Twitter rebels, or Twitter refugees, are heading to Mastodon for a few reasons. The most important being that the rules are set by the groups, and not by a central authority with the power of censorship. Mastodon is also well-suited for specialists. If you are interested in a particular topic, say birding or extinct animals, Mastodon is the place to be.
Twitter has competition — it’s the little blue bird versus the big blue mammoth. After the US-based social networking platform put the reins on several individuals admired on the left of the political spectrum, many of them are taking refuge with Mastodon, an eponymous social networking platform named after an extinct beast that looks a lot like the modern-day elephant. So, should you be there on Mastodon? And what kind of a beast is it actually?
Mastodon, unlike Twitter, does not work on an app. It is a free, open-source software that helps users build their own social networks. Pay attention to the plural ‘networks’ because, unlike Twitter, again, it is NOT one social network.
Launched in 2016 by German software developer Eugen Rochko, who wrote most of its code, the Mastodon ecosystem looks like a large cluster of individual social networks interconnected with one another allowing users to communicate within a group and among groups, except in cases where the network is private.
Unlike other social networks, Mastodon is decentralised, which means that there is no one server or person or company running it, and anyone can run or host their own social network, which is also a reason for it being attractive to a lot of users. Think of it like a cluster of interconnected Whatsapp groups.
Twitter rebels, or Twitter refugees, are heading to Mastodon for a few reasons. The most important being that the rules are set by the groups, and not by a central authority with the power of censorship. Mastodon is also well-suited for specialists. If you are interested in a particular topic, say birding or extinct animals, Mastodon is the place to be. The platform is pretty much ad-free and Mastodon does not collect user data.
As far as monetisation is concerned, users can donate directly to the Mastodon project to support its development. Most social networks running Mastodon, if at all, are crowdfunded.
Now that you have a brief idea, here is a small explainer about its features, function and how to use Mastodon.
Getting started on Mastodon
As a user you can either build your own social network, called an Instance, in which case you will be the only user to begin with until others find the Instance interesting enough to join or invite users. A search engine with recommendation features can help users discover your Instance.
The easiest way to quickly get Mastodon is to look for an existing Instance that suits your interest and join it. If you like more than one, join the one that suits you better as it will not restrict you in connecting with the other networks.
You can get started by visiting this link, and signing up for an account by giving your email, choosing an Instance and username.
Once you join, you will get username. For example - @xyz. Now if you have joined the Instance mastodon.social, then your full username or address will be @email@example.com or in case you have joined the instance writing.exchange, then your full username or address will be @firstname.lastname@example.org .
Once this is done, you can set up your bio and profile after which you can start posting messages (called Toots), with text, images, polls or videos and also follow others on your Instance (you can also follow users on other Instances - read further to know how).
Do keep in mind that ‘Toots’ have a 500 character limit and also allow users to set content warning and privacy for each Toot to control who can see( also includes direct messages) the Toots and warn them if the content is not appropriate for all audiences.
How the Instances are connected
Each Instance is independently run, with one or more admins to manage users and a set of rules that users will have to follow once they join that particular Instance. That way, each Instance of Mastodon is unique.
Users in each Instance can follow users within their Instance, and in addition they can also follow users on other Instances and communicate with them.
In order to find and follow users from other Instances, you can search for them in the search bars using their full username or address which will be in the format ‘@name@Instance’ where name is their user name and Instance will be their home Instance or the Instance they have joined.
There is also an option called ‘Remote’ follow, which also you to follow users on another Instance but is a bit different in the way you interact with that person. In most cases, the best way to follow is to put a user’s full address in the search bar and once their profile comes up in the result, just click follow.
You could also have servers hosting private Instances, if the users of the Instance decide that they do not want to communicate with others out there.
Timelines display Toots in chronological order, meaning they are arranged according to the time from the earliest to the latest.
There are mainly three timelines on your home page, a ‘Home’ timeline which display Toots from all the people you follow, a ‘Local’ timeline which shows all the non-private Toots from users on the Instance that you are on or your local instance, and a ‘Federated’ timeline which essentially shows Toots from all instances or networks on other servers that your home instance is connected to (This is because certain instances can ban other instances from being shown on their timelines).
You can interact with users by replying, favouriting or boosting (similar to retweet) their Toots across any of the timelines.
Moderation in Mastodon is always applicable or applied locally on an Instance. Admins can decide to disable user accounts in which case the user can't use the account but its contents remain, silence and account (reversible) in which case only the account followers can see its Toots, or delete an account which includes all of its contents.
Along with these moderation feature, admins and moderators are also provided with server wide preemptively moderation features. You can read more about it here.If you are now interested to join a Mastodon Instance, this How-to guide will help you get signed up on Mastodon.