Getting Started with Mastodon




Twitter is no more.

Its rotting corpse shambles along as X, and rumor is the whole thing is going subscription-only. Pay for a regular dose of anxiety to microblog on some billionaire’s fiefdom? Hard pass.

While Mastodon has some governance and onboarding issues, its privacy and automated purge settings are admirable in the age of corporate surveillance.

If you’re not already there, I hope this guide helps you out. And if you’d like a 20-minute onboarding party, I hosted one in July and would love to do another. Let me know!

Be not afraid

The Fediverse (decentralized network) is powered by ActivityPub (open protocol) that connects Mastodon (open source software). If Mastodon is akin to email, then (instance) is Gmail in both size and simplicity.

Others have clout, too. Mozilla and Medium signaled commitment to the project by launching their own instances. Conversely, Bluesky blocked itself from the Fediverse with a proprietary alternative to ActivityPub called AT. Please join me in a collective “booooo” to Jack Dorsey.

Other projects tap into the Fediverse as alternatives to Instagram, YouTube, Reddit, and more. All of these require money, talent, and governance from volunteers instead of corporations with ads, VC funding, and armies of engineers. Donations go a long way in these spaces.

Get started in 3 minutes

  1. Join an instance. Browse by interest or join the big one. You can always “migrate” to another but your posts won’t follow. Note: smaller instances may have house rules.
  2. Post and pin your #introduction. Include lots of hashtags so the world can find you.
  3. Find your people. Discovery is manual! No algorithms! Scour lists, hashtags, and other’s following lists. Follow anyone by searching URLs or handles (@user@instance). Share an invite link to onboard friends quickly.
  4. Get Tootin’! Hashtag, boost, and favorite liberally. Download a good app like Ice Cubes or Ivory. Once you’re following enough people, ignore all but Home and custom Lists.

That’s it.

The exasperation around learning Mastodon when we weaved Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok into our lives isn’t deserved. The interface could be simplified, but we don’t have to live with corporate interests as default just because they nailed some basic UI decisions.

Should we microblog at all?

Depends! Do your ideal supporters or colleagues also live there? Can you make space for it without anxiety? Does it energize you?

These are questions we should be asking of any platform.

Mastodon is not commercially focused, so put your shameless promotions in spoiler tags and keep it under 5% of what you post.

But indie creator culture is respected and soft promotion works wonderfully! Folks love process photos, inspiration stories, and are generally there to be supportive. Take some pointers from “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon and you’ll be in good company.

Mastodon hosts many communities offering warm welcomes, helpful answers, and deep stories. Three of my friends found their people there after swearing off all social media years before.

Not to say it hasn’t been challenging for others. This software also empowers white nationalism, and many instances have tried their best to maintain healthy block lists. We’re only human, after all.

Ready for the rabbit hole?

Here are 3 more links to help on your journey: