Twitter’s privatization pushed people to rethink social media.
After all, sometimes it takes years of work to cement a sound social presence, and you may be ripped off that privilege anytime by some rich entrepreneur. The centralization of all that power has annoyed many, especially after that Twitter saga.
And so began the search for a new home. A social platform–unsupervised, unadulterated, where no evil algorithm is tracing your every move.
Mastadon: An Overview
Technically, it’s not a social network! Mastodon is an open-source utility that lets you deploy a social network of your own that connects with the rest.
Currently, there are over 9,200 Mastodon servers with 1.2 million active monthly users. All these servers have their own policies and are operated by organizations and individuals.
Importantly, users among servers can talk to each other like one big (social) network. Besides, there is a handy one-click way to separate all that timeline noise to get updates just from the people on your server.
Coming to that, a server usually hosts like-minded people. For instance, Toot.Garden is for someone talking arts, gaming, and life.
According to specific terms, a few servers welcome new users readily, while others send new signups for manual review before accepting them. In addition, some Mastodon instances ask for a subscription fee to join.
Overall, there isn’t a single definition for the Mastodon network. It’s wild, open, and free. And that’s the fact that makes it a true people’s social network.
Behind the Scenes
Mastodon is a part of fediverse (federated universe). It uses ActivityPub, like many other non-Mastodon entities, including Pixelfed, Plume, and many more.
All these projects which implement the AcitivtyPub protocol can talk to each other, just like two Mastodon websites.
This makes the fediverse a big open-source, decentralized internet operated by and for the people. However, self-hosting a server is usually expensive and needs technical upkeep. So most of the crowd instead takes a simpler approach of joining the open servers.
User Experience of Mastodon
The user interface can take some time to get used to. Putting them side-by-side, it’s similar to Twitter. Just the arrangement of columns is different.
The left is where you can instantly publish. The middle column is your feed which you can customize to a great extent. The right-most pane hosts all settings, including Explore (trending hashtags, people to follow, etc.), Local (server content), Federated (fediverse content), etc.
Personally, it looks heavily inspired by Twitter. And that’s not a bad thing. After all, Mastodon users are mostly X-Twitterati, and it doesn’t hurt to look like what’s already trendy.
Let’s talk some more about what’s on the plate here.
Local & Federated Network
Since you’ll join a server, Local at the right pane will filter out everything else of the federation.
Here you can see the usernames are just @username, while for the Federated tab, you’ll have @firstname.lastname@example.org.
And since the fediverse is ever-expanding, it will have multi-lingual content you might feel unconnected about. Specifically, the Federated timeline shows everything related to who you or anyone from your home server follows. That’s how it connects all the Mastodon instances.
But you can make it more personal, which is explained in the next section.
Since Mastodon is more about the federation than it’s about your local instance, there will be times (especially when you begin) your federated timelines will feel, let’s say, rubbish.
You can do two things about it, block and apply the language filter.
For blocking, there are two methods to do it. On the local network, one can simply block or mute the specific user.
With Federated timelines, it gives the option to block the user or the entire domain since some servers are highly narrow in their scope.
Next, language filtering is available once you click the (gear icon) Preferences, which sits in the right pane on the Mastodon home screen.
Subsequently, click Preferences>Other in the left panel, and select your preferred languages for the timelines.
This is again similar to what we see on Twitter. Still, these are the first few tweaks you should make to keep the timelines relevant.
Mastodon has a very different concept for Direct Messages. In fact, direct messages aren’t strictly personal or private. Still, they are called Private Mentions.
Importantly, when you click Privately mention @username, you have this warning that these messages aren’t end-to-end encrypted.
The dropdown, when you click @, indicates that only mentioned users will see this message. But, one should know that server admins can still have access to those.
Direct messages convert to a group chat if multiple users are mentioned. And one can access these messages with the @ Private Mentions option on the Mastodon home screen.
Conclusively, these messages are “decently” private. But since they aren’t encrypted, and the server admin can still see them, refrain from sharing anything confidential like passwords.
Social media accounts getting hacked is nothing new. Therefore, you should make sure to utilize available security protocols to the fullest.
First, you can check the active devices under the Sessions. If anything seems suspicious, you can simply Revoke access.
In addition, Mastodon allows setting two-factor authentication (under account settings in the left pane). Moreover, the Authorized Apps under Two-factor Auth lists all the official and third-party apps having access to your Mastodon profile. Like with the Sessions, you can verify and cease access to your Mastodon profile for any application.
A word of caution here: be extra vigilant when using any 3rd-party application. Go through their privacy policies to see what they can access and share with their business partners.
Since there is no centralization here, what do you do if a particular instance shuts the shop?
As per the Mastodon server agreement, all the instances listed on the official Mastodon website (https://joinmastodon.org/servers) have to give a 3-month notice before closing their free or paid services.
This is done to provide enough time for anyone to migrate to a different server which is possible and easy.
The options lie in the bottom section of Account Settings (previous image): Move to a different account and Moving from a different account.
The migration is mostly about transferring the followers to the new account and is supported by data import/export.
Besides, the documentation is really helpful, and the process is straightforward. Most users can do it in one go without any complications.
Who Else Is on Mastodon?
A social network is nothing without a substantial audience. Especially micro-blogging needs celebrities and popular organizations for all that chatter and buzz.
Since people are slowly moving to Mastodon, there has to be something to keep them hooked to this new idea of a decentralized social network until then. This is taken care of by bot accounts.
Bot accounts automate activity and are a way of keeping the followers in the loop. Mastodon has a few where an account is set up as a Twitter mirror. So while you can check what’s going on with your favorite celebrity or brand, interaction isn’t possible at this moment.
But it’s not deserted either. As already stated, currently, there are over 1.2 million active users and over 10 million accounts on Mastodon.
Basically, I can keep going, but interests are subjective, and the best way to get started is through that spreadsheet. However, you can also initiate without any such list to make your way in.
Once you follow a few, the federated timeline will populate based on your activity, and you’ll keep getting new ones to interact with.
Like with any change, the first few Mastodon days can be awkward. However, it’s the future of social media, and having a presence there won’t harm it.
Why Risk It?
No one’s asking you to say goodbye to that bird network right now. That’s not the point. However, like it or not, it’s private. In simple terms, you can be kicked out before you get a chance to say, ‘Why me’? And this can happen to any individual or organization.
So if your social presence matters to you, setting up a Mastodon server is the best way forward. Alternatively, you can join one, and most are free.
Hitesh works as a senior writer at Geekflare and dabbles in cybersecurity, productivity, games, and marketing. Besides, he holds master’s in transportation engineering. His free time is mostly about playing with his son, reading, or lying… read more
Social media platforms like Twitter help to connect and connect with other users. Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams created Twitter on March 21, 2006. Since then, Twitter has become an essential platform for sharing news, updates, and ideas.