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Home » Joining Mastodon? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the Platform

Joining Mastodon? The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to the Platform

Anyone who keeps up with the goings-on in the tech world at this point knows that it’s time to seek out an alternative to Twitter. While many considered it a hellsite long before the whole debacle with Elon Musk, it was still one of the most favorite social media platforms out there. But now that Twitter is becoming too toxic, seeking out an alternative has become inevitable. And Mastodon is the current top contender to claim the throne that Twitter has long held in the world of microblogging platforms.

But it’s not easy to get started on a new platform for everyone. And Mastodon can be especially intimidating. So, we’re here with a complete guide to get you started on the platform. So, read on to know everything about joining Mastodon seamlessly.

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a microblogging platform where you can publish small updates (or a series of updates). But it isn’t exactly like Twitter. To begin with, it is open-source software. But more importantly, it is a decentralized and federated network. When we say decentralized, we don’t mean in the blockchain sense. It simply means that no central authority or company owns it.

And if you don’t know what federation means, don’t worry, that’s what we’re here for. In technical terms, federation refers to the act of different software adhering to a set of protocols so as to facilitate communication between them. Let’s understand federation with the example of Email.

To be able to send and receive an email, you need to sign up for an email service, be it Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Outlook, Hotmail, etc. But no matter which email service you sign up with, you can send and receive emails from people on other email servers.

Mastodon is like that. In fact, it isn’t a single social media platform. It is a network of different servers and all servers can communicate with each other; hence, the term federated.

What are Servers?

Mastodon servers are the most confusing and intimidating (but only initially) part of the entire setup. These servers are also known as Instances, so if you see the word Instance somewhere, do not get confused.

Now, Mastodon is open-source software that anyone can self-host on their server. Even you can set up your own server and run Mastodon on it. As such, there are thousands of servers to choose from when joining Mastodon.

The server owner gets complete control over how they want to run their little slice of Mastodon. They can set up rules and even make changes to the features. In fact, you shouldn’t think of Mastodon as a single social networking site like Twitter or Instagram. Instead, it is a collection of all the servers that host Mastodon. Each server has its own web address that you’ll need to use to access it; there’s no single “mastodon.com” domain to access the social media service.

For example, consider one of the servers that Eugen Rochko, the founder of Mastodon runs. Its domain is mastodon.social and that’s what you’ll need to enter in your browser to access it. But if you want to access one of his other servers, mastodon.online, then that’s what needs to go in the address bar. With us so far? Great!

No matter which server you choose, you can communicate with, follow, and be followed by users on the other servers. Not only that, but with Mastodon, you can communicate with other apps that are a part of the Fediverse.

What’s Fediverse?

Fediverse is a portmanteau word for Federated Universe. It refers to all other ActivityPub (the protocol on which Mastodon operates) projects.

Let us consider another example to keep this short. Have you ever encountered posts on Instagram that are simply screenshots of tweets from Twitter or posts from Tumblr? I’m sure you have. It’s because these websites are not connected. So, if you ever encounter a tweet that you would like to share with your Insta fam, you need to take a screenshot of it to post it; there’s no direct posting.

But the Fediverse is quite the opposite. It’s all connected. In addition to Mastodon, you’ll find plenty of other software that use the same ActivityPub protocol. For example, PeerTube (similar to YouTube), PixelFed (similar to Instagram), and Misskey and Pleroma (similar to Mastodon itself), are a few different platforms in the Fediverse.

Now, a user on Mastodon can interact with, follow people and consume content from these other platforms directly. That’s the magic of federation!

How to Join Mastodon

Before we talk about you can create an account on the social media network, it’s important to address one more issue. Mastodon is unique in one more sense; there are plenty of ways to access it. You can access it from the web browser, official Android or iPhone apps, or countless third-party apps. While there are many third-party apps that offer a more refined experience of using Mastodon than the official apps simply because they’ve been around longer, for beginners, we’d recommend using the web or the official apps.

For this guide, we’ll be showcasing the process from the web, but joining and using Mastodon from the mobile app is pretty much the same.

To join Mastodon, go to joinmastodon.org from your web browser. Then, click the ‘Create account’ button.

Create an account on Mastodon

You’ll be redirected to the servers page. The list you’ll see isn’t a complete list of Mastodon servers in existence. But these are the servers that have committed to the Mastodon Server Covenant. So, these are some of the safest servers out there. They have active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, daily backups, and will give 3 months notice before shutting down, among others. You can visit the link above to know more.

List of Servers while joining Mastodon

Now, choose the server you want to join. Don’t let this step intimidate you. When choosing a server, just remember what you’re on Mastodon for. If you’re looking for a community in a particular interest, for example, music, art, journalism, technology, etc, you can join a server in that particular interest. Otherwise, there are a lot of general servers on Mastodon as well. You can also choose a server in your local language. As we mentioned before, no matter which server you choose, you won’t be restricted to that particular server.

But when choosing a server, you do need to be mindful of their content and moderation policies. You certainly don’t want to end up on a server that has policies that go directly against your beliefs. You’ll either end up on a toxic server or you’ll end up getting banned from the server; neither is good. Don’t hesitate to spend a little time on this step. But also don’t let it completely hinder the process; if you don’t like the server you end up joining, you can always migrate to another server.

Click on the ‘Create Account’ or ‘Apply for an Account’ button on the server you want to join.

Selecting a server for joining Mastodon

You’ll land on the server’s explore page. You can check it out more if you want. Then, click the ‘Create Account’ button.

Creating account on the selected Mastodon server

The server’s policies will appear, read them carefully and click the ‘Accept’ button to proceed.

Then, enter your information like your display name, the username (you cannot change it later on Mastodon), password, etc. Depending on the server type, you might also have to answer an additional question about why you want to join the server. Open servers let you join the server right away but approval-based servers will manually review your signup before letting you join.

You’ll receive a confirmation email once your signup is approved (or right away for open servers). Click the confirmation email and your account on Mastodon will be successfully created! You’ll able to log in to your account by navigating to the domain for your server. For example, to sign in to the server above where I just created an account, I’ll need to go to toot.io using my web browser.

Some Tips for the Platform

To have a great time on the platform, keep these in mind.

  • Don’t treat Mastodon as an exact replica of Twitter; you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment. Mastodon is its own platform. There are plenty of pros and cons to the platform, just like any other platform.
  • Treat the platform as a place to foster connection and not engagement. Most users on Mastodon aren’t looking for you to use them as pawns to promote your business. Unlike other social media platforms, Mastodon isn’t all about numbers and engagement. In fact, most servers have a manual sign-up policy for this exact reason.
  • Always be mindful of others, but especially the content policies of your server to not get banned.

Mastodon is a great option for users looking for a social media platform that puts users’ privacy and control first. It’s easy to use and offers a lot of customizability and features. And contrary to what you might have heard, it’s extremely easy to join the platform. For users looking for an alternative to mainstream social media platforms, it’s worth checking out.

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