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Images considered harmful (sometimes) | InfoWorld

The Mastodon dashboards I’ve been developing and describing in this series are backed by a Steampipe plugin that translates SQL queries into Mastodon API calls. Like all Steampipe plugins, you can use this one to execute those queries in many ways: from psql or another Postgres CLI (perhaps via cron, perhaps in a CI/CD pipeline); from Metabase or Grafana or any Postgres compatible BI tool; from Python or JavaScript or any programming language. Steampipe’s core is a versatile software component that you can plug into almost any environment.

There are also, of course, Steampipe boards as a code approach that drives the alternative Mastodon UX that I’ve been exploring in this series. You can think of this dashboard tool as a primitive web browser with an uncanny talent for querying Postgres and weaving the SQL results into widgets like info cards, input controls, charts, tables, and relationship graphs. You compose widgets using HCL (Hashicorp Configuration Language) instead of HTML, arrange them using basic layout syntax, and view them by connecting your browser to the local Steampipe dashboard server or

The alternative Mastodon UX created in this way was aptly described (thanks again, Greg Wilson!) as a Bloomberg terminal for Mastodon. As a reminder, the standard Mastodon web client looks like this.

default mastodon view 100936040 large IDG

And the pages served by Mastodon boards look like this.

mastodon view of steam tube 100936039 orig IDG

I can scan the last view much more effectively.

Now, I’ve been testing a lot of alternative Mastodon clients lately. I love Ivory on my phone and Elk in the browser, and I use them when I want an experience that feels like social media. But I don’t use Ivory, Elk or Toot! or the common Mastodon web clients (browser, phone) when I want an experience that feels like an RSS reader.

For some information landscapes, I want to pull out a large map, stretch it out, and search for points of interest. Social media is that kind of landscape, RSS readers were the first way I looked into it effectively, and these Mastodon boards are becoming my new way.

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However, when I compare those two screenshots, I notice not only the density of the last one, but also the absence of images. At first I worried about it. Could the dashboard pages display full HTML? Maybe they do, and there are a few different ways it could happen, but in the meantime I’ve come to embrace the text-only constraint. When I have my map unfolded and I’m scanning my home timeline or my lists looking for things to click on, the images can be distracting. I wouldn’t have chosen to skip them, but I find that their absence allows me to focus very effectively on who is speaking and what they are saying or promoting.

There is also, of course, the graphical view offered by relationship graphs. These feel a lot like a map in the way that they reveal groups of people interacting with each other. I am finding them more useful than anticipated.

But the text I read on these boards has no images for now. And I think it’s having a calming effect. There are many times when I want images, don’t get me wrong, and that’s partly why I use a mix of conventional Mastodon clients. But there are times when I want to reduce clutter, just like there are times when I switch my phone to monochrome.

Two things can be true: the images we share with each other are a source of joy, and they are sensory overload. I’ll make them optional here when I can, and I’d like the option to use all social media interfaces in text mode.

These series:

  1. Autonomy, pack size, friction, fanout and speed
  2. Create a Mastodon panel with Steampipe
  3. Navigating the fediverse
  4. A Bloomberg terminal for Mastodon
  5. Create your own Mastodon UX
  6. Lists and people on Mastodon
  7. How many people on my Mastodon feed also tweeted today?
  8. Qualified Mastodon URLs per instance
  9. Mastodon Ratio Charts
  10. Working with Mastodon lists
  11. Images considered harmful (sometimes)

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