The world of social media is in turmoil. Popular social media platform Twitter was recently acquired by billionaire and richest man on the planet (2022) Elon Musk for a staggering $44bn. Following the acquisition, the new owner implemented a series of questionable changes that left employees, customers and users confused and angry. Here is an overview:
- Board of directors and top executives were fired.
- 50% of the staff was fired. Over email.
- Twitters verification system (blue tick) was revamped and immediately cancelled after the rollout.
- Musk threatened advertising customers with thermonuclear name and shame.
- Remaining staff was given choice to work long hours at high intensity or be fired.
Due to these changes, a general distrust into the new Twitter CEO as well as an uncertain future of the platform, users have been looking at alternative social media networks, with Mastodon being the most popular. This blog post aims to introduce new users to the platform and provide some tips and hints to new and existing users.
What is mastodon?
Mastodon is a micro blogging platform, similar to Twitter. In fact, for the average user, the differences between the two platforms are negligible. People post short messages, engage in discussions and follow each other. The biggest difference between Twitter and Mastodon is that the latter runs of thousands of decentralized servers, so called instances, which are run and managed by separate individuals or teams. There is no entity that controls the entire platform. Mastodon is part of the Fediverse, a system where everybody can run their own server and federate it with the rest of the network. Although Mastodon is currently the biggest platform in the Fediverse, there are many more services than just the Twitter alternative.
The influx of new users on Mastodon has had a significant impact on the until then niche platform. Within just a few weeks following the troubled start of Elon Musk as CEO of Twitter, the number of active users has skyrocketed from 6m to 7m.
The number of new users skyrocketed after Elon Musks takeover of Twitter. Credit: https://bitcoinhackers.org/@mastodonusercount.
These new users are now cautiously exploring the new platforms, many of them uncertain how things work and how Mastodon differs from Twitter. The remainder of this blog post introduces a few tips which should make the transition easier for these newcomers.
Before joining Mastodon
Since Mastodon is a network of federated instances, one important decision to make is which instance to join. Most instances try to attract a certain audience such as people from specific areas, people with similar interests or people speaking the same language. Joining an instance will therefore have a profound impact on the user experience. While it still possible to follow and be followed by everybody in the Fediverse, the local instance determines what chatter users see in their local timeline. It is therefore advisable to explore Mastodon before joining and try to find a suitable instance. Instances.social is very helpful in finding a suitable instance. It provides a wizard and a keyword search.
Instances.social provides an easy to use wizard to find suitable Mastodon instances.
Instances.social offers a search feature to find suitable Mastodon instances.
Another, more visual way to explore the Fediverse is fediverse.space. This is a visual representation of all servers connected to the Fediverse. It is less intuitive to use than Instances.social but users might stumble accross some smaller but more interesting instances by chance.
The Fediverse can be also be explored visually.
To reduce the number of potential candidates, it is recommended to visit the instances on the shortlist and look at what is happening on each of them. Most instances allow anonymous visitors to explore users and posts, providing an insight into how active an instance is and what topics are discussed. User profiles are usually public as well so if a user engages in interesting conversations that users profile shows follows and followers which can be used to pivot to other users or instances.
Explore the local timeline of Mastodon instances
Some instances don’t allow direct access to their local timeline but MastoVue bypasses that problem.
Regardless on which instance an account is created first, it can still follow and be followed by everyone on the Fediverse. It is also easily possible to migrate from one instance to the next without losing followers.
The first post
Netiquette is very important in Mastodon. Each instance has it’s own content moderation rules which are usually displayed on the instances about section.
Server rules of Mastodon instance layer8.space
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon does not have a full text search. It is one of the few disadvantages of the decentralized approach. As a result, posts are not easily discoverable by people other than a user’s followers. It is therefore very important to use hashtags liberally. Hashtags are searchable and can even be followed similar as accounts can be followed.
A common theme is that controversial topics such as politics or sexual content should be hidden behind a content warning.
Controversial topics can be hidden behind content warnings.
Finding other people
As users migrate from Twitter to Mastodon, many are trying to reconnect to the people they know from Twitter. Unfortunately, that is not an easy task but there are some tools that make discovery of Twitter users on Mastodon easier. The following tools allow Twitter users to search through their followings, followers and lists, and discover Twitter accounts that mention a Mastodon user account in their Twitter bio. The resulting list of users can be exported and used to reconnect in Mastodon.