I’ve had my Mastodon account for about a week and a half, and I’ve seen a lot of folks who are finding it a bit difficult, and others who are hesitant because they’re hearing it’s hard. So, I wanted to just share what I’ve figured out so far. While I consider myself reasonably tech savvy, I’m also old and set in my ways and don’t get as excited about having to learn new tech, so learning a whole new thing was a touch, UGH.
Now, a lot of what I am about to tell you is my understanding and what I’ve found – likely incomplete and imperfect, but I’d love if it helps even one person.
In April, when folks started talking about going to Mastodon – I understood that it was individual servers, but there was an important bit I was missing at that point.
I thought it was this – individual Mastodon servers that just were all out there on their own.
What I did not understand was FEDERATION! Which means our five servers above are actually like this:
So, you sign up with the Cats server, but you can still follow anyone on the other four servers, and they can follow you back. Which is pretty cool and was a very important piece I really didn’t get until now, because I didn’t realize all these servers were connected. And you’ve probably read somewhere that “Oh, hate group XXX is on Mastodon” – yes, but this is where the “Federated” part is great – servers that are known to be cesspools of hate are “defederated” and the vast majority of the federated servers have banned those connections – basically this:
And though folks are still running into some shitbirds, each server has it’s own moderation and it’s pretty good – cause it’s run by actual people. Reporting actually gets something done.
The bit that is messing with people a lot seems to be picking a server – here’s the great thing: you don’t really have to stress too hard about which one you start with because you *can* change servers later, and there are tools embedded in the software to automate that process. So you are absolutely NOT stuck with the first server you pick.
At the sign up page, you can filter the lists down by region, language, interest – and then choose one. The “apply for account” ones appear to just be ones where they’re manually activating people just because there has been a big influx of folks moving from Twitter. Personally, I’m on mastodon.social – because there were a fair amount of folks I trusted that said it was a good a place as any to start.
And once you get signed up, you can start following people and posting! When you follow someone from a different server from yours, you may get prompted to put in your username – ie, email@example.com – you’re not logging in again or anything, it’s just…IDK, maybe creating the connection between the two servers or something like that.
There is a web version, a mobile web version (ie on Chrome on your phone) and I’ve also used the Android app. The Android app is perfectly fine, but doesn’t have all the same features as the web version. (The Android app doesn’t have bookmarks, and something else I can’t remember now.) The web & mobile web versions look very similar. (Screenshots below are from desktop web.)
So, the screenshot below – this is your home page:
Left hand side – Search. You can search for people, hashtags, etc.
Posting widget – post and go! Icons at the bottom are attach (like photos), poll, audience, content warning (it hides the post and only shows what you entered as the warning until a reader clicks through), and EN = language.
Center/Home: This is the feed of everyone you follow. It is chronological and has no ads.
The icons under the posts are Reply, Reblog/Boost (no quote reblogs), Favorite, and Bookmark. (I’ll address the three dots with the next images.)
Right hand side:
Home, is well home.
Notifications are pretty much just like Twitter.
Explore will show you trending posts, hashtags, news, and “For You” – which is other accounts you might be intrested in.
Local – this is the feed of everyone on your particular server whether you follow them or not. If you’re on a small server, it may be very manageable. If you’re on a big server, it may be a firehose.
Federated – the feed of your server and alllllll the others. Definitely a firehose, LOL.
Direct Messages are different from Twitter. If you set the post audience to “mentioned people only” – that is considered a direct message, but ANYONE you @ in those posts can see them.
Favorites, Bookmarks, and Lists are just like Twitter.
Preferences are things like light/dark mode, notifications, and whatnot.
On the posts themselves, there is that “…” button – it’s just things you can do with an individual post – copy link, bookmark, report, etc. This one is from someone I follow who is also on my particular server:
This menu is from someone I follow who is *not* on my particular server – the big difference is that not only can I block this particular user if I need to – I can block the entire server they came from.
Now, if you click on your profile icon on the left hand side, that will just take you to your profile page with your posts. The “…” dots next to your name give you a few other options – many similar to Twitter:
Editing the profile is very straightforward – very similar to Twitter, and you can add up to 4 “metadata” items – I have just put in my blog and my linktree – look around at other profiles to get other ideas of what you can put in.
So, that is a very high level overview of Mastodon. A lot of servers are a bit overloaded dealing with the Twitter exodus, but they’re all working to take care of that. I know my server has already upgraded some hardware and I’ve seen things speed up and the image loading wonkiness is pretty much gone.
Please feel free to drop a comment if you have any questions!