After what feels like a year of “will they won’t they”, Twitter is finally in the hands of America’s Least Mature Man—quite a competitive category. I set up my Mastodon ages ago just to see how it was, but now that I’m finally using it I’m really enjoying it.
This started as a Quick Start guide but ended up much more in depth than I thought. I sorted the headings from most to least important. Mastodon is “complicated”, but mostly in ways you don’t honestly need to worry about. Take your time and learn by doing and asking!
Feel free to share your tips and experiences with Mastodon in the comments below! Or say hi to @[email protected].
What The Hell Is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a decentralized Twitter alternative with individual servers operated by individuals or communities rather than a single corporation. The code is open-source and anyone can create an instance. As a result there is a consistent code base but not a “corporate mission” and the functionality is largely based on “pre-algorithm” Twitter.
The tl;dr is Mastodon is Twitter without a corporation or a glass-skinned manchild CEO. It costs nothing to try, so pop on a server and see if it’s for you. I’m writing a whole-ass article about it, but the best way is to learn by doing.
Most features Twitter has are on Mastodon, some slightly renamed. Lists, Direct Messages, Retweets (Boosts), Likes (Favorites), Hashtags, Notifications. Poke around and you’ll likely find more things familiar than foreign.
Pick a General Use Instance
Mastodon isn’t one site, it has Instances, sort of like Discord Servers. I’ll get into what that truly means in the later, more technical parts of the article. If you’re getting started, just load up the server list and find either a nice general server, or something specific to your interests. “Instance” and “Server” are interchangeable in Mastodon’s context.
Which instance you pick really doesn’t matter almost at all. I really recommend just making an account and poking around before you worry much about which server, as you can move servers later anyway.
I would personally recommend Mastodon.Social, but sadly registrations are closed as of the time of publishing, only due to over-use thanks to Twitter’s plunge into Cringetopia.
Mastodon Is For Humans
This started as an article for my experience on Mastodon and turned into a tutorial instead. But goodness, both the biggest thing to remember and my sincerest accolade about Mastodon is that it’s full of people.
Twitter is mean. Perhaps a titanic understatement, but somehow the site for sharing your bowel movements became one of the most toxic places to be online. People on Mastodon are perhaps best united in also being tired of Twitter. Tired of algorithms, bots, trends, promoted tweets, Brands™ and people they don’t follow popping up.
Always remember the Human, and reach for the Block button instead of the Reply button if someone’s pissing you off. We don’t need Reply Guys.
The best way to find new people is to search hobbies and hashtags, as well as checking out the Local and Federated timelines if you like. Follow often if you want more people to talk with and more posts in your timeline. Unfollow just as freely, it’s your timeline—you can even hide who you’re following in the privacy settings to remove that dreadful “unfollow anxiety” from Hellsite.
Fill Out That Profile!
First impressions count. Perhaps you’ve been on twitter log enough to remember “egg accounts”. On mastodon, they’re elephants—er, mastodons. Take a few moments to set up a bio, display name, avatar and maybe a pretty header for your profile so you look like a person.
Try to be descriptive but minimalist, just a few hobbies or interests will do. If you don’t know what to use for an avatar I’d honestly recommend almost anything, the aversion to blank avatars is very strong to many.
You can set up 4 Profile Metadata items and some Featured Hashtags on your profile. The Hashtags should show what interests you watch or tweet about, and the metadata can be whatever you want, but most people just put links to other social profiles, official websites, etc.
Metadata is also Mastodon’s “Verification”, if you have write access to a website, you can include a specially formatted link to prove you officially control a website you’re linking. A personal website or Patreon is a good example to show you’re the real McCoy, if you care.
Read The Room
It’s probably fair to say Mastodon is primarily ex-Twitter users. The design is based on Twitter, there’s even a Tweetdeck clone (advanced web interface) in the settings. Tweets are Toots, Likes are Favorites, most things work just like Twitter.
But most Mastodon users are on Mastodon because Twitter is hell. There are certain ways Mastodon is explicitly and intentionally NOT like twitter. One of the big ones is no Quote Tweets. If you’ve been on Twitter a long time, you know they’re primarily used for “Ratios” and generally screaming your head off. They also feed the Algorithm and probably do more help to the person you’re trying to “dunk” if they’re a big account. Rage follows are big business now!
Mastodon does not do Algorithms. Mastodon does not yet have the large body of trolls that thrive on Twitter by posting bad takes so people rage-Quote Tweet them, only causing the troll’s numbers to grow. If you’re a Twitter native, please keep the lessons of Hellsite in mind, and try your best to leave bad habits on Twitter.
Block trolls. Mute stuff you don’t like. Resist the Ratio. Don’t reply to literally every toot. Keep your followers in mind when rooting and retooting. Mastodon has features like Content Warnings to help you spoiler stuff, and generally the community is much better about helping people find what they want to see and avoid what they don’t.
Mastodon’s Growing Pains
The biggest problem you’re likely to have with Mastodon is it’s currently in a growth surge and many servers are one step below “on fire”. Not one as big as you might think considering the Twitter migration, but these things are slow and we are helplessly addicted to our favorite sites. Be patient, it’s nothing inherent to Mastodon and things worked quite smoothly pre-Twitter crash and surely will again soon.