Why Mastodon Is My Choice For Life After Twitter

Mastodon in the woods

After concluding that Tribel wasn't for me, I headed over to Mastodon. I found a platform with a steep learning curve and not much guidance for getting started. But I pushed through these initial frustrations, and I am glad I did. Even though I haven't left Twitter yet, Mastodon is beginning to feel like home.

Mastodon is open-source and decentralized. Unlike Twitter, Facebook, and most other platforms, this means that there is no owner. Nobody can sell Mastodon to a Bond villain. There isn't a server farm in a central location. Anyone can set up their own server to host an instance, and all the instances can talk to each other. Think of an instance as a smaller network. This massive collection of instances are part of what people call the Fediverse.

Joining an Instance

The most confusing thing about Mastodon is that it requires one to select an instance to join. Instances vary by location, primary language, topics, and rules. That said, anyone can join any instance and interact with people on any other instance. Think of it like your email provider. No matter which provider you have, you can communicate with people who use different providers.

When selecting an instance to join, I'd recommend the following:

  • Pick one in your own country, if possible.
  • Pick a general one or one focused on subject matter that interests you.
  • Examine the rules and select an instance with rules you won't find too confining.
  • Pick one with at least 250 users, but don't assume bigger is better. I've seen some recommendations that 250 to 1,000 users might be the sweet spot.

Most of these recommendations aren't all that important. Selecting an instance in your own country helps with time zone and language issues. The topical focus only matters if you find an instance with a focus you find interesting. There is little agreement about the size of the instance. The huge ones will be harder to keep up with and may seem more like Twitter. They are also the ones that have been most strained by the influx of former Twitter users.

The rules do matter. The administrator of each instance is free to set their own rules. You'll want to look at the rules and make sure you agree with them. How much porn would you like to see without NSFW warnings? There are instances with few rules, and there are instances with many rules. Consider how you plan to use Mastodon and compare the rules of a few instances.

One of the most recommended tools for finding suitable instances is https://instances.social/. You can move to a different instance at any time, so don't obsess over it too much. I couldn't find any focused on topics that interested me, so I focused on the rules.

Becoming Part of a Community

Within the Mastodon interface, you'll have 3 timelines: Home, Local, and Federated. Home is where you'll see posts from those you are following. Local is where you'll see posts from everyone in your instance. This is the main place where the instance you joined matters. If you joined an instance focused on cats, expect to see content on cats. Federated is where you can see posts from everyone across all instances.

Mastodon has been around for a long time, and its culture is very different from that of Twitter. Members of marginalized groups had a hand in developing it, and this is important. For example, content warnings are an important part of the culture. When posting, use content warnings on sensitive content (e.g., religion, politics). Users can choose to disable these if they prefer a less filtered experience. Hashtags are far more important on Mastodon than on Twitter. The search function depends on them, so you'll want to use them so others can find you.

What about the biggest difference I've noticed so far? That's easy! Users are far more polite and interactive than anything I've experienced on Twitter. There's far less yelling and name-calling. The atmosphere feels civil in a way Twitter rarely has. The people seem nice and interested in connecting. It isn't all about follower counts and mindless self-promotion, at least not yet.

When I post something on Twitter, I'll get a few likes and retweets. It is almost never clear whether anybody has bothered to read what I've posted. When I post something on Mastodon, I'll get thoughtful comments from engaged readers. If I ask a question on Twitter, I'll get a few people who retweet it without responding. I'll get a few more people who reply with smart-ass answers. On Mastodon, I've been getting real responses from people who are trying to be helpful. The contrast is startling. Mastodon feels like a community.

Can It Last?

I hope so, but I have my doubts. As large numbers of people leave Twitter for Mastodon, the culture may change. If new users behave on Mastodon like they have been behaving on Twitter, it may change for the worse. I hope that doesn't happen. I hope that the new migrants will realize, as I have, how much better the culture is. Together, we can work to keep it better. But this will take some work on our part.

If you are planning to check out Mastodon, you can find me at https://mastodon.social/@vjack. And if you already have an account there, my handle is @vjack@mastodon.social.

Image by author via NightCafe