Want to ditch Twitter? How to get started with Mastodon
Want to ditch Twitter? How to get started with Mastodon
Elon Musk’s first days as CEO of Twitter This has been great news for a social network. No, not Twitter. The unexpected social media star of 2022 is the free, decentralized, loosely organized group of servers that collectively make up Fediverse. federated universe. And in Fediverse, nothing is hotter than the open-source Mastodon software that powers the Twitter-like service running on that collection of servers.
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It’s difficult for most consumers to wrap their minds around the concept of Fediverse, which has a lot of technical jargon and tidbits associated with it. Arguably, however, it’s not that different from how modern email services work. Each server runs the same basic software, and all servers know how to talk to each other. Crucially, each user has an identity on a single server. If that identity is an email address at Gmail.com, you can exchange emails with people on other servers that support the same protocols.
This is how Mastodon works, with one crucial difference. You can’t go to a massive, centralized server run by a megacorporation to register. Instead, you have to find a server on your own, set up an account, and hope that the server you choose can handle the pressure while all these newbies sign up. To see how far the Mastodon community has grown, check out the chart created by Esteban Moro (@[email protected]), MIT researcher and associate professor at the Carlos III University of Madrid.
Mastodon’s servers have been strained under the stress, with users reporting long wait times for email confirmations to arrive, as well as long delays in getting those accounts set up properly.
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But if you get over that hurdle, you’ll end up in a place that looks awful on Twitter. And it is growing at an obvious rate. in a week According to Mastodon CEO Eugen RochkoAbout half a million new users were registered, and the number of monthly active users across all Mastodon servers surpassed the 1 million mark for the first time.
As you can see from that post, Mastodon looks a lot like Twitter, but it’s not Twitter.
Obvious similarities include a scrolling timeline that shows the activities of people you follow. They’re called tweets the messages (they were called the fingers, but fortunately that terrible name is going out). If you share someone else’s post, you’ve done so he reblogged it or driven by him There are also hashtags and lists.
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Your Mastodon handle includes your full identity, including your server name. On Twitter, I’m @edbott, but on Fediverse I’m @[email protected] If you want a check mark next to your name to prove you are who you say you are, you don’t have to pay anyone; instead, you add a link to a website under your control and it serves as verification.
The biggest advantage of this decentralized setup is that each server can set its own moderation policy and decide which servers to federate with. People who like NSFW content and hate speech can set up their own server and blast whatever they want, to the exclusion of the rest of the Fediverse.
If all of this sounds interesting, you can set up your identity and check things out for yourself. I recommend doing this setup on a desktop PC or Mac. You can set up a mobile app later, but it’s much easier to get started if you use a regular browser window, where all the necessary controls are available.
How to get started in Mastodon
The first step is literally the hardest. You need to find the address of a server running the Mastodon software (an the instance) and accepting new registrations.
As with most things in life, the best way to find a reliable instance is to ask a friend for a recommendation and, if necessary, an invitation. If this option is not available, search for a public instance. (Not sure which Mastodon you know? Skip to Step 5, where you can use the Debirdify app to browse through the list of Twitter accounts you follow to create an easy-to-read list.)
Although you can go to the official website, https://joinmastodon.org, and find a server there, that’s a recipe for frustration. This list is short and only shows a few servers that are currently open. I recommend going instead https://instances.social and using their wizard or more advanced search tool. Alternatively, try going there Mastodon activity page and check the list under the Instances heading. The entries at the top of the list are the most popular.
Go to your chosen instance and, assuming they are accepting membership, fill out the form. You’ll probably want to reuse your Twitter ID, but you can join any ID you choose. Here is the instance registration screen c.im.
(Don’t worry, it’s easy enough to move your account to another server later, though you should probably make that move before you’ve built up a lot of posting history.)
Click Register and wait for the confirmation email. This can take minutes or hours. Due to the surge in signups, some people are reporting that they never receive an email to activate their account.
After confirming your account, use the Edit Profile button to add some details about who you are. Fill out your bio (copy and paste your Twitter bio if you like) and add a photo so people know it’s you. Tip: In Mastodon, your profile picture is called your avatar.
This is also a good time to light up 2-factor authentication for your account
Add your Mastodon handle to your Twitter bio. This will make it easier for people who know you from Twitter to find you in the new place.
Now you are ready to follow some people. If you have Mastodon IDs of people you know are active here, enter that name in the search box to find their account and follow them. (Remember that you will need a full username and ID with the server, eg @[email protected]ial).
One thing I’ve seen a lot of people do is write a post, give some background about who they are and what they’re interested in, then pin the post to the top of their profile. It’s a nice thing to know if you’re a good follower for people who find you online.
A surprising number of the accounts I follow on Twitter have created accounts on Mastodon, and few of them are putting more effort into Mastodon than Twitter. Part of that may just be the newness of Fediverse, but it does mean you’ll find some familiar faces in the new place.
You can find tons of lists of people who have made the #TwitterMigration, which is also a hashtag worth searching for. Chances are, someone you follow has compiled a list like this. When I wrote lists in the search box, I got some interesting results; your mileage may vary.
To overload the process, however, use Removal of birds app, which uses the Twitter API to look for signs of a Mastodon ID in the accounts you follow. (This is why you should update your Twitter bio to include your address in Fediverse.) You can go through the results manually, but it’s much more productive to export and then import your Debirdify list in CSV (Comma Separated Values) format. From the Settings page of your Mastodon instance.
Now you can enjoy Fediverse.
Here are some notes to get you started:
Don’t try to do everything you did on Twitter. The means of contact are significantly different. There’s no equivalent to the mention tweet, for example, and there’s no algorithm that decides what you see. Also, at least for now, there’s great support for newcomers and lots of introductions to people setting up accounts.
Turn on 2FA. please I said it before but it bears repeating. Turn on two-factor authentication to protect your account. It only takes a few seconds. (And don’t forget to print your backups just in case.)
Beware of direct messages from Mastodon. They are not encrypted and can be viewed by server administrators, so it is best not to use them for important or sensitive business purposes. It’s also very easy to inadvertently make a private message public or bring in a third party by quoting them. That can be awkward if the quote is unflattering.
And that just scratches the surface. I’ll have more to say about Mastodon in the coming days and weeks.
A note from the author: After almost 17 years at ZDNET, I will be leaving at the end of 2022. You can stay in touch by signing up for my newsletter at Ed Bott’s READ.ME. It’s free (for now) and I’ll be doing a lot of the things I’ve done here on ZDNET and in my books. To sign up, go here https://edbott.substack.com/.
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