Joining Mastodon and Getting a Calm Setup

I’m so happy I got into Mastodon years ago and have found a way to use it that keeps me happily engaged with interesting new stuff and connected to my friends without becoming overwhelmed. Here’s my advice on how to get started and optimize your experience.

Come on over to Mastodon! It’s lovely!

Mastodon is part of the Fediverse of federated servers that can share messages, but have their own rules. A server is kind of like a service provider; like how you get your mobile phone from one company but can call people who get theirs from different companies.

Right now there are not that many open servers to choose from because so many new people have arrived at once and some of them are very specialized communities, but that will quickly change.

When you join, I recommend setting things up using your computer rather than a phone or tablet, just because it’s a little easier to get familiar with things on the bigger screen.

Sign up using joinmastodon.org ‘s Create Account button.
(You can get the app later if you want, but it works fine in current browsers.)

You’ll then see a list of servers that are accepting new members.
Pick your server by looking at their about page and expanding their Server Rules section. For example, here’s Mas.to
https://mas.to/about
I don’t know this server from personal experience, but here are the clues to me that it might be a good one to join:

• I can see on the upper left that there are thousands of active users. That means that it is being well-enough administered to keep people there. (It is easy to take your follow/followed list to a different server later; you just leave behind your old posts. So if people aren’t leaving, that’s a good sign.) A server with fewer than 500 or 1000 users may not have gone through its growing pains yet, so you may want to keep looking.

• The rules look good! This is the kind of community environment I want to be in.
“No discrimination, including (but not limited to) racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia.
No explicit (NSFW) content without content warnings and/or sensitive media markers. Explicit content must not be used in user avatars or header images.
No harassment of other users on this or other servers.
No content illegal in the following countries: United Kingdom, Germany
No incitement of violence or promotion of violent ideologies.
No disinformation regarding public health issues or political/military campaigns.
No spam. This includes commercial advertising, promotional campaigns, and SEO.”

If you like what you see, click the ‘Create Account’ button on the upper right of their about page. 🙂

If you have trouble, give it a few more days. There are lots of new arrivals and all the server administrators are scrambling to expand their capacity, so it’s not always running as quickly as usual, but that will be a brief problem and well worth all the nice new folks coming in.

Once you’re in your account, I recommend experimenting with the ‘Advanced Web Interface’; it’s not that advanced, it just gives you multiple columns which is a great way to find your interests and have them part of your default view. (⚙️Preferences > Appearance > ☑️Enable advanced web interface )

With that view you’ll start out with your Home column. That shows posts from everyone you follow and their “boosts”. That timeline is chronological, not based on an algorithm moving things around and adding advertising.

Boosts are like Twitter’s retweets—they share something to your followers and help that post show up in the Explore view—but you can’t add text on top of the share or “quotetweet”. (That is an intentional design choice to prevent people “hate sharing”.)

In Mastodon, you can also ⭐️Like, which shows up in the poster’s notifications and lets them know you liked something, but doesn’t otherwise affect anything.

No one’s posts are searchable on Mastodon—people can’t go hunting for someone to hassle using keywords like they can on Twitter—but hashtags are searchable. And when you search for a hashtag, the results will show up as a new column.
Click the slider controls icon and you can pin that column to your display.

Screenshot from the top of a Mastodon column. Top shows the hashtag—#BirdWatching—along with a back arrow, a person icon with a plus sign on it (to follow this hashtag in your Home column), and an icon of some horizontal slider bars. Below that is "+ Pin". 

The latest post for this hashtag is below and shows a user icon, their display name, their user name in the format @UserName@ServerName), a globe icon to show this came from another server not local, 1h indicating it was from about an hour ago, and the post itself. 

The post says "Had the great privilege of hanging out with some White-winged Choughs at Uni of Newcastle Callaghan campus. These highly social birds are fun to watch as they interact in their little group! #birds #BirdWatching #WildOz" and two pictures of gray birds with pink mouths and yellow eyes, whose wings reveal white feathers when they spread them.

Now you don’t have to search for it again, but instead when you go to your Mastodon account you’ll find all your birdy interests right there!

Notice how the person who posted that example, cytokine_storm, has the rest of their address starting out with something that isn’t my server, mastodon.social, but instead is “@aus.s…”. That’s because hashtags pass around between all the servers of the Fediverse. You don’t have to find the server where the birdwatchers are, you just have to watch the #birdwatching hashtag and their posts will come to you.

It gets even better because once you’ve pinned a search result into a column, you can further refine what that column displays. Say I want to see posts about #gardening. Here’s the column when I first pin it and expand the controls by clicking that little sliders icon.

A pinned Mastodon column for the #gardening hashtag expanded to show options for the column. Switches: "Include additional tags for this column" and "Local only". Below that is "x Unpin" to remove the column and arrow controls to move it left and right in your display of columns. The posts shown below both have many hashtags and are people introducing themselves.

Notice how people are listing the hashtag in their introductions. That’s nice, but say I actually want to skip most of those. I can turn on “Include additional tags for this column” and it changes to this:

The same top information for the column pinned to show #gardening, now with the "Include additional tags for this column" switch turned on.

Three new text boxes are displayed. 'Any of these', 'All of these', and 'None of these', each with "Enter hashtags..."

I can do lots of fine tuning with these controls!

The same controls now altered to have #Mosstodon and #LichenSubscribe in the 'Any of these' box and #Introduction in the 'None of these' box.

The posts at the top of the column have changed, with the #Introduction hashtagged ones not shown. The most recent one is now a post from someone about a vintage botanical print with that pretty illustration and the second says "Any websites or advice from people who know about #permaculture #gardening #rewilding & #mycology?"

There’s still lots of growing pains with Mastodon and the Fediverse, but so much less social pain than Twitter. It’s clear that this is a much healthier way to do social media.

Published by

Dinah from Kabalor

Author. Discardian. GM. Current project: creating an inclusive indie fantasy ttrpg https://www.patreon.com/kabalor

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