I just made the jump and made a Mastodon account.

After Twitter was taken private and the use of racial slurs amongst others sky-rocketed, so I felt it was time to branch out. Was that really it? Quite frankly, I saw popular posts by Kristian Lum and Rumman Chowdhury that they'd start moving and figured I'd check it out.

Mastodon is exciting. It feels like old Twitter. But it's also really really confusing, so I'm writing what I learned from a Twitter-user perspective!

Mastodon Basics

Mastodon is a micro-blogging platform like Twitter.

You make an account, you can follow others, you have a certain amount of characters to post, you can retweet, favourite, bookmark, and reply.

The awesome thing: Mastodon posts can be edited!

The big confusion usually comes from the whole "federated" thing. So let's dissect that a bit, without getting too technical.

Instead of one big global centralised website like Twitter, Mastodon consists of different servers, where you can make an account. A lot of people currently sign up on mastodon.social, the flagship server, but there are many others (we'll get into that later). This is why mastodon.social is so slow currently, it's really overloaded.

Each server has a "local timeline", so what everyone that has an account on that server is posting. A neat way to foster community and discover posts from like-minded folks if you are on a topical server. However, you can branch out and follow people from other instances easily. I'm on the tech.lgbt server, but you can see that I follow a ton of people on all kinds of servers.

That's why you always give people your account name like @jesper and the server name like tech.lgbt, because @[email protected] would be someone entirely different than @[email protected]. This is why you'll see posts that liken Mastodon to email, in that [email protected] is very different than [email protected].

That's the big difference to Twitter. Different servers with different codes of conduct and special interests.

The Mastodon Algorithm

Nothing like going viral and the entire world telling you how terrible you are on the ol' Birdsite, right?

The Mastodon Algorithm is very easy:

It's chronological.

You see what people posted, when they posted it. (This also makes it seem awfully quiet sometimes...)

There are different timelines:

  • Following
  • Local
  • Federated

And that's it.

The following timeline consists of people you actively followed. The local timeline is the server your account is on. The federated timeline consists of every post of every server someone on your server follows.

Additionally, Mastodon does not have a full-text search, which is a deliberate choice. On Twitter, hategroups have automated search alerts for terms they deem harrassable.

So discoverability on Mastodon relies on the use of good ol' hashtags!

Finding a Server

Currently there is the flagship server mastodon.social, which is getting a bit slow, since everyone signs up there.

So how do you choose a server?

Interest and Rules.

In the machine learning space I have seen folks on some of these instances:

But it's probably easiest, if you use the wizard at instances.social to find something to your liking!

Mastodon doesn't just consists of nice lovey dovey people. There are servers around verifiable hategroups, so it's worth having a look at the Code of Conduct of the instance you choose.

tech.lgbt for example maintains a fairly extensive list of servers that are blocked from interacting with members on the instance. This includes Nazis, TERFs, and other unsavoury types.

So be sure, the rules are to your liking. Servers are fairly clear if they're free-speech absolutists or which type of engagement they condone.

But don't worry, you can move instances later on. I started on mastodon.social and moved to tech.lgbt. That move will only carry over your follow- and follower-lists and leave old posts on the old instance.

Source: mastodon.social/@Gargron/103393780267601137

There will be a notice on your old account as you can see here: @[email protected].

It's a shame that posts aren't migrated, but you can at least export them before moving at /settings/export.

So it's not frictionless, but you also don't make a decision for life by choosing a server!

Faves, retweets, and quote tweets

Since the algorithm doesn't magically show folks your likes, Mastodon works a little different.

Favourites are just a sign to the person that you liked their post. The counter goes up by one, and you can find your stars in a neat list. On tech.lgbt it looks like this: /web/favourites

Alternatively, you can also bookmark posts (just like on Twitter). This one doesn't give a ping to the author and just adds it to your bookmark list, like this: /web/bookmarks This is a bit more private version of the favourites.

That means if you want to share a post with your followers, you'll need to "Boost" the post, which is Mastodon's retweet. That one shares a post from someone else with your followers (and yes that can be any server).

Most hardcore Twitter users wonder about Quote Tweets, and basically there are none, not for technical but for social reasons:

Source: mastodon.social/@Gargron/99662106175542726

Quoteposting encourages talking about someones post instead of engaging with their post in the replies. You can still link to their post but it is not displayed as content embed directly.

This may take some adjusting, but many people actually grow to like this design choice!

Finding your old friends (and foes)

We followed some lovely people on Twitter when it was cool, so how do we find those on Mastodon?

I found a few different ways so far!

Here are four apps that help cross-reference your follow-list:

Twitodon finds your followers who also used Twitodon. So not super extensive, but it can be nice to find some folks.

Debirdify scans your follow list for Mastodon addresses in their name, description, location, link, and pinned tweet! Debirdify is really extensive in that it can also extract your mute and block lists, which might be useful for some!

Fedifinder searches your followers name, description, etc similar to Debirdify, but Fedifinder only extracts follows.

Additionally, people have been compiling a data science and machine learning list collaboratively.

Source: recsys.social/@Randy_Au/109287539673579234

Direct link to Randy's ML list.

In case you want to share this with your Mastodon friends, here's the post:

Source: tech.lgbt/@jesper/109287801683698019

All of these apps create a CSV file for you that you can easily import into Mastodon at /settings/import. Here's a video:

Mastodon import follows with CSV file

I also really enjoyed browsing the hashtags #MachineLearning and #Introduction to find active Mastodon users.

Twitter Mastodon Crossposters

So, we're in limbo right now.

Clearly, we don't want our lovely Tweets and Posts to only reach one platform.

There are Crossposters that can post Tweets to Mastodon and vice-versa. I use this one.

I recommend not posting retweets to Mastodon, as Mastodon is engagement focused and these retweets do not add much value to your Mastodon followers.

I know many people will decide to re-post retweets anyways, so here's my solution. Under /filters you can filter out posts that start with "RT @", which gets rid of Twitter retweets in your timelines.

Additionally, I make sure that replies are switched off, because that's just awkward.

I want organic, stand-alone content I create to reach Mastodon, so that's what I repost.

Nice Mastodon Things

There are two things specifically, that are a nice touch you could adopt.

Mastodon has Content Warnings for dicey subjects.

Content Warnings on Mastodon

These are mandatory for some content, depending on your server's rules. NSFW content is commonly included there, but check what your instance mandates.

Some Mastodon users might be a bit tired of general musings about Twitter as well, so consider putting your hot "Twitter and Chief Twit" takes in a nice content warning to maintain your followership in the beginning days.


Additionally, Mastodon is pretty great with accessibility, so when you post images, add a caption.

I know sometimes we forget, so there are bots to remind you and edit the image caption!

Source: botsin.space/@PleaseCaption/100675546885685663


Mastodon doesn't automagically hide your threads in the timeline, which can cause a bit of clutter.

But there's a neat way to post threads, by changing the visibility.

Set your first post to global, then set all answers to "Unlisted".

Mastodon change post visibility to unlisted

That's one simple way to make thread look nice.

I did that in this thread for example:

Source: tech.lgbt/@jesper/109275253583022851

More Tips

This is a short overview of what's like and different to Twitter.

I quite like following some of the Mastodon tip accounts like Fedi.Tips.

Source: mstdn.social/@feditips/108335235684404846

And of course you can follow me here!

Using Mastodon

You'll find some things that are different to Twitter.

But not everything is due to it not being funded by $billions, some are deliberate design choices.

Mastodon gets better with use.

I personally try to follow people that actively engage in the platform, as that's the most interesting.

So after adding a profile picture, start out with an #introduction post.

But most importantly have fun!

Mastodon sure is a place for memes after all:

Source: raggedfeathers.com/@signalstation/109289901449250228