A simple guide to Mastodon

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a microblogging social network similar to Twitter. Unlike Twitter, however, it is community-owned and ad-free.

Similarities to Twitter

You can post relatively brief updates and view a timeline of updates from those you follow. You will also receive notifications when someone replies to you or sends a message.

The language is a bit different on Mastodon. Tweets (280-character limit) are called toots (500-character limit). Retweets are called boosts. Likes are called favorites.

Similarities to email

Mastodon is decentralized, which means an endless number of Mastodon instances (also called servers) can exist. You choose which instance to join, much like choosing an email provider, and your instance can communicate with every other instance.

How do I join Mastodon?

Since Mastodon is not a single corporate-owned silo, you begin by choosing an instance. Mastodon Instances is a nice directory to browse if you haven’t selected one already. Typically, you will select an instance based on your interests and likely tooting habits. Keep in mind, your username will include the instance’s name (e.g., @[email protected]).

Visit the home page of the instance you chose and register. Depending on that server’s rules, you may be able to join immediately, or you may have to wait for administrator approval.

Once you’re approved, be sure to edit your profile—display name, bio, header, avatar—and fine-tune all the settings available to you.

How do I find people to follow?

Many Mastodon instances will recommend a handful of users to follow when you first register. You can also browse the instance’s user directory to find others.

Make use of the search function. Search for people or hashtags.

Under your profile settings, you’ll also find an invite link to share on your personal website or other social media accounts. Ask your friends to find you.

What are the Local and Federated timelines?

Your default timeline shows toots from people you follow. The Local timeline shows toots from everyone on the instance you joined. The Federated timeline shows toots from every everyone from every instance with which your instance has previously made a connection.

Does Mastodon have a mobile app?

Yes, you can find Mastodon for iOS in the App Store and Mastodon for Android in Google Play.

I will continue to update this guide as I receive more questions. Last updated: June 20, 2022.

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