Mastodon is part of the decentralized social media network known as the Fediverse. It has grown in popularity as social media sites continue to disrespect their users’ privacy, independence, and time. Today, we are going to look at Mastodon and how it solves many problems with the modern web.
Mastodon’s Approach to Social Media
Mastodon is a free and open source microblogging platform that’s similar to Twitter and Tumblr, but does things differently than most social media websites. Websites that run Mastodon use the ActivityPub protocol to communicate with one another, so they aren’t one website controlled by a large company. This allows people to see and interact with users on different platforms. These websites, called instances, form a federation known as the Fediverse.
This solves issues such as:
- There is no vendor lock-in: You can go to another instance and your followers will still be able to follow you. This makes complete de-platforming impossible and allows you to easily change instances if you find that you don’t like the community.
- The organization of many of these servers fosters conversation and community.
- Instances don’t want to profit off of your data.
The Fediverse includes more platforms than just Mastodon, but we will be covering them in another post.
Getting Started with Mastodon
Before interacting with Mastodon, you need to join an instance. There is a handy list of instances provided by the community on the main website. You can also try instances.social for a small quiz to help you find one to join.
You can sign up for an instance that is open for registration. Just keep in mind that each server has its own rules and culture. Some instances block some kinds of content outright and some have no moderation at all, so be sure to read carefully before joining.
After finding an instance, you will find a page like this one on fosstodon:
Most instances require an email to sign up and have a list of rules and instances that they do not federate with. I recommend finding an instance that does not block other legitimate instances, as limits your access to the Fediverse. Mastodon has features that can hide content from instances, so outright blocking is often not necessary other than spam filtering.
Mastodon is easy to use and has great documentation, so we will not focus too much on the user interface. There are, however, some key things you need to know.
There are Multiple Timelines
- Your home timeline shows all the people you follow.
- The local timeline show all the public posts by people on your instance.
- The federated timeline shows public posts from every instance federated with your instance.
Timelines are chronological rather than controlled by a mystical algorithm. You are in complete control of the content you view.
Usernames are Formatted like Email Addresses
Your user name is followed by an @instance name. For example, if your username is Invicta and you are on mastodon.online, people will follow and interact with you as @Invcta@mastodon.online. This makes it easy to interact with users on other instances.
The Search Box is your Friend
The search box helps you finding people, brands, and tags outside your local instance. The Federated timeline can be messy due to the volume of posts from across the world. Use it when you want to find something.
Privacy and Social Media are not Compatible
Your instance administrator can see everything you post, just like other social media. Find a trustworthy instance or start your own if this is a concern for you. Posts have levels of visibility, but they don’t stop people from seeing your posts. Social media was never private, and the Fediverse can’t change that.
Problems with Mastodon
Nothing is perfect, and Mastodon has a share of problems that spawn from its nature.
There is no way to fully ban someone.
This is a good thing most of the time, but can be annoying. Instances can block each other, users can block other users, and instances can kick users, but people can always make new accounts and instances. This leads to spam on some less moderated instances.
Not everyone is on Mastodon.
Your friends and family might not be here. That creator you followed before you quit Facebook probably isn’t there either. The Fediverse is new, small, and has a much smaller marketing budget compared to other social media. It will take time for usage to grow. Go tell your family to follow you there instead of on other platforms.
Mastodon is Decentralized
Decentralization is a fantastic thing. It gives Mastodon its power and removes unethical profit motives. Unfortunately, decentralization has its drawbacks. Each server is run by someone else, and the rules are different wherever you go. Some instances prevent users from interacting with other servers. This is a lot healthier than traditional social media, but it is not perfect.
You are in Control of What you See
You are responsible for what you see on Mastodon. There is no algorithm to tell you what to view or like. There is no overlord company setting community guidelines. This might be different from what you’re used to. Most social media websites believe they know better than you do and spoon feed you opinions. Now that responsibility resides with you.
Most Instances are Run by Volunteers
Volunteers run Mastodon, as is the case with most open source software. Many of the instances are the same. There is little profit to be made this way. You won’t get much support, and some of the smaller instances aren’t run by nice and respectful people. Some will behave just like the tech giants and ban people they disagree with, or snoop at people’s timelines. Join reputable instances or even run your own if this happens to you.
The Fediverse is the Future
Mastodon and the Fediverse are the future of social media. The benefits greatly outweigh the downsides. There is no profit motive for selling user data, you don’t have to worry about being kicked from the platform by an algorithm, the timeline is chronological, and you are in control.
The Fediverse give us freedom.