I was struggling to write an article about how to get started on Mastodon and it wasn’t coming together. I realised what the problem was: there are already so many how-to articles about that. What different take do I have to offer?
Like many newcomers, I became aware of Mastodon because Twitter went from bad to worse (turns out that was possible). I never quite took to Twitter, and I don’t really have to elaborate. The public free-for-all in the worst way possible is not the kind of energy I want in my life. But I like checking out new-to-me things, so I Googled “mastodon for writers”, aware that there are various servers or instances that you can sign up on.
The top hit was this blog entry by Robert Kingett, a pretty helpful explainer about Mastodon and a concise list of instances for writers, readers, creatives, and people with disability. This led me to my current instance Writing Exchange. I’ve been here for two months.
Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know when onboarding Mastodon:
Here are some further thoughts:
I rode in on an earlier wave, and everyone was in the same boat. They were already tired of Twitter and were looking for something friendlier. As a result, the interactions are friendly and supportive. There were a lot of Boosts and Favourites and people saying hello. There was no shortage of Mastodon veterans offering tips and help. It felt like home within a day.
There are instances/servers for broad topics like art or music, and some very specific things like chaosmagick or disability. Themed servers do not usually demand that you post only relevant posts, but this URL will become part of your Mastodon identity, so I can understand how picking one can be a process. Do I want my Mastodon handle to identify me as a witch or a (former) journalist? Do I want to tie my Mastodon presence to a local or regional instance?
This is perhaps why general servers are popular. You can always migrate when you find something that fits you. As for me, it’s good to be in an instance where the Local page is full of writers talking about their WIP or latest book. Perhaps the FOMO will cause my novel will embark on its publication journey this year.
Important note: you can still interact with people on other instances/servers no matter which one you’re on, except for servers defederated or blocked by yours.
There is no algorithm pushing certain posts at you. There is no “suggested” hot take slipping into your feed. You see what you follow, and you’re free to unfollow, mute or block at any time. Fine-tuning is available. You can follow someone but hide their boosts, especially if they’re boosting at the rate of one post every other minute they are awake or if they’re inexplicably boosting replies with single-word or no-context emojis. You can also hide boosts and replies from everyone on your feed with a handy toggle on top of your feed.
The culture values accessibility. There are many screen reader users on Mastodon, so captions and image descriptions are highly encouraged. You will come across people who refuse to boost posts containing images with no captions. The other thing encouraged is something called Camel Case in your hashtags, which means capitalising the #FirstLetterOfEachWord. It’s easier for a screen reader to read, and honestly, easier for the human eye to make out as well.
I was no good at this prior to Mastodon, but now I’m doing in on other sites as well.
The ability to add a Content Warning or CW is built into the interface. Think of it as putting your content under a “spoiler warning” with a title. I put images under a CW by default because not everybody wants to see images – they take up a lot of space and may affect download time for some. You can have CWs open by default if you don’t need a CW for anything.
If you wander around Mastodon or follow certain people, you’ll find that someone is always going to argue against something. Most come from places like “I was forced off Twitter and now I’m going throw a tantrum because Mastodon doesn’t work like Twitter”. Some will argue with each other over every little facet, such as whether people should use CWs or why there isn’t a QT (Quote Tweet) feature. There were a few detailed posts about how Mastodon “could be better” and by “better” they usually mean “more like the site that just forced me to leave”. I suspect it’s a Twitter thing, and the more people migrate, the more prevalent the culture.
But here’s the thing: I never took to Twitter and I miss nothing about it. I’m not trying to recapture anything. Instead, I’m trying to build a community with people who are on the same wavelength, something I never had back on the bird site. I know I’m not the only one.
I don’t need to come online and look at stuff I don’t want to look at, or deal with people who are randomly trying to tone-police, or insist you educate them while committed to not wanting to learn. I don’t have that kind of energy going into 2023. I never did.
If you see something about me that you don’t like, let’s just agree not to interact. I’ll do the same for you.