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

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Mastodon, the open source, decentralized alternative to X (formerly Twitter), is rolling out a new feature aimed at making the app more appealing to those who use it to get news and information from writers and journalists. Starting Tuesday, the company is adding clickable author bylines to link posts that can direct Mastodon users to the author’s account on the Fediverse, if active, in turn allowing journalists to get more exposure and increase their following.

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

Image Credit: Mastodon

The feature is already available to select news publishers, including The Verge, MacStories, and MacRumors. (We’re told it’s in the pipeline at TechCrunch, too!)

To access these new bylines, you’ll currently need to be using the main Mastodon server at mastodon.social on the web or in the official mobile app. If you’re using another Mastodon server, it will need to support the recent Mastodon Nightly release, but this feature will only work for websites approved by moderators.

The company says the new bylines will also be supported by its API, making it possible for third-party apps to support it in the future as well.

On the back end, Mastodon says the innovation driving this feature is a new type of OpenGraph tag. These are the same kind of tags you have on your website that help determine what kind of thumbnail image appears with the page preview when it’s shared on other services like Mastodon, iMessage, Discord, and others.

This tag looks like this: ‘‘. And it can be added to a site with a simple line of code, making its implementation quite simple.

The handle in the tag can 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 more. Plus, it will work without the leading at symbol (@) for the handle, Mastodon says.

One caveat, however, is that it still doesn’t support multiple authors for co-byline situations; only the first author will show up. But this may be resolved in a future release.

Mastodon said it will propose a draft specification for other ActivityPub platforms in the coming weeks.

The addition of tags could potentially encourage more journalists to increase their use of federated social networks, as it would help them gain exposure. The Fediverse has 10+ million users, excluding Threads (which has 170 million monthly users, but is not fully federated). Notably, Mastodon has around 804,000 monthly active users.

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