If you’re reading this article I’m assuming that you’re already a Twitter user that’s been so shook by the sudden instability surrounding the bird app that you’re now considering moving to Mastodon. The only thing that’s holding you back are the continual and unending complaints that Mastodon is somehow rocket science. Well it’s not. It’s somewhat different, but it’s still at its core online micro-blogging software just like Twitter.
To understand Mastodon I’m going to use a simple analogy so that you can understand the idea behind how Mastodon runs. Let’s say that in the world of Mastodon (called the fediverse) you live in a town. You live there because you like how it’s run and you generally like the people that live there with you. However, you can also teleport to any other town any time you like and take part in the goings-on at that town. You can make friends in any town and keep track of them just as easily as you can the friends in your own town. One big feature of this arrangement is that the people running your town can make it as restrictive or nonrestrictive as they like. Your town might be heavily moderated banning a lot of objectionable content or it might be a free-for-all.
In the Mastodon fediverse these towns are referred to as Mastodon instances, or in some cases Mastodon servers. One really useful feature of Mastodon is that you can live in a heavily moderated town, but still follow someone in a loosely moderated town, thus you can both have the experience you want and still connect. One thing though, the people running your town might choose to block certain users from out of town that keep showing up and violating the rules. They may even block whole towns where trouble makers keep coming from. You may like this as it keeps things comfortable or you may not like it if it’s too restrictive, but here’s the cool part, you can move to a new town any time you like! In the Mastodon fediverse, you can, without much effort take all of the people you follow, all of your followers and all of your posts, and move them to a new town. You can still follow and converse with all of your friends in the old town (assuming you’re not blocked), but now you’ve moved somewhere you feel more at home.
This brings us to the next point, choosing a town. In the fediverse, towns as we mentioned are called instances, and choosing an instance can be important, although as we also mentioned you can move anytime you like. Some towns (instances) are so big you could call them cities, with thousands of users and a lot of general competing interests. Some are smaller, with a focus on a certain topic, like an instance for journalists or an instance for teachers, etc. Other instances are tiny and just have a core group of people and an admin that’s more accessible and responsive to their requests. This last example would be more of a small town, as opposed to the large city mentioned previously. Choosing an instance may also have to appeal to your vanity as well, as the name you’re known by in the fediverse will be [email protected]. For example my name in the fediverse is [email protected], where my username is mike and my instance is thecanadian.social, so thecanadian.social is essentially my town.
If you stop and think about it, it’s not really hard at all. To get started on Mastodon all you need to do is select a town (instance) to be your home and then start following users from all over the fediverse to converse with. You can find a list of instances here: https://instances.social/ .
Now that you know how the mastodon fediverse works and how to participate, you’re off to the races. So whereas Twitter is a wide open space with a somewhat chaotic crowd of sorts, Mastodon aims to be a collection of towns all talking to each other. The next step in your Mastodon journey is to engage with people and fill your timeline with content. That’ll be the topic of another blog, but as you’ve probably already guessed it’s not that hard.