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Your Guide To Navigating Mastodon, an Alternative to Twitter

If you are on Twitter, you may be aware of what is happening with the social network giant after billionaire Elon Musk took it over for a whopping $44 billion. Amid the uncertainty of what may come for Twitter, another social network service called Mastodon boasted as Twitter’s alternative has surfaced.

In this article, we will address what is Mastodon and how it works. Basically, this is one of those “everything you should know about” articles.

While you are here don’t forget to follow us on Mastodon at @Hackread@mstdn.social 😉

What is Mastodon?

Created by German software developer Eugen Rochko in March 2016, Mastodon is free and open-source software with micro-blogging features similar to Twitter, which is why it’s been catching people’s eyes as an alternative to the bird app now dominated by Elon Musk.

But you already knew that and might be wondering where “Mastodon” even comes from. Mastodon is the mammoth-like animal depicted as the app’s mascot and looks quite adorable holding a smartphone! 

As people flee from what we would call the titanic ship’ of apps, Mastodon might be the life raft they need and this is your guide to navigating the app.

What makes Mastodon stand out is that, unlike most social media apps, it is a nonprofit and does not benefit any shareholders and therefore, gives you an ad-free experience. Although it might appear to be similar to Twitter at first, it actually contains a lot of niches you would not find elsewhere. 

How do you sign up?

When first creating an account, you have to choose a server to set up your profile with. Your profile’s address will look similar to @@. Comparable to an email address, it allows you to affiliate yourself with a particular server on Mastodon.

The address of Mastodon’s founder, for example, is @Gargon@mastodon.social. People belonging to different servers can still follow each other. If you’re having trouble choosing a server, don’t stress too much about it because you can change your server later on if you wish to. 

What are ‘instances’?

This is the term that Mastodon users refer to when they talk about servers. These instances can be run by individuals, groups, or organizations and each can have its own set of rules regarding the selectivity when allowing users to join.

Some servers allow anyone to be a member while others are either invite-only or require approval by an admin. All the servers on Mastodon have signed up for the “Mastodon Server Covenant” which promises “active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia”. 

What are some of Mastodon’s features?

Mastodon is a “federated” network, which is why you might have heard it referred to as “Fediverse”. This is an interconnected web of various social media services and allows you to use your Mastodon account on other decentralized social networks that support ActivityPub such as PeerTube and Friendica. 

The equivalent of tweets on Mastodon are “toots” which allow users to type a 500 characters post, a lot more than Twitter’s 280-character limit. Retweets are called “boosts” and it does not support the concept of quote tweeting. The lists are slightly different as well since you can only add the people you are already following to them.

Private messages in a DM inbox do not exist but you can send direct messages to friends on Mastodon by typing @username posts. On the plus side, it grants you a lot more control over who can see your post, whether you’d like to be discoverable across the server, only visible to your followers or to those who you mention. 

As for Mastodon’s support for media, it allows users to add images, videos, audio, and polls. Up to four images can be added to a post with a total cap of eight megabytes in size whereas video and audio can be any length but with a file size limit of 40 megabytes.

Although the support for media is far less than what you would find on Twitter, you should keep in mind that it was not designed for a massive global audience and only recently experienced a large influx of users. There is no doubt that this will change soon as more developers join the project in the wake of the Twitter takeover. 

Mastodon also has three different timelines for its users to have an individually unique experience posting and engaging in personal and direct conversations. The Home timeline shows posts from the people you follow, the Local timeline shows posts from all users in your server and the Federated timeline shows all public posts from users that people in your server follow. 

Can I get verified on Mastodon?

Although it does not have a universal verification system like the one on Twitter, some servers may require you to prove your identity and you can also self-verify by adding a link to a website you control. It will then recognize you as the owner of that website, giving your followers some justification in trusting that you are who you claim to be. However, it does not have any official check marks that you might be thinking about. 

Who has joined Mastodon thus far?

In case you need help figuring out which of your favorite celebrities have moved over to Mastodon to rid themselves of the Twitter drama, you can search for the #TwitterMigration tag on either Twitter or Mastodon and see who is talking about making the move. For now, we have seen DC CEO James Gunn, climate change activist Greta Thunberg and Dragon’s Den co-host Deborah Meaden and even Stephen Fry join the site. 

At the time of writing, Mastodon has reached more than a million active users and is likely to grow a lot more but whether it will outshine Twitter is another debate entirely. 

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Author

I am a cyber security writer and one of my favourite games is Minecraft. I also really like obscure cat memes and during my free time, if I’m not found hanging around in Discord voice channels with my friends, I’m probably cycling and taking pictures of random cats on the street.

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