Here’s a bit of tough love, bear with me: Stop thinking of yourself as somebody who doesn’t understand Mastodon. You’re better than that. This negative self-talk doesn’t help with anything. It’s not so hard, you just need to keep an open mind. Let me tell you what you need to know without forcing you to read words like “federation”.
TL;DR: Mastodon is like Twitter, the only thing that’s slightly confusing is the fact that you need to choose a server first. Choose a server, follow your friends (it doesn’t matter on which server they are) and soon you’ll have a timeline full of roughly tweet length content you can scroll through. Easy.
Choosing the right server
The only thing that’s a bit hard to understand is unfortunately the very first thing you’ll encounter: There seems to be hundreds of different Mastodons and you have to select the right one. Why? Who cares! It is what it is. You don’t need to bother with the technical reasons for this, if you don’t want to. For now, let’s just accept this and move on.
What server do I pick?
It doesn’t really matter. You can engage with everybody on every server, no matter which server you’re on. There are exceptions to this rule (servers can block other servers) but we don’t need to think about those just yet.
This semi-official list of Mastodon servers isn’t very inviting. I get it. It’s a good collection of suitable candidates for you to join though. Follow this logic to decide which server you want to join:
- Do you see a server that describes your interests? There are servers for artists, people with chronic illnesses, coders and geographic locations. Joining one of those would make you automatically surrounded by likeminded people.
- If you’re like me and your interests are a bit too broad to fit into one of the special interest servers or there isn’t the right server for you yet, just choose one of the ones without specific topics.
I get it. Decision fatigue is real and you are afraid to make a mistake. It’s not that big of a deal. Just get it over with.
What if I choose the wrong server?
If your chosen server sucks and you don’t feel happy with it, you’re free to leave. There’s a slightly nerdy but manageable way of switching servers. You’ll even take all your followings and followers with you. That’s great but your posts can’t be transferred yet, which is kind of a bummer. I geht that.
Do I need to create an account on several servers?
No. Your one account can interact with people from different servers. There’s literally no need to have more than one account. Sure, the process of following people from different servers is slightly more complicated than you’re used to but you’ll manage. I promise it’s not too hard.
Wouldn’t all this be easier if I wouldn’t have to choose?
Yes. You’re right. But let’s look at the upsides: I think it’s pretty cool to be able to chose a server that fits you. You can select your little community of likeminded people and connect with them in your local timeline (the timeline that shows all posts from your server). If you’re into art, your local timeline shows a stream of people posting their art. If you’re into tech it’s a stream of posts about tech. That’s just plain cool.
You’re not even missing out from anything because your personal timeline is still filled with who you follow. You can be on an art-focused server and only follow climate activists and vegan bloggers. It’s up to you.
Create your timeline
Your timeline will be very boring at first. There’s no algorithm trying to seduce you into spending hours and hours of doom scrolling. You need to follow people. I bet many of your friends on Twitter have been sharing their Mastodon handles and links in the last couple of days. Feel free to surf a little, see who follows whom. It’s a bit of work, sure but it’s work that can be fun.
Everything is slow and broken and I’m cranky
Consider this as one of those situations where you’re stuck in traffic and complain about all those other people that are in your way. There’s no nice way to say this but you’re part of the problem. We all are. Online stuff can break when more people than expected try to use it. It happens to video games on launch, it happened to Twitter on an hourly basis when it was new, it’ll happen to the Mastodon server you join. It’s a good sign though. More people to connect with!
That’s it for now. I wanted to write this because I saw the same misconceptions and questions pop up in different places. Maybe this can be helpful for somebody who wants to give social media without ads and with more freedom and feeling of community a try.
If you want to try following somebody on Mastodon, feel free to use me as your guinea pig.