastodon, iMessage, Discord, and more.

This tag looks like this: ‘<meta name=”fediverse:creator” content=”” />’. And it can be added to a site with a simple line of code, making its implementation fairly straightforward.

The handle in the tag can also refer to any fediverse account, not just Mastodon. That means it can point to accounts on Flipboard, Threads, WordPress (with the ActivityPub plugin installed), PeerTube, Pixelfed, and others. Plus, it will work without the leading at-symbol (@) for the handle, Mastodon says.

One caveat, though, is that it doesn’t yet support multiple authors for co-byline situations — only the first author will show. But that may be addressed in a future release.

Mastodon says it will propose a specification draft for other ActivityPub platforms in the weeks ahead.

The addition of the tag could potentially encourage more journalists to increase their use of the federated social network, as it will help them gain exposure. Today, the fediverse has a total of 10+ million users, not counting Threads (which has 170M monthly users but isn’t fully federated. Mastodon, specifically, has around 804K+ monthly actives, currently.

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