Getting started with Mastodon


Mastodon? What’s that?

Mastodon is considered Twitter competition, but it’s actually so much more. It’s part of the “Fediverse” - a network of decentralised social networks. With Mastodon you can also follow users on other networks like Pixelfed, PeerTube, Pleroma and so on.

The Fediverse is built on open standards. It’s not owned by a single company. The underlying protocol is called ActivityPub. This itself is open too, so everybody could build their own server.

ActivityPub is a standard - it won’t go away, won’t be “unpublished” and you don’t have to pay for it out of the blue.

Why do I care?

Late 2022 Elon Musk bought Twitter. This ended my time on Twitter. My tweets have no longer reived any engagement. At the same time the amount of spam was immense. Suddenly notifications stopped working. I check from time to time, but every time something else is broken. Also, the Twitter became to right-wing for me. There is no content moderation and my overall trust in how my data is handled is gone. Twitter is no longer safe.

This made me think about what I want from a social media network. Is it actually “reach”? I am not an influencer. So no, it’s not that. It’s some information, some entertainment. On the other hand, I want to be able feel safe when it comes to my data. Twitters TOS clearly states, your content is actually theirs. While my content may not be that valuable at all, I am done with companies trying to monetize my content.

And honestly: now, after I have left Twitter for a while, I feel free. Twitter isn’t that much fun actually and I get my news elsewhere. I miss a couple of friends, but that feeling is not strong enough to go back.

What is a Mastodon instance?

An instance is a computer which runs the Mastodon software. There are plenty of them, all using different domains. There is, and so on and so on.

The instances are usually per interest group. In example, there are instances which are run by musicians or by programmers. Sometimes there are instances run by single persons. Sometimes there are “general interest” instances.

The instances are connected to each other. This means, you can follow people on other instances.

Twitter is a single instance. If they shut down, Twitter is gone. If one Mastodon instance shuts down, the rest of the Fediverse is still there.

Of course, there could be issues with Mastodon instances too. Like, your instance is shutdown before you can migrate your account to another instance. But I consider that risk in general low.

Does it care what instance I choose?

Theoretically it does not matter. In practice, there are well-maintained instances and some are not. If you choose one weird, small instance which does not maintain blocklists you could be flooded with nasty posts. So my general recommendation would be to choose a bigger server first and migrate to smallers ones at some later point.

You could find a good instance for you running this wizard: Mastodon Instances

As already mentioned, you can always migrate your account to another instance and keep your followers.

Personally, I have multiple accounts. One for my general interest, but also (a secret) one for my interest in Art and Music.

How to I find people I like?

Following a lot of people is crucial. The more people you follow, the more content you will see. There is no algorithm which provides content to you, so you have to take care of it for yourself.

There are multiple ways. For one, there are websites like the Java Bubble, Java Champions or AWS Bubble.

You can also check on hashtags or use a tool like these two:

Followgraph is basically like the open sourced, externalized and optional “recommendation algorithm” of Twitter. One can expect more of those.

7 important things to know

Follow people and toot (write your Tweets). Write your content, give it proper hashtags. Some people find content by hashtags mostly, so it’s important to use them.

1. Like what you want

If you liked content on Twitter your network would have been told you liked that content. Also the algorithm would be notified. You would have to think twice before you like something - every like is a strategic decision. If you in exampled like a response to a hate-post, you could be flooded with more hate-posts.

If you have an interest which does not match the interest of the most of your followers, you need to think twice before you hit the like button.

With Mastodon it’s not like that. Like whatever you want. The original poster would be notified abou it, that’s it.

Liking something on Mastodon is like sending your appreciation to the original poster, liking something on Twitter is like telling the algorithm to send more of that content to you and telling the whole world that you like that content.

2. No Quote-Tweets?

Quoting was long time out of question for Mastodon, because it was sad to be support bullying. However, recently it was announced that quoting will be supported soon.

I like quoting too, but I also experienced that I am now replying directly to the original poster and boosting the original. It has also it’s advantages and I will keep doing this, even if quoting is supported.

3. Follow Hashtags

Following Hashtags does not mean you see all the posts with that hashtag. It means you see all the posts with that hashtag which are federated to your server. In other terms, all posts from all the people of your server and of those who are followed by the people of your server.

To me this always felt like a limitation, but today I consider it more like a feature. The people I follow or the community I trust, they are trusting others to follow them. It’s like a safe network.

Some might argue it’s also a bubble. That might be true. But I am done with an algorithm which show me controversal content. I am happily living inside my bubble and actively search when I want to exhaust my brain with controversal content.

4. Timelines

Mastodon provides two timelines. The one of the people you follow. And the one which was received by the server you are on (local).

If you are on a big server you will likely see a lot of posts in your local timeline. That’s a good way to see new content. Personally, I don’t use it. I am following enough people to see new content all the time and can grow my followings organically.

If you consider the local timeline, the choice of your server becomes more important.

5. Use alt desc for images & more

In the Fediverse people try to treat each other well. This includes text for screen readers. So just give your images a proper alt text and don’t be toxic at all.

6. Crossposting from Twitter

Usually, cross posts don’t work well on Mastodon. Handles are usually broken and the content is not properly formatted or without context. Many people I know filter retweets. I have started to unfollow people who just crosspost. If I would cross post, I would use a free network like Mastodon and crosspost to Twitter, but the Twitter limitations on the API side make it impossible.

7. Direct messages

Twitter admins can read your messages. Mastodon admins can that as well. If you want your messages to be private, use an encrypted messaging tool like Signal.

More about the Fediverse

Share to Mastodon

You can share easily to Mastodon using this Chrome plugin. Or you just copy/paste. I try to avoid to many plugins, so that’s what I do.

Other Fediverse sites

You can follow all accounts from these websites by using your Mastodon account.


To me it was very easy to start with Mastodon. I understand this is not always the case, and there are many interesting accounts still missing. Let’s hope Mastodon will not only work for a specific subset of people. Time will tell.

However, Twitter is no longer on my list. If you want to reach out to me, please do so on Mastodon - or send me an email.

Image Credits

Tags: #Mastodon #Twitter #Fediverse #Open Source