The future of Twitter is uncertain, leaving many to wonder where to take their social media addiction next. An alternative that has seen a massive upswing in registered users in the days following the announcement of Twitter’s new direction is Mastodon. While this service offers a similar platform for networking and sharing thoughts, it is not a drop-in replacement and does require a bit to get used to it. However, if you don’t mind doing a little homework, it can be an option for those who value connection over viral engagement.
As someone who has decided to start fresh with a new social network, here are some tips I found for making the process smoother:
find your club
Picture the stereotypical opening of any American film set at a college or university. In almost every movie, the main characters walk around a series of tables for the school’s clubs, fraternities, or sororities.
The students manning these tables are typically striking in their differences. You might see a group of pale darkly-dressed “goths” at one and a group of boisterous student-athletes at another. Both tables clearly have different aesthetics, rules for entry, communication preferences, and likely vastly different interests, and yet are both bound, at least at a high-level by their school charter.
This is how Mastodon’s servers work. Each server “instance” is like a club with an independent admin who sets the rules for who gets to join, how many people they want to support, and what they will allow people in the instance to post about. At the risk of taking my metaphor a little too far here, some admins are like Ravenclaw—they only want the academics, while others are Hufflepuff and will take anyone. However, both groups ultimately call Hogwarts home.
The list of available instances has been growing almost as fast as the number of new people on the platform. Luckily, there is a wizard to help you narrow down your options.
One word of caution—there is no such thing as a popularity club on Mastodon. If you are all about the quantity of followers and not the quality, this is not the platform for you.
When you think you have identified the instance that best fits what you want to read, and post about most, give it a test drive by typing in the name of the instance into your search bar with “/public” at the end. For example, one of the many instances the wizard suggested I consider joining is wandering.shop based on my interest in science fiction and fantasy. By typing “wandering.shop/public” into my browser bar, I can see what sort of posts belong there and make a more informed opinion.
There are also groups for those with a passion for politics, programmers, scientists, and musicians. There are also generalist groups for those, like myself, who enjoy variety. Don’t worry too much about making a bad decision, you can always change what instance you join later if you find out that it isn’t the group for you after all.
Review the Rules
Remember how I said that each admin gets to set the rules? What you can and can’t post varies based on the instance you join. Some allow you to re-blog/boosts from other instances or share posts from your other social media platforms. Others don’t. Make sure you understand what is permitted and what will get you booted before you join.
Some instances let you join with just the click of a button. Others will require you to go on a “waiting list.” It’s up to the admin. While this might frustrate some people used to instant gratification, it’s not all that different of a process than what many Facebook group admins ask you to do to ensure that those who already belong in the instance won’t suddenly get spammed by self-promotion or riled up by angry trolls.
Also, if you consider yourself to be an influencer already, and likely to bring thousands if not millions of followers with you when you join, consider emailing the admin directly before requesting to join. Mastodon is run off of independent servers, which can crash if traffic suddenly skyrockets.
Create Your Profile
Creating a profile is much the same on Mastodon as it is on Twitter. You can add an avatar and header image and link your account to your website. (Fun fact, if your website plan allows it, Mastodon will give you a bit of code that will “verify” you are the site’s owner—no blue checkmark required). I’ve read that it is considered “cringe” by original Mastodon users to use one’s actual name and face as an avatar, but I did so out to help people moving from other platforms recognize me. (I also have a teenager now and am well used to being cringe).
set your preferences
Mastodon lets you set a number of preferences that aren’t options on other platforms. You can add filters, which will automatically hide posts that mention triggering words behind a content warning block, or you can open your feed up to hide absolutely nothing. You can set it to only show posts written in a single language or make your experience as multi-lingual as you are. You can even set time limits on how long the server should host your old posts.
When you are all set to make your grand debut, write up a summary of your interests in a post using #Introduction. Feel free to pin this post to the top of your profile. Or don’t. Completely up to you. You can then build more connections by following others and sharing their content using the reblog/boost feature.
I will admit that joining yet another platform was not exactly high on my wish list, and I hate that I may have lost connection with some of my Twitter friends, but I’d like to think that our paths may yet cross again. In the meantime, I am enjoying the opportunity to make new connections, learn more tricks, and in some ways reinvent myself. If you happen to do the same, feel free to reach out and say hi. @alliepotts