As a Mastodon beginner I wanted to document what I’ve learned while everything is still new and fresh to me. You can find me on Mastodon at phpc.social/@salcode.
Mastodon is Software, Not a Website
In the same way WordPress is software that powers many different websites, Mastodon is software that powers many different Mastodon servers (a.k.a. instances). For example mastodon.social, toot.site, and tech.lgbt are just a few of the many Mastodon servers out there. See Mastodon Servers for a large filterable list of servers
In contrast, Twitter is a single website.
Similarities to Twitter
Once you join a Mastodon instance you can:
- follow other users
- post messages (in Twitter this is a “tweet”, on Mastodon this is a “toot”)
- reply to someone’s post
- “Favourite” someone’s post (in Twitter this is a “like”)
- “Boost” someone’s post so all of your followers see the post (in Twitter this is a “retweet”)
- You can search hash tags or people (e.g.
Differences from Twitter
No Quote Tweet
In Mastodon there is no analogous action to Twitter’s quote tweet. Eugen Rochko the founder and lead developer of Mastodon writes:
I’ve made a deliberate choice against a quoting feature because it inevitably adds toxicity to people’s behaviours. You are tempted to quote when you should be replying, and so you speak at your audience instead of with the person you are talking to. It becomes performative. Even when doing it for “good” like ridiculing awful comments, you are giving awful comments more eyeballs that way. No quote toots. Thank’s
No Text Search, Only Tags
On Twitter you can search “cat” and the search will return tweets that include the word “cat”. On Mastodon you can only search by hashtags, so even if a toot includes the word “cat” it won’t be returned in the search unless it contains the hashtag
#cat. Use hashtags to make your content discoverable.
Follow People on Other Servers
In my mental model, I think of each Mastodon server as its own mini-Twitter. Based on this it seems important you are on same server as all of your friends but it turns out this is not the case. I want to take a moment to emphasize this because I was slow to understand this.
You do not need to be on the same Mastodon server as your friends. You can follow people on any server.
People like to draw an analogy to email where your
gmail.com email can communicate with your friend’s
Even though I’m on phpc.social I follow people on a number of Mastodon servers including mathstodon.xyz, mastodon.online, and tech.lgbt.
Does My Server Matter?
Yes and no.
Why Your Server Doesn’t Matter
Since you can follow Mastodon users from any server, it doesn’t matter what server you are using.
In addition, you can move from one Mastodon server to another and when you move your followers will automatically be redirected to your new account on the new server.
Don’t overthink which server you setup your first Mastodon account on.
Why Your Server Does Matter
When telling someone how to find you on Mastodon, you provide them with both your username and server, either as a URL (https://phpc.social/@salcode) or in “handle” format (
@email@example.com) so you might want to avoid a Mastodon server with a name like
farts.lol (or perhaps that is exactly the type of server name you want). Note:
farts.lol is not a Mastodon server, sorry.
Rules and Getting Blocked
Each server has particular moderation rules and what may be considered high minded debate on one server may be considered promotion of violent ideologies on another server. You’ll want to be certain your server accepts the type of content you plan to post.
Along with each server admin deciding on the content they allow to be posted, they can also determine which other servers they will accept information from. For example, if you join a server called something like
nazis.lol, I wouldn’t be surprised if your friends on another server are unable to follow you.
At this point, I can tell some of you have your free speech hackles up. Just remember you can always run your own Mastodon server or pay someone to run a Mastodon server for you and then you can decide on your moderation rules and what servers you accept information from.
Mastodon includes a
Local Timeline, this is a timeline of all toots originating from your server. If you are on a huge server with 137K users, this probably won’t be super useful. If you’re on a smaller server, this can be a great way to discover posts from other users.
The relationship between Mastodon instances is a distributed social network (a.k.a. federated social network) and is specifically referred to as the Fediverse. The Federated Timeline is a timeline of all toots from other servers that your server is “aware of”. A server becomes “aware” of a toot when at least one user on the server is following the remote user.
For example: if
@SammySameServer and I are both on the same same server and Sammy follows
@RobbieRemote@otherServer.social but I do not.
- Sammy will see toots from Robbie in his Home Timeline
- I will NOT see toots from Robbie in my Home Timeline (I don’t follow him)
- I will NOT see toots from Robbie in my Local Timeline (Robbie is on a different server)
- I will see toots from Robbie in my Federated Timeline (because Sammy’s following of Robbie brings his tweets to the server I am on)
It can all get a little confusing but it means if the other people on your server are following interesting people, you can use the Federated Timeline to view the toots from those interesting people.
At this point, I’m having a lot more fun on Mastodon than I’ve had on Twitter recently. Mastodon reminds me of Twitter when I first joined. In recent years whenever I visit Twitter or Facebook I feel like I’m being manipulated, and at least for the time being Mastodon doesn’t make me feel that way. Mastodon feels like people geeking out over stuff they love, rather than railing against things they hate. If you decide to try it out, you can find me at phpc.social/@salcode.
Thanks for the quick introduction to Mastodon, a good alternative to Twitter 😉