Your guide to the mastodon: what is it and how is it different from Twitter?

Twitter has been pretty chaotic since Elon Musk took over as CEO – approx half of the staff were fired in late October, and new features like gray check marks for trusted sources were released just to be pulled out the site later the same day. Musk also has fought with founder Jack Dorsey and threatened companies that pulled ads from Twitter with a “thermonuclear name and shame. “

From Official purchase of Musk Twitter closed on October 28 for $ 44 billion, many users have decided to leave the site. Bot Sentinel, an organization that tracks Twitter account behavior, estimates that nearly 900,000 Twitter accounts were deactivated between October 27 and November 1, according to the MIT Technology Review.

Some of those who leave Twitter are switching to Mastodon, a decentralized social network based on open source software. Mastodon’s “federated network” has seen a notable increase: on November 6, Eugen Rochko, the creator of Mastodon, said that the service has gained 489,003 new users since October 27 and now has over one million active users. However, that’s still only a small fraction of Twitter’s 238 million.

Read on to see how Mastodon works, how to sign up, and how it compares to Twitter. For more information, see how to delete your Twitter accountand get the latest news Twitter verification badge plans.

What is Mastodon and how does it differ from Twitter?

Mastodon is a free social media service that works much like Twitter. You can post “toots” (instead of tweets), follow other people and organizations, and post favorites (likes) and retweet (retweets) other people.

Mastodon was created and originally released in October 2016 by Eugen Rochko, CEO and lone employee of the non-profit organization Mastodon gGmbH. In May, Rochko explained the service’s strange substitute for “tweets”. He says the original button was called “public”, but a committed supporter promised lifetime support for the Mastodon Patreon account if he changed it to “toot”. (On iOS and Android apps it says “public.”)

In an interview with Time Magazine, Rochko said he started developing Mastodon when he realized that “being able to express myself online to my friends through short messages was actually very important to me, also important to the world, and that maybe it shouldn’t be in the hands of a single company that can just do what it wants with it. ”

Read more: Mastodon is not a replacement for Twitter

Instead of a square for everyone, Mastodon is made up of thousands of social networks, all running on different servers, or “instances”, that can communicate with each other through a system called Fediverse. The Fediverse also contains other social networks such as PeerTube for videos, Funkwhale for music, PixelFed for photos and NextCloud for files.

The Mastodon servers do not need to be connected to the Fediverse, in fact, the most popular Mastodon instance is Social truththe social network of former US president Donald Trump.

How do I sign up for Mastodon?

The hardest part of Mastodon is getting started. Since there is no common Mastodon area for everyone, like with Twitter, you will need to register on a specific Mastodon server.

Servers can be based on geographic location, subject interest, professional background, or literally anything an administrator can think of. For example, the people at dolphin.town are alone authorized to post the letter “E”, while fans of literature on oulipo.social are prohibited from ever using the letter “E” (in honor of OuLiPo writer Georges Perec’s lipogram “La Disparition”).

Two of the largest Mastodon servers, aka instances, are mastodon.social – the official server of the Mastodon project – and mstdn.social, although both have temporarily suspended their registrations. Another great general server I joined recently is mas.to. Other popular Mastodon instances include masthead.social for journalists and fosstodon.org for open source software.

Don’t worry too much about the server you choose – you can join as many as you want and leave or change servers at any time. And you can follow people across servers, so picking one doesn’t stop you from communicating with those on other instances.

A good place to find a server to join is the official Mastodon website at joinmastodon.org. The site currently lists 106 servers that have committed to comply with the Mastodon Server Covenant, an agreement to enforce moderation, perform site backups, and provide at least three months’ notice before closing an instance.

Each server’s “info” page will talk a little about the Mastodon instance and list the server’s rules. If you don’t find a server you like on joinmastodon.org, you can try other Mastodon directories, such as instances.social, which offers a wizard to select a server and a sortable list of 3,910 instances.

Joining a Mastodon server requires only a few personal details.

Screenshot by Peter Butler / CNET

Most Mastodon servers with open registration will only require your email address and password to get started. After replying to a verification email, you are ready to start using Mastodon. Other more private Mastodon servers may ask you to make a membership request and then wait for an invite.

How is Mastodon used?

Like Twitter, Mastodon allows you to send short messages to the world or select people, but instead of tweets, Mastodon’s posts are called toots. And many of Mastodon’s other features are very similar to Twitter’s too, with slight differences. Each post is limited to 500 characters (instead of 280) and you can include links, images (JPG, GIF or PNG, up to 8MB), audio files (MP3, OGG, WAV, FLAC, OPUS, AAC, M4A and 3GP up to 40 MB) and videos (MP4, M4V, MOV, WebM up to 40 MB).

A screenshot of Mastodon's publishing interface with the visibility options displayed

Mastodon offers four levels of visibility for all your teeth.

Screenshot by Peter Butler / CNET

Your posts on Mastodon can be set as public, for your followers only, or completely unlisted from all timelines. You can create polls for your followers and use all your usual favorite emojis, as well as custom emojis created for specific servers.

Any post can be tagged with an explanatory “content warning” that requires a click before viewing, and Mastodon users often take advantage of it.

You can even edit posts on Mastodon. Each version of your toot remains available for review, and people who reblog your post are notified after it has been edited.

Just like Twitter, Mastodon uses hashtags that start with the “#” symbol, such as #Gaming, #Anthropology, or #Veganism. Since there’s no algorithm for suggesting your posts to non-followers, using hashtags to rank your posts for people who might be interested is even more important than on Twitter.

You can follow any account on Mastodon, whether or not it’s on your server instance, and the account’s posts will be added to the Home feed in chronological order. Be aware that for some accounts you need to request permission to follow them.

Free web apps like Debirdify, Fedifinder, and Twitodon can help you find accounts you’ve followed on Twitter that have migrated to Mastodon.

If you don’t want a particular account to follow you, you can block it just like on Twitter, or you can choose to block an entire server.

Mastodon allows you to “prefer” posts, but the favorite count does not appear in the timeline: if you want to promote someone else’s posts, you will have to “boost” or reblog them. Unlike Twitter, there are no “quotes” on Mastodon, a deliberate choice to discourage “squashing” on other people’s posts. A separate “bookmark” feature allows you to save toot to Mastodon without notifying the account that posted it.

Mastodon has a feature called Direct Messages, but the name is a bit misleading. Instead of delivering person-to-person messages, Mastodon’s feature sets a post’s visibility to only the people named in it. In other words, they are toots that only some people can see, rather than actual direct messages.

How do the Mastodon timelines work?

While Twitter only has one timeline (sorted chronologically or by “main stories”), Mastodon has three: the main timeline shows all posts and reblogs from everyone you follow, the local timeline shows everything from your server instance, and federated timeline shows all posts from all Mastodon servers you follow someone on.

Using a web browser, you can set Mastodon to look like Twitter, showing one feed at a time, or you can view multiple feeds and notifications at the same time (very similar Tweetdeck) by selecting “Advanced View” from your Preferences.

A screenshot of Mastodon's advanced viewing interface

Mastodon’s advanced view allows you to view notifications and multiple timelines at the same time.

Screenshot by Peter Butler / CNET

Are there mobile apps for Mastodon?

You bet. Due to the open source nature of Mastodon, you have many choices for apps on both iPhone and Android.

Your first and easiest option is the official Mastodon gGmbH app (for iOS or Android), but there are other solid third-party apps. The two most popular alternative Mastodon apps right now are Metatext for iPhone and Tusky for Android.

Mastodon App for iPhone:

Mastodon App for Android:

If you start with Mastodon, be sure to follow me @ peterbutler @ mas.to. (And say hello!)

For more information on social media and Twitter, follow at Elon Musk purchase history and read the big changes that could be in store for Twitter.

Correction, November 7: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the characteristics of Mastodon. Mastodon added the ability to edit posts in March 2022.

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