Now that Elon has turned Twitter into fascist Disneyland, you’ve likely been reading more and more about Mastodon as an alternative. While it’s been around for quite a while (some co-workers and I lightly poked at it years ago), all of the recent shenanigans have pushed it back into the spotlight in a major way.
Unlike other emerging new options like Post and Hive Social (yikes and double yikes) which are centralized services prone to the exact same “could eventually be hijacked by a red-pilled billionaire” issue, Mastodon is part of the “Fediverse” and is decentralized, which means that it’s made up of separate, independently-run servers that can all talk to each other through a common language.
This decentralization has given Mastodon a reputation for being a bit hard to set up, and while the overall user experience certainly has some room to improve, if you’ve ever signed up for a web-based email account, then sent someone a message, I have complete faith that you’ve got this.
Here’s how to get started…
Step 1: Choose a Server
Since Mastodon is decentralized, you’ll first choose a server to join, from which you can then communicate with users on the same or other servers. This great PC Magazine article sums it up nicely:
“The best analogy is to think of Mastodon like email. You can create an account on any email service you like—Gmail, Hotmail, Proton Mail, etc.—and still communicate seamlessly with people with accounts on other email services.”
What’s great is that you can easily migrate to another server later, so don’t worry too much about which one you choose to start.
A few popular servers include mastodon.social (currently closed for new signups), mstdn.social and masto.ai. Here’s a larger list to explore as well. Pick your poison.
Step 2: Get a Good Client App
While you can definitely just use your chosen server’s website to interact with your account, having a great mobile app makes the experience even better. I can’t speak much to Android apps (though here are some recommendations I’ve come across), but on iOS the official app is fine, however I’m a big fan of both Toot! and Metatext, and am extremely excited about the upcoming Ivory, from the makers of my all-time favorite Twitter client.
Step 3: Follow Cool People!
I recommend starting with some no-brainer follows like Anil Dash, Jason Shellen or Paul Ford, then spying on their following lists to see who else you might be into adding. This directory is also neat. If the person is on a different server, you’ll sometimes need to copy/paste or jump through a few extra hoops to add them (some clients already make this easier, but this is a process that can and will be improved over time).
If you’re coming over from Twitter, you can also use one of the slick “find your Twitter friends on Mastodon” services like Fedifinder to build things up even faster.
That’s it! The overall vibe reminds me a great deal of 2006-2009 Twitter, a time before most of the influencers and dead-eyed transactional users swarmed, back when being goofy, honest, awkward, open and truly enjoying digital community was something to celebrate.
If (like me) you’ve missed that, I highly encourage you to get in the mix. Hope to see you there!