Update 2022-11-05: More information on searching, finding accounts, being found, direct messages, etc.
I use both Twitter and Mastodon and like both. Both have pros and cons.
In this blog post, I’d like to explain how to get started with Mastodon.
Mastodon is similar to email:
To join Mastodon, you need to find a server and get an account on it.
You can communicate with anyone, on any server, as long as you know:
Similar to email addresses, both of these pieces of information are combined into a single ID. More on that later.
If you know RSS: Mastodon is also similar to RSS in many ways.
Mastodon was designed to be a calmer experience than Twitter, Facebook, etc.:
Virtually all servers are funded via donations. That means:
The etiquette is different – e.g.: It’s possible to hide the content of a post so that people have to click if they want to read it. This mechanism is used for topics such as politics and spoilers and called a content warning because you initially only see the warning label (“politics”, “spoiler”, etc.).
Each server has different rules – e.g.: Some servers only allow posts in English to help them with moderation.
Mastodon is based on open protocols (ActivityPub and others), which means that it’s easier to implement apps and services that are compatible with it.
In the past, the biggest downside of Mastodon for me was that none of the people I know used it. That is changing and it now feels more similar to Twitter to me.
I’m happy with the web app and have installed it natively via Chrome (it’s a Progressive Web App).
Native apps are listed on the Mastodon website
The Mastodon website has a list of servers that you can browse.
To find out what a server is like, visit it with a web browser. What exactly you see depends on the Mastodon version, but the following two paths should work:
/aboutlets you create an account or sign in.
/exploreshows what people post on that server.
Don’t automatically go with the big servers (
mastodon.online, etc.) – take some time to find a server that works for you:
Some servers say “get on waitlist”. However:
Further reading: “Knowing your server” on the Mastodon website.
Moving servers is relatively easy:
More information: “Moving or leaving accounts” on the Mastodon website.
Recent development (not yet deployed everywhere): “Change the nouns ‘toot’ and ‘status’ to ‘post’”.
Each Mastodon ID has two parts (similarly to email addresses):
There are two common ways to refer to accounts:
@«user»@«server»and are mostly used in Mastodon posts.
https://«server»/@«userand are useful for exchanging IDs (see next entry).
More information: “Dealing with unwanted content” on the Mastodon website.
Because no Mastodon server sees all Mastodon traffic, search is more limited than, e.g., on Twitter. Quoting Mastodon’s API documentation:
Mastodon supports full-text search when ElasticSearch is available. Mastodon’s full-text search allows logged in users to find results from:
- their own posts,
- their favourites, and
- their mentions.
It deliberately does not allow searching for arbitrary strings in the entire database.
A post from Eugen explains why search is less powerful than it could be:
Lack of full-text search on general content is intentional, due to negative social dynamics of it in other networks
While searching for text is limited, searching for hashtags isn’t and covers the whole database of a server:
Searching for hashtags show preliminary counts which can be zero. Don’t be deterred by zeros: Click and you’ll often get matching posts.
In Mastodon 4+, you can follow hashtags.
🏠 The home timeline consists of posts people you follow and posts that they share.
🌎 The federated timeline consists of all posts that the current server knows about:
👥 The local timeline is a filtered version of the federated timeline: It only shows posts that were created by local accounts.
#️⃣ “Explore” provides various ways of browsing the federated timeline.
More information on timelines.
@address), you can use Mastodon’s search to show its profile on the current server and follow it.
These are directories of Mastodon accounts, organized by topics that they post about:
There are services that search the profiles of accounts of people you follow on Twitter for Mastodon IDs and show them to you – for example:
Be aware that you are giving these apps access to a lot of data. Don’t forget to deauthorize them once you are done using them.
Via the settings in your home timeline (the icon in the top right corner with the sliders), you can:
Each profile has a context menu (an icon with three vertical dots) where you can:
More information on dealing with unwanted content.
Mention your the URL of your Mastodon profile on your other social media profiles (Twitter, GitHub, etc.).
Use hashtags in posts: Mastodon’s search is more limited than, e.g., Twitter’s. That’s why hashtags matter more than elsewhere. There is more information on searching above.
People are more likely to follow if your Mastodon profile explains who you are:
Mention your Mastodon ID in your Twitter profile so that people can find you via services such as the ones listed above.
Add your name to one of the Mastodon directories.
To add a verified URL to your profile:
Editing that page:
Either add to
<a rel="me" href="https://fosstodon.org/@rauschma">text</a>
Or add to
<link rel="me" href="https://fosstodon.org/@rauschma" />
More information on verifying URLs.
Much of the etiquette on Mastodon depends on the server. These are a few things that I have noticed:
You can add a content warning to a post: Initially only that warning will be shown. To view the actual content, users have to click.
If you post visual content, you should add a description for visually impaired users. If you upload such content, there is an “Edit” link that lets you do that.
You can mark attached visual content as “sensitive” and it will be initially blurred. People will have to click to see it.
It’s best not to link to too many tweets: It doesn’t really fit into the platform and many people are on Mastodon to get away from Twitter.
Quoting Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko:
Twitter forces you to choose between two extremes, a protected account and a fully public account. If you have a public account, all your tweets are visible to everyone and infinitely shareable. Mastodon realizes that it’s not something you might always want, though.
That’s why, when you create a post, you can pick one of four levels of visibility:
🌎 Public: visible to everyone (your followers, public timelines, anyone looking at your profile)
🔓 Unlisted: visible to your followers and at your profile, but not in public timelines.
🔒 Followers only: only visible to followers and accounts mentioned in the post.
@ Mentioned people only: only visible to whoever is mentioned in the post
Direct messages are simply posts whose visibility is “Mentioned people only” (see previous subsection):
Thus, whenever privacy is important, use a service that provides end-to-end encryption.
Mastodon’s search does not support full text search for other people’s posts. Searching for hashtags works quite well, though. Therefore, if you want your posts to be found, add hashtags.
Tips for writing hashtags:
Tags in camel case are more accessible because screen readers can detect where words start:
#CatsOfMastodonis better than
I avoid inlining tags (mentioning them inside text) and put them at the end of a post. I prefer how that looks. However, inlining tags is OK, accessibility-wise – quoting Kris Nelson:
As someone who regularly uses screen readers and works with blind colleagues who rely on screen readers to access the internet, please let me assure you that using #hashtags within the body of a post is not a problem.
You don’t need to move them to the end!
It is helpful to use #CamelCase to avoid gibberish for many word combos, but the extra # is so minimal as to disappear given how much else screen readers say & how fast they speak to experienced users.
Be mindful of polluting search results – e.g. you may write a post “I love seeing all the nice photos of trees at
https:/tags/VisuallyImpaired(i.e., a root path on the current server). Therefore, I put a space after
#when I refer to (vs. use) a hashtag. Then Mastodon doesn’t consider it a hashtag.
Quoting Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko:
Another feature that has been requested almost since the start, and which I keep rejecting is quoting messages. Coming back to my disclaimer, of course it’s impossible to prevent people from sharing screenshots or linking to public resources, but quoting messages is immediately actionable. It makes it a lot easier for people to immediately engage with the quoted content… and it usually doesn’t lead to anything good. When people use quotes to reply to other people, conversations become performative power plays. “Heed, my followers, how I dunk on this fool!” When you use the reply function, your message is broadcast only to people who happen to follow you both. It means one person’s follower count doesn’t play a massive role in the conversation. A quote, on the other hand, very often invites the followers to join in on the conversation, and whoever has got more of them ends up having the upper hand and massively stressing out the other person.
Quoting Dave Troy:
Another design consideration re: Mastodon is that it works well for ephemeral asynchronous communications, but for many reasons should not be counted on as an archival resource. Media attachments are periodically purged and may not be available after a week, or a month, etc. While some servers may try to preserve content forever, this may be costly and unsustainable. Creators, researchers should treat this as an ephemeral resource and make provisions for self-archiving anything important.
Therefore: Make sure that you back up posts (yours and others’) that you want to keep around.
In Mastodon 4+, you can edit posts:
In a timeline, the post’s date has an asterisk:
In detail view, there is a list of edits at the bottom, so you can check out what the post looked like in the past.
If a post you are sharing/boosting is edited, you get a notification.
The Fediverse consists of services that are based on federated (interconntected and decentralized) servers that communicate via open protocols. These services are used for web publishing in a broad sense: social networking, blogging, etc.
The most common Fediverse protocol is the W3C standard ActivityPub. That’s what Mastodon uses, which is why it is compatible with all services that also use this protocol (which may or may not be federated).
When Mastodon users mention the Fediverse, they usually mean “Fediverse services that are based on ActivityPub” (and therefore compatible with Mastodon).
Examples of Fediverse services that are compatible with Mastodon:
More information on the Fediverse:
Among others, the following panes have configuration settings (the icon on the top right with sliders):
Check out the official “Mastodon quick start guide”.
Fedi.Tips has a website and a Mastodon account with useful information on Mastodon and on the Fediverse.
Follow me on Mastodon:
https://fosstodon.org/@rauschmaand follow me.