by Rab Bruce’s Spider

There are lots of enjoyable things about Mastodon, where a lively community is springing up on Mastodon.Scot. The culture there is a lot more welcoming than Twitter ever was, and one of the reasons I find it especially enjoyable is that the custom is for people to add image descriptions to the photos they post. This is not compulsory, but it is very much part of the culture on Mastodon, and I have been very impressed with both the number of people doing this, and the quality of some of the descriptions. My thanks to all who do this, and it is no wonder there are so many visually impaired people on Mastodon if adding image descriptions is the default behaviour. I’m sure I’ve come across more image descriptions in one week than I have in the past year on Twitter, and that is not an exaggeration.

Unfortunately, some new arrivals are sticking with their lazy Twitter habit of posting pictures without descriptions. I do hope they will soon adopt the Mastodon custom.

But one thing some people seem to worry about is what to say in an image description, so I thought I’d provide a few pointers.

The main thing is to mention what it is that makes your picture important. For example:

who is in it?

If they are doing something relevant to the message you are trying to send, explain what it is they are doing.

If the location is important to the picture, say where it is.

If what they are wearing is important to the message, describe what makes it important.

If it has text, it is possible on some apps to copy that text into the image description. If not, either copy and paste or at the very least explain what is important about the text.

If it’s a cartoon or some other joke, explain what the joke is, and what makes it funny.

If it’s simply a nice photo of a landscape, explain what it shows. Are there trees? Buildings? Water? Is the light important to the image? Be as descriptive as you like. I’ve already found some photographers who must spend as much time describing their pictures as taking them, and it really makes a huge difference to the level of my engagement with the picture.

If it’s a photo of your cat, say whatever you like because I’ll skip past it pretty quickly. (Sorry cat lovers). Seriously, there are plenty of visually impaired cat lovers, so be gushing in the description of your pet. What colour? What is he/she doing?

There are a lot of visually impaired people on Mastodon, and now I know why, but we could ruin this wonderful environment if we don’t adopt the Mastodon culture. It’s a friendly, inclusive place, and I’d like to think that most people will want to keep it that way.

And I really don’t want to hear people coming up with the excuse that they don’t have time to add descriptions. Mastodon allows users to type up to 500 characters rather than Twitter’s 280, and I bet nobody will complain that this means it takes too long to type a message. Mastodon doesn’t have the same pressures as twitter, so take your time when posting, and take a little extra to prove that you are willing to be inclusive. And have fun doing it. It’s not a chore if you enjoy it.

Thanks very much for reading, and I hope to come across some of your descriptions soon. Please don’t worry that you are making a mess of it. Any description is better than none. As they say on that silly TV show, "Just say what you see".