Since Elon Musk took over Twitter last month, it has been in a mess. As an alternative, Mastodon, which is decentralized and open, has gained a lot of new users.
Musk himself commented on, or rather made fun of, the rival network’s rise in popularity on Monday in a now-deleted tweet that said, “If you don’t like Twitter anymore, there is an awesome site called Masterbatedone.”
So, if you’re thinking about leaving Twitter now that it has a new owner and CEO and you’re interested in Mastodon, here’s what you should know.
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a social media network that has been around for 6 years and can be used on the web or through a mobile app for iOS and Android. It’s not based on just one site; instead, it’s made up of tens of thousands of servers, which are small communities.
How Do You Meet New People?
If you want to start over, you can do a manual search for people you follow to build your network from scratch. You can also import a list of the people you follow on Twitter, but it’s not a straightforward process.
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First, on the Fedifinder site, choose the option to export your followers as a CSV file. Next, sign in to your account on a web browser and go to Preferences > Import and Export > Import and choose that file.
Your account will need some time to get updated, but once it does, you should see a feed of people you followed on Twitter who have moved to Mastodon. Like on Twitter, you’ll see a feed of posts from people you follow.
What Makes Mastodon Different?
Fans of Mastodon say that its decentralized approach is what really sets it apart.
Instead of using Twitter’s centralized service, each user can choose their own provider or even run their own instance of Mastodon. This is similar to how users can send emails from Gmail, an employer-provided account, or their own email server.
No one company or person can shut down the whole system or make it do what they want. Advocates say that if an extremist group got its own server, it would be easy for other servers to cut ties with it, leaving it to talk to its own small group of followers and users.
But there are some problems with the federated approach.
It is harder to find people to follow in Mastodon’s chaotic mess than it is on Twitter or Facebook’s neat town squares, which are run by a central authority.
How Do I Use Mastodon?
You can write short posts and share them with a small group of people or with everyone. These are called “toots” instead of “tweets.”
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You’ll have almost twice as many characters to write a post (500) as you do on Twitter (280). You can add links, images, videos, and audio files to your posts. You can also add other things that require a click before viewing, like polls and spoiler warnings.
You also have more control over who can see your posts because you can decide if you want them to be public, just for your followers, or just for the people you mention in the post.
You can also edit posts on Mastodon, which is something Twitter hasn’t had for a long time. But if someone reshares your post, they’ll know that it’s been changed, and each version of your post will still be available to read.
Hashtags are also used to find relevant and popular topics, and you can show your followers someone else’s tweet by “boosting” it, which is the same as retweeting. “Quote tooting,” on the other hand, is not a thing.
How Do I Join Mastodon?
Since there is no one way to join Mastodon, you have to sign up on a specific server.
Servers have been set up based on where people live, what they are interested in, what they do for a living, or just about anything else a server administrator could think of. For example, people who like books can’t use the letter “E” on oulipo.social, in honour of Georges Perec’s book “La Disparition.”
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CNET says that mastodon.social, the first instance of the Mastodon project, masthead.social for journalists, and fosstodon.org for people interested in tech and open-source software are some of the most popular Mastodon servers.
But you don’t have to worry too much about which server you choose when you sign up. You can join as many as you want, follow people across servers, and leave or switch instances at any time.
Most open-registration Mastodon servers will only need your email address and a password to get you started. Others may ask you to ask to join and wait for an invitation, kind of like a private Facebook group with a moderation team.
Then, you can use free apps like Twitodon, Debirdify, and Fedifinder to find accounts you used to follow on Twitter but that have moved to Mastodon.