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Getting Started With Mastodon: Some Tips and Knowledge

Remember last week when I said that the following week my article would be about splinternets? Well, apparently this week I am preempting myself with another Mastodon article.

In our last episode I showed you some behind the scenes of what it looked like to set Mastodon up. Now that I’ve gotten to play with it a bit, I’ve got some steps for you to settle in, look around, and find some people to follow. And I have to tell you: the more I play with this the more excited I get. I hope you’ll give Mastodon a shot. (At this writing, I still have some invites to https://researchbuzz.masto.host if you want to join. If you don’t want to hang out there, you can check out a list of Mastodon Instances at https://instances.social/list#lang=&allowed=&prohibited=&users= .)

This works best if you’re already on a Mastodon Instance and want to follow along. You might find yourself shifting from “What’s the point of a new social media network?” to “Hey, this is kind of interesting!”

(PS — I am still learning Mastodon. If you are an aficionado and you see here I got something wrong, please let me know.)

Know Your Address

This is going to sound really basic, but the addresses for Mastodon work a little differently from something like Twitter. On Twitter I’m @ResearchBuzz and that’s it, but that’s because Twitter is not decentralized. Everybody’s in one place.

On the other hand, Mastodon is decentralized and people have accounts at all kinds of different Mastodon Instances. Therefore your user name has to have both your name and the location of the Instance. It looks like this:


For example, here’s my address at my Mastodon Instance:


If you were trying to contact me while at researchbuzz.masto.host, you could just use @ResearchBuzz. But if you were on another Mastodon Instance and wanted to send me a heads-up, you’d have to use the entire address so the “toot” (Mastodon posts are called toots, like Twitter’s are called tweets, and I’m not really here for the cutesy-wootsy, so bear with me) could be directed to the correct Instance.

A slight variant of this address is also your profile page on a Mastodon Instance. The structure looks like this:


If you want to see what my profile page looks like, you’d go to http://researchbuzz.masto.host/@researchbuzz.

screenshot from 2018 04 03 19 28 43

(To forestall the e-mails: that is not me in the picture. That is my grandmother, looking at the eclipse last year.)

You’ll see that my “toots” are public, as would be any media I share. Remember that decentralized does not mean private or even obscure.

Now you know what your Mastodon address looks like. Using that address, you can connect to other people on other Mastodon instances and follow them from YOUR Mastodon instance. You do that with the Federated Timeline.

Accessing the Federated Timeline

This was the hardest part of Mastodon for me to wrap my head around initially; the idea that I can connect to other people in other Instances instead of, say, following an entire Instance. I’ll show you how to do that but first you need to know about the Federated Timeline.

When you sign in to your Instance you see this as the first column in a TweetDeck-like interface:

screenshot from 2018 04 03 19 44 28

At the top is a little menu bar with icons. I have outlined the globe icon in yellow. Click that to get to your Federated Timeline.

The Federated Timeline is the timeline that has the “toots” of the people you follow in your local Mastodon Instance but also the people you follow in other Mastodon Instances. Here’s what mine looks like right now:

screenshot from 2018 04 03 19 44 50

You see how that second “toot” lists johnesimpson’s Mastodon handle but nothing else? That’s because he’s a local user on the ResearchBuzz Mastodon Instance. Underneath his post, though, you see a post from @ada_33@noagendasocial.com . That’s a different Mastodon Instance. I don’t follow the user in the screenshot, but I DO follow Adam Curry, and he “boosted” (the Mastodon equivalent of retweeted) these posts in my Federated Timeline.

Mastodon is getting more popular but is not in the same universe of popularity as networks like Facebook or Twitter. So while you can follow people like this, how do you discover people to follow?

If you have a Twitter account, it’s easy.

Use the Bridge, Luke

Mastodon’s Web site has a feature called Mastodon Bridge. It’s available at https://bridge.joinmastodon.org/.

screenshot from 2018 04 03 20 17 17

Connect your Twitter account and you’ll get a list of the people you follow on Twitter who are also on Mastodon.

screenshot from 2018 04 03 20 27 37

Click on one of those people and hey, you’ll get their profile page for their Mastodon Instance.

screenshot from 2018 04 03 20 20 11

If you want to follow them, click the Remote Follow link in the upper corner of the profile picture (this could be a little easier to see.) You’ll get prompted to enter your full Mastodon address:

screenshot from 2018 04 03 20 20 47

(I went from Lili Saintcrow to Andy Baio because I forgot to do a screenshot when I was following Lili.)

Once you enter your address and click Proceed to Follow, you’ll get a confirmation.

screenshot from 2018 04 03 20 21 30

And you’re now following a remote user on your own Mastodon Instance! (Though it doesn’t appear that Mastodon retroactively adds recent posts to your Federated Timeline, so if nothing shows up immediately don’t be surprised.)

Maybe you don’t use Twitter or none of the people you follow use Mastodon? That’s okay; I have another option for you.

Check Out the Hashtags

Mastodon.social has hashtags at https://mastodon.social/tags/ ; just append the tag you want to search to the end of that URL. Here’s what https://mastodon.social/tags/socialmedia  looks like:

screenshot from 2018 04 03 20 59 48

If you see a post that looks interesting, you can click on the user name and get their profile and post information, just as you could when using the Twitter bridge feature.

screenshot from 2018 04 03 21 00 00

Because Mastodon is not nearly as busy as Twitter, you might find you have to do some experimenting with your hashtags to pull up interesting users. But I promise if you just do a little  experimenting you’ll find some!

There’s a Lot to Explore

The more I’ve been working with Mastodon the more excited I’ve gotten by the possibilities. But it does take more work than you might be used to to make Mastodon useful. I’m going to keep exploring and possibly work some on integrating Mastodon and IFTTT, or do auto-posting to Mastodon from Twitter or my RSS feed. I hope you’ll join me!

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