Mastodon’s Next Major Release Enables Full-Text Search

A few flagship instances already have it.

After months of development and testing, some of the biggest Mastodon instances are adopting the new beta of the 4.2 release. Among a vast amount of changes is full-text search, a feature that has been fiercely debated by proponents and adherents alike. While platforms such as Pleroma, Akkoma, Firefish, and MissKey have enjoyed this benefit for a long time, Mastodon’s adoption is a big deal for the network.

The new and improved search form.

Historically speaking, Mastodon has only offered a very limited version of search. Initially, users could only search for other users, or check posts containing hashtags. Over time, Mastodon’s search hub has evolved to include news articles and trending hashtags. For a few years, the platform has also offered the ability for users to look for their own posts using an ElasticSearch backend.

If text search is ever implemented, it should be limited to your home timeline/mentions only. Lack of full-text search on general content is intentional, due to negative social dynamics of it in other networks

— Eugen Rochko (@Gargron) 2017-05-03T15:23:57.445Z

Some of the project lead’s long-held convictions about these kinds of features have begun to change. Some users are still against having full-text search available, due to how it can be used for harassment campaigns by trolls. For now, the solution is largely a band-aid: if you want to keep your posts away from the index, don’t opt in.

How does the new search work?

Mastodon servers that have ElasticSearch enabled will now make all public posts that it knows about available to search. That means that users can not only search their local instances, but also search across the network to find things. If a user opted into being searchable, and your instance knows about their posts, you can search for them.

How do I use it?

This new feature brings in a handful of new operators, giving users more detailed choices.

  • has: media, poll, or embed
  • is: reply or sensitive
  • language: ISO language code
  • from: user
  • from: me
  • before: specific date
  • after: specific date
An example of a media search mentioning the fediverse prior to 2021.

How can I opt in?

If you would like for your own posts to be reachable by the search system, all you have to do is go to Preferences > Public Profile > Privacy and Reach. Once there, check the box that says Include Public Posts in Search Engines.

Please note: users do not need to opt in to the search to look through their own posts. That functionality is available to users regardless.

Sean Tilley

Sean Tilley has been a part of the federated social web for over 15+ years, starting with his experiences with back in 2008. Sean was involved with the Diaspora project as a Community Manager from 2011 to 2013, and helped the project move to a self-governed model. Since then, Sean has continued to study, discuss, and document the evolution of the space and the new platforms that have risen within it.

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