Setting Up Mastodon, a Decentralized Social Network

It’s been almost a week since I wrote my last article about detangling myself from Facebook, and the news about that network is not getting any better. It’s piling up, too; now we’re finding out that Facebook was gathering contact and call details from Android phones. I think this is going to take more than some full-page newspaper ads to fix.  In the meantime, it got me thinking more about decentralized social networks, particularly Mastodon.

Now as I’ve mentioned probably to the point of driving you nuts, RB is not my primary source of income; I have a day job. Because of that I am reluctant to install things on my own server and host them. I simply do not have the time to make sure that software packages and platforms are secure and bug-free. So I found a host for Mastdon Instances (shout to ) and ponied up for the Niche subscription.

I did this for two reasons: the first is because I wanted to explore Mastodon and see how much I could set it up as a friendly, useful community. The second was because I wanted to have a place for readers to explore Mastodon as a social media option. I expect as more things are legislated and more governments create their own social media network (Next week’s article is going to be about splinternets unless it gets hijacked again) we’re going to see more decentralized social networks as an option.

Let’s take a look at the user interface, then go behind the scenes as I set up this instance.

Setting Up My Profile

Once you log in to Mastodon, you’ll see a settings icon at the top of the page. When you click on it you’ll get settings that look familiar:

screenshot from 2018 03 27 17 20 09

None of this is going to  look that odd to you if you’ve used any kind of social network (of course the Administration option is not going to show up on your settings page, at least not for my Mastodon instance) but please check out the Security and Two-factor Auth settings. Mastodon makes it easy both to set up two-factor and to see what devices are currently logged in to your Mastodon account.

Okay, I’ve got my user name and my bio and my avatar and my header and all that happy stuff set up. Now let’s dig in to the Admin.

Setting Up Mastodon As an Admin

The Admin setup looks a lot like the user preferences setup, except you’re setting up things that apply to the whole site, like the rules, name of the site, and contact details for the admin.

screenshot from 2018 03 28 07 09 13

A little further down in the preferences you have the option to make the registration open or closed. The invites were a little confusing. More about that in a minute.

screenshot from 2018 03 28 07 09 37

There are also settings for WebSub (which looks like a data protocol) Sidekiq (which looks like process information; this kind of thing is the reason I’m not self-hosting and I don’t think I’ll be spending much time here) and PgHero (Which is apparently a performance dashboard for Postgres; has made this unaccessible and I’m fine with that.)

Sending Out Invites

I had several people express interest in trying Mastodon out so I had to send out invites. Those are under the Moderation settings, which is just above Administration.

screenshot from 2018 03 28 07 57 33

I also really really really like the user page, which gives you a simple one-page overview of the users with controls for managing them. (And please forgive me if this is all standard and I’m oohing and aahing for no reason; I haven’t been a sysop in many many years.)

screenshot from 2018 03 28 08 05 00

This is a lot less hassle than I expected it to be. Even hosted WordPress has a ton of little stuff you have to set up before you can launch a site. I suppose it’s because there’s not a lot of design flexibility with Mastodon; it is what it is.

Would you like to play with Mastodon? Send me your e-mail address (researchbuzz at or use the contact form on this site) and I’ll send you an invite. Not too much there yet but you can look around and mess around with the interface.

And just as a reminder: I am using a hosting service for this. I can guarantee my behavior, but I cannot unfortunately guarantee the behavior of the host. Not that I think he’s nefarious or anything – he seems like a perfect competent and decent person – but don’t assume your privacy on this service is completely certain.

I’m not thrilled that the Internet ecosystem has gotten to the point that Facebook has caused so much damage. On the other hand, I’m glad that solutions like this are coming. Between this, the increased legislation threats to social media, and governments creating their own sites, it may be that this was an era – the era of centralized social networks. And it might be that the era is ending.

Categories: News, Rants

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1 reply »

  1. One thing I would like to know, are there any open Instances? By that I mean where you can look around to see what it’s like. Almost every user forum I’ve been to gives you the opportunity to look around, read almost all threads and so on. It’s only if you want to post yourself that you need to register.

    I didn’t see any examples at the Mastodon site so I googled a bit and found some random ones. Didn’t give much insight. Could only see what one person posted and not any responses.

    And what about image hosting and stuff like that? I think they could probably to a better job of presenting the concept (which I do find very interesting).

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