An open source UX writing example from Mastodon

An elephant and a typing prompt on a 4 color banner
An elephant and a typing prompt on a 4 color banner

Unlike Twitter, Mastodon developers use an open-source model. Open-source means, if you take the effort to, you can see the source of the messages you see on screen.

Because Mastodon is an open-source app developed on GitHub, you can create an issue when you see something wrong.

  1. Start by learning how the app works.
  2. Then identify an issue that needs to be fixed.
  3. Finally, submit a fix to the issue!

The following screenshot highlights some text I see on my Mastodon home page, “Pinned post”, followed by a screenshot of the same string, in code.

My Mastodon timeline, with the text "Pinned post"​ highlighted as a string I might want to change.
Screenshot of my timeline

The next screenshot shows the same message “Pinned post”, in the file defaultMessages.json, in the Mastodon open-source project on GitHub.

A small portion of defaultMessages.json, lines 747 through 761 with the following notes "The default message, in English - which I could update."​, "The path to the defaultMessages.json file, which I found by searching for the text."​, and "The JavaScript file where the message is used to label the pinned post on my profile."​
Screenshot of the code

If I wanted to, I could edit defaultMessages.json. Editing is safe because GitHub creates a working version of the code for me, called a fork.

Editing 101

After I edit the text in the file, I can submit it to the Mastodon maintainers for their consideration. On GitHub, we call this type of change request a pull request. I’m making a request from the maintainers. I want someone in that group to “pull” my change into the current version of the code. We call this “committing” the change, or a “commit” to the project.

If you feel intimidated by the language, take a breath. You can take your time digesting this new world of open-source – it’s worth understanding. Open-source software puts the power in your hands. And that power requires responsibility. It won’t happen overnight. However, if you try to understand the language of open-source and experiment with creating forks and submitting pull requests, you can gain the power to improve the experience in applications that millions of people use every day.

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