Maybe you’re brand new to Mastodon or you decided to give Mastodon a chance and you’re liking it , but you’re not really feeling like you belong on the instance you chose. Maybe moderation is too tight or maybe it’s too lax. Maybe you’re just not digging your local time line or you feel like there’s too many technical problems. In any case you need to choose a new Mastodon instance but it seems scary. It doesn’t have to be, so let’s dig in and find out how.
Choosing A New Instance
Sometimes this is as easy as I’ve noticed all my friends are instance X and I’d rather be closer to them or it can be as hard as starting from scratch and jumping back into the unknown. If you’re the former case closed, if it’s not as clear to you don’t worry you’re not locked in to any particular instance. You can always move again, instance shopping is not uncommon so let’s look at some points to consider when moving or joining for the first time.
What size of instance do you want to join?
I’m a little biased in this regard as I run what might be considered a smaller instance of about a thousand users. I prefer a smaller instance because I believe that the Mastodon fediverse should be as spread out as possible to avoid some of the pitfalls we all encountered with large centralized social media. I think the more diverse our instances are the better. I also believe that a smaller instance can give you a more intimate experience while still being able to access the wider fediverse. You may also enjoy more direct access to the administrator and the moderators on a smaller instance who can react to your concerns quickly. They may also know you personally from previous interactions!
There’s a myth that joining a larger instance get’s you exposure to more people and I believe this is somewhat incorrect, as Mastodon exposure by its design is heavily weighted towards your interactions with others. The more people you follow, the more you’ll build your time line and the more people will follow you. Being on a smaller instance in no way impedes your ability to interact with others on different instances. Therefore when you post its exposed mostly to your followers and the people they boost to. There is no algorithm to manipulate here. There is however a slight exposure benefit to being on a larger instance. I’ll get to that next.
Joining a larger instance also has it’s benefits and drawbacks. You’re now in a larger sea of users that may or may not be focused on what interests you. You will however enjoy the security of a larger team of admins and moderators who most likely run the instance on a larger infrastructure. Accessing an administrator or moderator on a timely basis might however be challenging depending on the group, and they may not always be able to accommodate a specific request that doesn’t fit within the general scope of the instance.
To address the question of exposure, when you post on a larger instance it will go into the local time line which may expose you to more local users assuming they’re tracking the local time line. If your instance is interacting with a large number of other instances your post may also enter the federated time line of more servers.
The exposure question however can be somewhat nebulous. On a bigger instance you may indeed be exposed to more users in the local time line, but you might also get lost in a sea of local time line posts. On a smaller instance the local time line might be a case of less is more as you’re competing with fewer posts and you might get you boosted more. Federated exposure might also be up for debate as smaller instances tend to subscribe to relays that send their posts to a wide assortment of federated instances. Does your head hurt yet? Just remember interacting on Mastodon gets you more reach than anything else, period, end of story.
Does Geography Matter?
Sometimes you want to be close to home. People from your side of the world, your country, your province and even your town have unique perspectives on issues that affect you in your everyday life. Some users find more value in a server that addresses and discusses local issues more in the local time line. They may even opt for an old fashioned meet up, remember those? That becomes far more easier on an instance dedicated to your home country, town or province. To find one just got one of the great Mastodon directories we’ll mention later.
Does Your Tribe Matter?
A lot of people are devoted to a variety of different movements, hobbies, and entertainment. When looking for people to interact with, you might be looking for a tribe of people devoted to the same things you are. As with everything in the fediverse there’s and instance for that, where you can browse a local timeline dominated by whatever tribe you fall into. As with geographically based instances it’s easier to find like minded users on these specialty servers.
Does Your Profession Matter?
Are you a journalist? A politician? An influencer? You may have professional reasons for being on Mastodon, especially if you’re migrating from Twitter. Choice of instance is super important in these cases as getting it wrong could cost you reach. Journalists and news professionals have several instances to choose from that can offer different levels of verification and exposure to news seeking users. Celebrities and influencers most likely want to find a larger instance that can handle the traffic that will be generated by a large follower base. Professionals with large enough follower bases may also want to consider starting their own closed instance.
Does Moderation Matter?
The last and possibly most important factor in choosing a server is what level of moderation are you looking for? Are you part of a marginalized group looking for a safe harbor? Are you looking for civil but maybe fiery debate? Or are you looking for a site where anything goes within reason? There are a wide range of moderation styles across the fediverse which is what makes it great! An admin can choose to block other instances, shielding their user base from stormy sometimes disturbing comments or they can opt to host a thunder dome where almost anything goes. They key is to go to the sites “About” page and read the site description along with the server rules. Then take a look at the local feed and see if the user posts are in line with what you might be expecting. If not, move along there are plenty of fish in the fediverse.
Where Do I Find A List Of Instances?
There are several great directories that will list instances and give you an idea of what they’re about.
I’ll start with my own because I’m a shameless self promoter. This site lists Canadian Mastodon servers in a first come first serve order. mastodonserver.ca
This is a directory from the folks that bring you fedi.tips a great site for guidance on using Mastodon. fedi.garden
A great searchable database of Mastodon instances with valuable stats on uptime and user size. mastodon.help
This is the go to for many people searching for a new instance. It’s run by the people that bring you Mastodon. https://joinmastodon.org/servers