Right now, Twitter feels like Dunkirk beach in May 1940. And look, here comes a plucky armada of web servers running Mastodon instances!
Others have written some guides to getting started on Mastodon:
- An oversimplified guide to setting up Mastodon by Sarah Higley,
- An Increasingly Less-Brief Guide to Mastodon by Noëlle Anthony,
- 10 Quick Tips for a Great Mastodon Experience by Jens Oliver Meiert, and
- How to Get Started on Mastodon by Justin Pot for Wired.
There are also tools like Twitodon to help you migrate from Twitter to Mastodon.
Getting on board isn’t completely frictionless. Understanding how Mastodon works can be confusing. But then again, so was Twitter fifteen years ago.
Right now, many Mastodon instances are struggling with the influx of new sign-ups. But this is temporary. And actually, it’s also very reminiscent of the early unreliable days of Twitter.
I don’t want to go into the technical details of Mastodon and the fediverse—even though those details are fascinating and impressive. What I’m really struck by is the vibe.
In a nutshell, I’m loving it! It feels …nice.
I was fully expecting Mastodon to be full of meta-discussions about Mastodon, but in the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed people posting about stone circles, astronomy, and—obviously—cats and dogs.
The process of finding people to follow has been slow, but in a good way. I’ve enjoyed seeking people out. It’s been easier to find the techy folks, but I’ve also been finding scientists, journalists, and artists.
On the one hand, the niceness of the experience isn’t down to technical architecture; it’s all about the social norms. On the other hand, those social norms are very much directed by technical decisions. The folks working on the fediverse for the past few years have made very thoughtful design decisions to amplify niceness and discourage nastiness. It’s all very gratifying to experience!
Personally, I’m posting to Mastodon via my own website. As much as I’m really enjoying Mastodon, I still firmly believe that nothing beats having control of your own content on your domain.
But I also totally get that not everyone has the same set of priorities as me. And frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to have their own domain name.
It’s like there’s a spectrum of ownership. On one end, there’s publishing on your own website. On the other end, there’s publishing on silos like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Instagram, and MySpace.
Publishing on Mastodon feels much closer to the website end of the spectrum than it does to the silo end of the spectrum. If something bad happens to the Mastodon instance you’re on, you can up and move to a different instance, taking your social graph with you.
In a way, it’s like delegating domain ownership to someone you trust. If you don’t have the time, energy, resources, or interest in having your own domain, but you trust someone who’s running a Mastodon instance, it’s the next best thing to publishing on your own website.
Simon described it well when he said Mastodon is just blogs:
A Mastodon server (often called an instance) is just a shared blog host. Kind of like putting your personal blog in a folder on a domain on shared hosting with some of your friends.
Want to go it alone? You can do that: run your own dedicated Mastodon instance on your own domain.
And rather than compare Mastodon to Twitter, Simon makes a comparison with RSS:
Do you still miss Google Reader, almost a decade after it was shut down? It’s back!
A Mastodon server is a feed reader, shared by everyone who uses that server.
Lots of other folks are feeling the same excitement in the air that I’m getting:
Real conversations. Real people. Interesting content. A feeling of a warm welcoming group. No algorithm to mess around with our timelines. No troll army to destory every tiny bit of peace. Yes, Mastodon is rough around the edges. Many parts are not intuitive. But this roughness somehow added to the positive experience for me.
This could really work!
The web is wide open again, for the first time in what feels like forever.
I concur! Though, like Paul, I love not being beholden to either Twitter or Mastodon:
I love not feeling bound to any particular social network. This website, my website, is the one true home for all the stuff I’ve felt compelled to write down or point a camera at over the years. When a social network disappears, goes out of fashion or becomes inhospitable, I can happily move on with little anguish.
But like I said, I don’t expect everyone to have the time, means, or inclination to do that. Mastodon definitely feels like it shares the same indie web spirit though.
Personally, I recommend experiencing Mastodon through the website rather than a native app. Mastodon instances are progressive web apps so you can add them to your phone’s home screen.
You can find me on Mastodon as @email@example.com
I’m not too bothered about what instance I’m on. It really only makes a difference to my local timeline. And if I do end up finding an instance I prefer, then I know that migrating will be quite straightforward, by design. Perhaps I should be on an instance with a focus on front-end development or the indie web. I still haven’t found much of an Irish traditional music community on the fediverse. I’m wondering if maybe I should start a Mastodon instance for that.
While I’m a citizen of mastodon.social, I’m doing my bit by chipping in some money to support it: sponsorship levels on Patreon start at just $1 a month. And while I can’t offer much technical assistance, I opened my first Mastodon pull request with a suggested improvement for the documentation.
I’m really impressed with the quality of the software. It isn’t perfect but considering that it’s an open source project, it’s better than most VC-backed services with more and better-paid staff. As Giles said, comparing it to Twitter:
I’m using Mastodon now and it’s not the same, but it’s not shit either. It’s different. It takes a bit of adjustment. And I’m enjoying it.
Most of all, I love, love, love that Mastodon demonstrates that things can be different. For too long we’ve been told that behavioural advertising was an intrinsic part of being online, that social networks must inevitably be monolithic centralised beasts, that we have to relinquish control to corporations in order to be online. The fediverse is showing us a better way. And this isn’t just a proof of concept either. It’s here now. It’s here to stay, if you want it.