Introducing Mastowatch


TL/DR: Mastowatch is my new app and it is a different kind of Mastodon utility for iOS, iPadOS and macOS that allows users to browse and inspect the public details behind Mastodon servers without having to log in. Pick a server (or type one in) and find things like rules, blocked domains, custom emoji, moderator contact details and more.

I have been interested in apps and app development, both personally and professionally, for a very long time. I actually did it professionally for a few years, but that eventually grew into web development and app development became more of an enthusiastic interest than an actual job, or even a hobby.

Fast forward to the Winter of 2022 and things are, to put it lightly, different. I’m doing more solo work than I ever have before (read: any) and it has brought my interest back around to app development. Granted, having a full-time job you deeply love and having a medically-complex baby make it incredibly difficult to justify the time for a project like this one.

Having a creative outlet can be healthy though. When your life is just a constant state of running and appointments and things that require your attention, having a little garden, car, app or whatever that you can just sit and work on to unwind is incredibly therapeutic.

Enter Mastodon

I’m not going to explain what Mastodon is. If you’re reading this, the odds are better than not that you know already.

What I will say is that Mastodon recently passed 9,000,000 users.

That’s nine million.

With an “m”.

I am one of those 9,000,000 people and let me tell you, I use Mastodon a lot. Arguably too much. At one time, I was on no less than 8 TestFlights for new Mastodon clients. Developers literally can’t build them fast enough. I’ve watched the Tapbots guys open hundreds of beta seats for Ivory, their upcoming Mastodon client, and fill them in seconds.

There is an enormous appetite for tools around Mastodon right now and, being open source, Mastodon makes it incredibly easy to build them.

Mastodon’t Say “Server”

The word server, frankly, scares people.

If there is one common complaint about Mastodon, it’s that it is structurally confusing. The idea that you’re joining a Mastodon server that is a part of the Mastodon network, rather than just signing up for Mastodon as you would Facebook or Twitter, can be offputting.

What are the implications for picking a server?

What if I pick the wrong server?

How do I find new servers?

Can I change servers later?

The interface and language around how people interact with the server/instance side of Mastodon are a little clunky, to be generous.

And this, I hope, is where Mastowatch can help.

Enter Mastowatch

Mastowatch is a different kind of Mastodon utility for iOS, iPadOS and macOS that allows users to browse and inspect the public details behind Mastodon servers without ever having to log in or register.

You can pick a server from the Community Directory or you can enter the address of one manually and Mastowatch will gather as much information as it can about the server from the public info baked into all Mastodon websites.

Things like character limits on statuses, moderation policies and who the administrator is are all super easy to find.

Check to see if the server is invite-only right now, or if anyone can register but registrations require approval.

Find the maximum file size for photos and video, and even the maximum frame rate for video.

These are just a random sampling of the useful data that Mastowatch can surface without ever logging in or registering.

Who is Mastowatch For?

So who actually needs this? Who would benefit from an app like this?

To me, there are three main types of users who could use Mastowatch and get value out of it.

New Users

Picking a Mastodon server is scary for a normal person. Hell, I do this for a living and interacting with servers scares me. My hope is that rather than just blindly choosing a server with no idea what it means, Mastowatch will let new users actually shop around and pick a server that works for them and, hopefully, keeps them happy and using Mastodon.

Users Ready to Move

If you’re unhappy with the server you’re on, Mastodon has the distinct advantage of letting one, as my favorite band says, grab my shit and leave. You can take virtually all of your account details, minus your actual posts, and move them to another server. But what is the point if the new place is as bad as the old? Use Mastowatch to get the nitty gritty on your potential new home and try before you buy.

Mastodon Server Admins

There is a zero percent chance that I will ever run a Mastodon server. The idea of managing a social network is literally hell and I’m just not cut out for it. But, if you’re in that game and you’re sailing that ship, would it not be easier to see critical server details and debug configurations from your phone without having to jump through getting 2FA codes and logging in? Just pop in your domain and see how the community looks.

Go Download Mastowatch!

As of last week, Mastowatch is in the App Store! I actually planned to publish this on the day the app shipped but life happens.

Mastowatch is a one time purchase of $1.99. No subscription, no auto-renewing. Just one and done.

If things go well, my hope is to keep improving it with time. I’m not ready to share a roadmap but I can say that I have a list of about a dozen new features that will be coming later if the app does well.

I hope you’ll try it and even more, I hope you’ll like it and leave a review.

Even if you don’t like it, or you have an idea to make it better, I’d love it if you let me know.