Tired of Twitter? Here’s how to join Mastodon

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks you’ll no doubt have seen that Twitter is under new ownership.

And the Elon Musk–led era is off to a sticky start with mass layoffs, strange feature changes, and even the prospect of having to pay to use the platform.

However, Musk’s message throughout has been – whatever you think of him, major change is coming whether you like it or not.

So if you like it, you’ll probably not mind paying for the privilege.  If you don’t, you might have to start looking around for an alternative.

Okay then, if not Twitter, is there another place to get your social media fix and where?

A raft of other social-networking platforms are cropping up as alternatives to Twitter, each offering similar functionalities.

Chief among them is Mastodon, an open-source alternative created by German software developer Eugen Rochko in 2016.

Bolstered by positive news coverage, it’s becoming the most popular alternative to Twitter and since October, almost half a million new users have flocked to the service, roughly doubling its user base.


What Is Mastodon?

Named after an extinct elephant-like creature that last walked Earth more than 10,000 years ago, Mastodon is an open-source microblogging platform – but whereas Twitter is centrally controlled by a single company, Mastodon is decentralised.

This means that individuals or organisations can set up a server and host users on it which often represent things like geographical locations or areas of interest.

Once they have joined a server, users can chat with others on that server, or post into the federated universe and messages posted to most servers can be read by the wider Mastodon community.

Unlike Twitter, where users are limited to 280 characters, you can post up to 11,000 characters in a single Mastodon message — known as a toot.

Another difference is how users encounter content: Twitter’s algorithmic recommendations are nowhere to be seen on Mastodon – you follow and what they share dictates what you see.


What’s Different About Mastodon?

There are a few additional features, such as a content warning option that lets you hide posts behind a caveat – which can be useful for movie spoilers or even objectionable content or upsetting material.

Also, administrators make and enforce the rules on their own instances; on a larger one, that might be a full-time job, while on a smaller instance, it is no more work than being in charge of a small forum.

And if you want, you can jump to another instance with looser rules, but be warned: admins can ban users, but they can also ban whole instances, “defederating” them.


How To Get Started On Mastodon

You start your Mastodon experience by picking a server, which is basically an affinity group though all the servers talk to each other, so if you join, say, a server of football fans, you can still talk to people from other servers about rugby.

Just like on Twitter, Mastodon will throw some ideas your way for who to follow, so take a look through and see what floats your boat and who you think might give you the content you are looking for.

Then it’s time to toot out your own thoughts or give stars to toots you like or retoot them in the same way that you retweet.

You can also reply and direct message in exactly the same way as you would on Twitter.


Things To Note About Mastodon

Once you’ve joined Mastodon, there are a few things you need to remember.

  • There are no ads.
  • You can move from any server at any time, you are in control of your data.
  • You need to follow people to see content from your peers.
  • Using lists is recommended.
  • There are custom emojis, depending on each server’s settings.
  • Unlike Twitter direct messages are not encrypted and are not really private, due to the decentralised nature of the network, so use email instead to connect with other users.


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