Interest in the open source social media platform known as Mastodon has again doped as users search for an alternative to Twitter, should Elon Musk’s takeover spell the end of this website as we know it.
If you’re fleeing Twitter’s sinking ship for the potential Mastodon Liferaft – or wondering if – here’s what you need to know.
Welcome to the Fedivers
The first thing to understand is that Mastodon is what is called a “federated” network, a collection of thousands of social networks running on servers around the world that are linked by common Mastodon technology, on a known platform. under the name “Fedivers”.
You sign up for a specific server, which is run by whoever set it up, usually volunteers who do it out of their own pocket or who receive donations through Patreon. They will have their own rules and policies on, for example, who can join and how moderated the conversation will be.
You can even start your own server if you want to set the rules yourself. Alternatively, there is a list of servers that focus on specific locations or topics of interest. The servers on this list have all signed the “Mastodon covenant” which promises “active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia”.
However, no matter which Mastodon server(s) you sign up for, you can track users on another without a problem.
Oh, and since this is a volunteer-run system, there are no paid ads in your feed.
Usernames are different
Once you’ve chosen a username and set up your account with a header image and profile photo, you’re good to go. Unlike Twitter, your username will be @[username]@[the Mastodon instance you signed up to]. So, for example, you could be @MuskyElon@aus.social. Think of it as an email address – the first part is your chosen ID, the second part is the organization that takes care of your inbox.
There are apps on iOS and Android that allow you to log in to your Mastodon account(s).
Finding Twitter users is a chore
If you want to find everyone you follow on Twitter on Mastodon, unfortunately there’s no easy way to do that.
You can start searching for those you know or go back to Twitter and see if they’ve announced their move. Services like Twitodon allow you to log in with your Twitter and Mastodon accounts and search for users you follow. But it will only be able to find users who have also used Twitodon.
Once you follow a few people you’ve found on Twitter, you can browse their lists to find others you might know.
The display is similar but different
For starters, you may need to get used to your posts being called “toots” rather than “tweets”.
On the plus side, you’ll have almost twice as many characters (500) to write a message, and additional features like click spoiler warnings for text and images.
You’ll have more control over who can see your post, from being discoverable on the server to who you mention in the post, like a DM.
Hashtags work the same way Twitter does for trending topics, and you can share someone else’s post with your followers by boosting it – which works the same way as retweeting. But there is no “quote tooting”.
Verification is easy and free
There’s been a lot of drama on Twitter over Musk’s decision to require people to pay for verification, while not actually verifying that they are who they say they are. Mastodon has a verification system available to everyone with its own website.
If you link to a website you control on your profile, then it can recognize you as the owner of that website, giving followers justification to believe you are who you say you are.