For some reason, people think getting started on Mastodon is hard. But that's probably just Russian misinformation designed to keep you locked into corporate-owned social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and all the rest. Getting started on Mastodon is as easy as choosing a “provider” and signing up.
Why you want to get started with Mastodon.
Mastodon is a decentralized microblogging platform that, in functionality, closely resembles the above-mentioned social media sites. Yet it differs on the backend. Instead of being owned by soulless, profit-seeking corporations with no regard for users' privacy rights, Mastodon isn't owned by anyone.
There's no profit motive behind Mastodon.
Developed in privacy-respecting Germany, Mastodon is free software that anyone can run on almost any server—hell, you can even run it on a tiny, $35 computer. Because the software is open-source, anyone can run it for free, or use, copy, study, and even change Mastodon as they see fit. Programmers can add new features without caring about whether they “hurt profitability.”
Mastodon has neither advertising nor algorithms.
There's an old saying that goes, “If you're not paying for it, you're the product.” And, for the last few decades, social media companies have been collecting your personal data to sell to advertisers (who then annoy you with tons of invasive ads). On Mastodon, there are no ads, none, so your feed is only full of stuff you want to see, not what a corporation wants you to see (ads).
So how does Mastodon make money?
In short, it doesn't. Without funding support from Wall Street venture capitalists, Mastodon operates on good will alone. Each server (aka, “instance”) is a completely independent entity. Typically, nerds and non-profit groups the world over are running Mastodon on their own servers, often at their own expense, so you should donate money to them, if you can.
Think of Mastodon like email providers.
When you chose your first email account, it didn't matter whether you picked AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail, because they all worked together. That's how Mastodon “instances” work, too. It doesn't matter which one you sign up with, you can interact—i.e., like, comment, and share—with anyone on any instance (even on other apps! see below) from any instance you choose.
Still, there are some things to take into consideration when deciding which instance (server) to join.
Rules vary for each instance, so be sure to read them.
Each Mastodon instance creates its own user rules and regulations to enforce civility. Some instances disallow hate-speech and bigotry while others allow it under the banner of “free speech.” Yet, because Mastodon isn't centralized, broad, overarching moderation policies aren't required.
Unlike corporate social networks, the rules are enforced locally by the person running the server, not someone at “Mastodon HQ” (because there isn't one). To protect its users, for example, a server administrator whose rules disallow hate-speech, can wholesale block another instance whose policies allow it (or vice-versa). So join a server using rules with which you agree.
How to choose the right Mastodon instance for you.
Use the questionnaire on instances.social to filter and find a server based on your interests, their policies, and what you want your address to be. PRO TIP: Pick one that has at least 1000 users, but no more than 10,000, or you'll just put unnecessary strain on the server which is not cool.
So you've gotten started with Mastodon, now what?
You can find folks you already follow on Twitter using this website. Or peruse this spreadsheet of Journalists on Mastodon. For finding other people, try Social Search, a search engine for Fediverse accounts. Or you could just ask your friends what their Mastodon address is—just like asking for their email address. For what it's worth, you can find me @[email protected].
Tips for getting started using Mastodon.
- Since there's no algorithm to help other like-minded people see your posts, use hashtags on every post. It helps to add context terms that other people will search for. For example, as an amateur trumpeter, I follow the hashtag #trumpet to see what's being posted. Searching for, and then following, hashtags is a great way to see content you'd never otherwise see.
- Put hashtags in your profile to help people figure out if they want to follow you or not—think of it like a dating profile. Add your hobbies, interests, your locale, your favorite bands, anything you want. I always check the profile of people before connecting with them, and hashtags help you understand the kind of person they are.
- Starring a post (or “hearting” it, in Twitter parlance) has little effect other than telling the person who posted it that you like it—there's no algorithm to increase its exposure as a liked post. To get a bigger audience for a post, you must boost it (“retweeting” in Twitter parlance) and it will show up in your feed.
For more information about getting started with Mastodon, visit Fedi.Tips.