Thanks to what’s happening at the Twitter, a lot of people got acquainted with Mastodon this week. It can be overwhelming. I’ve collected the questions I’ve been asked / seen floating around the most.
There’s also a previous blogpost in Dutch which contains a short introduction and some more info.
Last Update: 26/01/2023
Some good general resources
- joinmastodon.org <- Official website
- What is Mastodon? (Youtube)
- Video explanation by Savjee
- Gizmodo: How to join Mastodon
- How To Get Started on Mastodon
- Guide from @[email protected]
- Nikodemus’ Guide To Mastodon
- My previous blogpost (in Dutch)
- What is Mastodon? (The Guardian)
- What is Mastodon? (BBC)
- How to join Mastodon and start posting (Businessinsider)
- How to use Mastodon (Wall Street Journal)
- 10 quick Mastodon tips
- Fediverse Party Mastodon Page
- Video explanation by eGPL
- General Fediverse tips
- Official documentation
Huh? What is a server and which one should I pick?
This is where the first major difference between Mastodon and Twitter becomes (brutally, and some might say, not very user-welcoming) clear:
- Twitter is a centralized service. One company (with one famous CEO) runs, administrates and decides for the network. If you don’t agree with Twitter’s policies or monetization, there’s no other option than putting up with them or deleting your account.
Mastodon is a decentralized service. There is no company that runs it. The software to run the network is free and open-source. Anyone can run, edit and adapt it to their needs.
- All of these servers communicate with one another, according to a certain protocol
- Each of these servers has a different administrator (or a team of) running it.
So it doesn’t really matter *which* server you pick. The official Mastodon website has a good list. You can pick one that aligns with your interest, but keep in mind that it will not limit you to following people from other servers. Once you follow someone, all that complexity is gone :)
A more advanced server list is here. The biggest servers at the moment are mastodon.social and mastodon.online. These are considered stable and run by people very involved in the Mastodon project, but keep in mind: everyone on the same server weakens the network :) For Belgian Mastodoners there is also mastodon-belgium.be, which was set up during the last few days.
How can I find my friends? They don’t show up when I search?
This is another difference: due to the decentralized nature of the network, the “search” functionality doesn’t index everything. Because the network is constantly changing! Some of your friends might be on another server that hasn’t communicated with your current server much.
The surefire way to find someone is to enter their complete username @[email protected], for example “@[email protected]” in the search field, and then searching. As soon as you found and follow them, your server will make sure their posts reach you. Thats the power of the Fediverse!
Why is Mastodon slow / wrong / stuck / unresponsive?
A lot of people have been discovering Mastodon lately (this bot has some nice stats). Each of these people register an account on a server that is run by a hard-working team of volunteers that is working around the clock to scale their setup just right.
Don’t worry, one of the amazing things about Mastodon is that even when there are delays, all servers will synchronize eventually. Just give it a while. As long as you didn’t get an explicit error message, your post / follow request was received and will be processed when the server catches up.
Oh, and check the “about” page of your server (this is the one for mastodon.social, for example) on how you can donate some money to keep the server running. There are no ads to pay for the bills, so the people on a server will have to.
I cannot login! Mastodon doesn’t recognize my username?
This is a common pitfall: only the server you registered the account at can help you with this problem. There is no single knows-it-all Mastodon server.
A lot of people get confused because at first glance, for example mastodon.social and mastodon.lol look very similar visually (of course, they are both running Mastodon!), but make no mistake: these are seperate servers, and making an account on one of them doesn’t automatically give you an account on the other one. So make sure you check the URL before trying to log in! It’s easy to get confused.
How can I change server?
There may be many reasons why you would want to change servers. Maybe you don’t agree with the moderation policy anymore, you think the server is not performing well (although that might very well be temporarily, see question above), or you just feel like switching.
- Sign up on NEW server
- On NEW server: Go to Account -> Moving FROM another account
- Enter old account’s handle
- On OLD server: Go to Account -> Moving TO another account
- Enter new account’s handle and submit
Your followers should automatically transfer as well, though this can take a while. As always: give it time.
Why can’t I quote people? Where are my stats?
Mastodon has a different philosophy than Twitter. Some of the features that you are missing aren’t there by design.
- Developer Eugen explains it here.
- This blogpost also has a nice overview.
- This post also has a nice comparison between Twitter and Mastodon
- This post has some info about Mastodon etiquette vs. Twitter (click “show more”)
Part of this effort is also why boosts (retweets) en favorites (likes) don’t automatically display in the home feed. There are no recommendation algorithms or popularity rankings, no chasing of endorphines to go viral. Favorites are just a way of showing appreciation to the poster, they have no other use. Use boosts liberally! You will always just see a chronological list of toots from people you follow. It might feel different, but I’m sure you’ll end up finding it very refreshing.
How can I get verified?
There is no verification system in Mastodon similar to Twitter’s (problematic and arbitrary) “blue ticks”. This means that identity has to be proven externally. People you see with a checkmark in their Mastodon name simply placed it there as an emoji – it has no meaning, other than being a joke. You could just as well place a monkey or poop emoji there.
If you want to prove your identity on Mastodon, you can do it by listing websites in your profile that are under your control. For example, a personal website in which you link back to your Mastodon profile, or a Github page, or even a Twitter account where you clearly state what your Mastodon handle is. For example, on my personal website (which has a high likelyhood of actually being onder my control), I clearly link to @[email protected] as my account.
If you really want some kind of checkmark, there is a way to formally verify these links by including a piece of HTML code on the page you’re linking to. The Mastodon docs have more information.
How can I make my content to appear on Twitter and Mastodon?
Update: The mentioned crossposter is shutting down. Explanation and alternatives here.
You can use a crossposter like this one. You log in with your Twitter account, your Mastodon account and configure the options.
Keep in mind that forwarding retweets or quote tweets might not be a productive idea: these are often so intertwined with their specific network that they are confusing on the other network and just add to the noise. Also the crossposter is heavily used and might be slow from time to time.
What are some cool Mastodon features?
- You can subscribe to specific languages, so if people tweet in multiple languages, you only see posts in those specific languages
- People are encouraged to use image descriptions for images – help your blind friends! Content Warnings (CW’s) are also used far more often than on Twitter.
- In newer Mastodon versions, you can edit posts!
- (Advanced) Mike Masnick has some excellent tricks to for power users
What are some good Mastodon clients for smartphones?
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon supports and encourages third party clients. The ActivityPub protocol it runs on is documented and open-source. The Mastodon website maintains a list of compatible apps, though it is slightly outdated at time of writing.
What about privacy? Are DM’s private?
Mastodon is built to only collect the information it needs to function. There’s no targeted ads or algorithms to feed. On the other hand, it is true that it is open-source software and in theory, a malicious server operator could alter to software. Therefore, we recommend to stick to instances listed on the official server list.
You should consider all posts you make on Mastodon public and readable by the server admin. There is primitive DM functionality, but it is not end-to-end encrypted (yet). DM’s also work different than they do on twitter. This article has some good info.