I love y’all but also—folks launching into their spiel about how Mastodon works have the same earnest-helpful-but-offputting-to-nearly-everyone energy of someone explaining a German-style board game—“I know it seems complicated but it’s really simple once you start here’s a 3 part video explainer!”Ryan Cordell on Mastodon
With Ryan’s words as my guide, I’m going to try to net this out in a way that is easy to follow, with the bare minimum TL;DR up top, and gorpy details further down.
Ways Mastodon is like Twitter:
- Posts are short
- There are chronological timelines
- You can follow people, and be followed
- Hashtags are searchable (and followable!)
- There are likes & RTs (called “boosts”)
Ways Mastodon is different from Twitter (shortlist here; longer list below)
- Much like email, usernames are @ a particular server, rather than global — just as my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, my Mastodon username is @email@example.com
- As with email, getting started initially means picking a server/host, just as you had to pick between gmail / outlook / protonmail / whatever for your email address
- As with email, on Mastodon you can communicate with pretty much anyone, regardless of server address, because it’s designed to work that way, so you don’t really need to stress about it
Signing up: If you’re just starting out, and nobody has preemptively invited you to a Mastodon instance, then your best bet is to pick a general-purpose instance, or one whose about page looks cool to you. EDITED: it does kinda matter where you land — in the sense that you really want to be on a smallish (under 10k users) instance whose admins are committed to health & safety, not “free speech”
I would explicitly avoid the following instances, which have been slow to respond to moderation requests when it comes to cops / TERFs / harassers / Nazis, and which are thus muted by a lot of instances:
I would also explicitly avoid the huge “flagship” instances like mastodon.social, because IMHO the benefits of Mastodon are that you can be on a small instance with responsive admins & there’s no negative side effect in terms of who you can follow.
Here’s a short list of instances that were online, responding relatively quickly, not too big or too small, and taking new users when I wrote this post. Some of them have themes, but for reasons I’ll explain in a minute, that doesn’t really matter in most cases:
- https://triangletoot.party/about — pick this one if you live in North Carolina!
- https://scholar.social/about — academics
- https://writing.exchange/about — writers
- https://metalhead.club/about — metalheads :) :)
- https://vis.social/about — ppl who do scicomm / data viz
- https://kolektiva.social/about — anarchists
- https://mastodon.sdf.org/about — general purpose
Finding people to follow once you’ve signed up:
- Assuming you’re coming from Twitter, click this link from a browser where you’re logged in to Twitter, authorize it, and it’ll give you a list of ppl you follow on Twitter who have moved to Mastodon & have put their Mastodon profile info in their Twitter bios: https://pruvisto.org/debirdify/
- Click on the “Local” feed on your instance & if anyone’s posting interesting stuff, follow them!
- Ditto with the “Federated” feed (more on these in a minute)
- Check out this topical directory: https://fediverse.info/explore/people
- Put your Mastodon profile (@<username>@<instance>) in your Twitter bio so that other people can find you!
Clients / experience tweaking:
- Set up your profile! This is super important, as many ppl won’t followback or accept a follow request if your bio is empty
- I like multiple side-by-side columns, so I can do things like pin hashtags to a column, so the first thing I do is go into settings and check the box to “Enable Advanced Web Interface”
- The best iOS client I have tried — the one I use daily — is Metatext
- If you come across someone you want to follow elsewhere — say, they’ve posted their username on a website or Twitter — you can just paste their username into the Mastodon search box & voila, a follow link
The gorpy details: You’ll notice that Mastodon has three “feeds” — “Home,” “Local,” and “Federated”
- Home is most similar to a classic chronological Twitter feed — it’s people you follow, in chronological order, including posts by other people that they “boost.”
- Local is every post by everyone on the instance that you happen to be on. If you picked a thematic instance, this can be a fun way to dip deeper into the world of ppl who discuss that theme, without following them all. It’s also a great place to find new people to follow!
- Federated is essentially the merger of the public posts from the Home feeds of everyone on your instance — everything by everyone followed by the people on your instance. It’s where I go when my other feeds are moving too slowly and/or when I’m actively seeking more people to follow.
Federation is just a fancy word for a bunch of servers that communicate with each other using a common protocol. That still describes most of the Internet — email is one obvious example, but so are the basic building blocks of the WWW. I’m writing this blog post in WordPress, but you don’t have to have a “WordPress client” to read it. You just need a web browser.
Thanks to federation, you can have a Mastodon account on pretty much any instance, and follow people on any other instance. This is why picking an instance is really not that big a deal.
That’s enough to get people started, so that’s enough for this post. If I get bored enough, I’ll write followup posts about even more gorpy details.