While not everyone was willing to bet on a certain date, much of the Very Online community has been waiting for Twitter to experience some kind of big-enough, ridiculous-enough catastrophe that the user base would be permanently fractured. Ever since Elon Musk took over Twitter in October 2022, the company has been making incomprehensible decisions, refusing in many cases to pay its bills, and enduring as its CEO a man who would surely be facing greater consequences from his behavior were it not for the protective buffer of ridiculous wealth.
Unfortunately for Mr. Musk, the consequences of unpredictable behavior eventually become predictable; after firing over 80% of the company’s personnel , Twitter has been sputtering. Over the weekend Elon Musk suddenly made the decision to start limiting the number of tweets users could read; this followed Twitter’s decision to limit view-ability of its content to logged-in users. There’s a lot of debate over why Twitter and Elon Musk are both currently behaving as they are (I am inclined to believe Andy Baio’s assessment) but the upshot is this: Twitter is no longer reliable. Spam bots are worse than ever. Entire countries have been questioning the increase of hate on the platform. And users are leaving in droves. Where does that leave you, person who wants the news and the community but does not want the hate or the drama? You do have options. You have LOTS of options considering all the apps and networks that have popped up, but in this article I’m going to talk about Mastodon.
Mastodon is a decentralized network made up of individual servers, not a single server at the mercy of being ruined by inexplicable acts/actors. Some people think that because Mastodon is decentralized, it’s too complicated for the average user. I don’t think that’s the case. There are lots of ways Mastodon could be made friendlier, to be sure, but there are lots of people working on that, including me. (More on that later.)
In this article I’m going to highlight some resources I think you should know about and introduce you to several Mastodon tools I’ve made (including four I produced this weekend because apparently Twitter falling apart is good for my creativity.) If you’d like to follow me on Mastodon, I’m firstname.lastname@example.org.
For an in-depth, all-round walkthrough on how to use Mastodon, I still think Danielle Navarro’s primer, Everything I know about Mastodon, is your best bet. This will tell you everything you need to get started.
If you don’t have time to read that and want more of a “just the facts” primer, check out Clive Thompson’s Come Join Me on Mastodon, Folks .
On the other hand, if you’re the type who likes their guides with lots of asides and interesting-but-not-immediately-useful background and some silliness, I heartily recommend Skulls in the Stars’ An intro to Mastodon from a relative newcomer!
Finding People to Follow
There is a big, active project called Academics on Mastodon which aggregates lists of Mastodon user names by academic community (using Google Sheets, mostly.) The lists range from African Studies to Theologidons, but there are also sections for academic groups (formal network structures on Mastodon),
There’s a tool called Fedifinder that was designed to find those in your Twitter community who had moved to Mastodon. I would have expected with Twitter’s changes that this tool would no longer work, but as of this writing (July 3) it apparently does. I used it last November, and it helped me a lot finding my Twitter people on Mastodon.
Fedified has a tool called Discover Mastodon, which describes itself as “A dynamic collection of engaging Mastodon accounts, organized by topic area.” When I wrote about Fedified last fall, I noted “Fedified is a project managing a spreadsheet of 207 (at this writing) Mastodon accounts of Twitter verified users,” so I suspect this listing is being vetted in some way. I did notice several names that were instantly familiar if you’re a big Twitter user: Neil Gaiman, Jessamyn West, Ed Bott. There are lots of people listed here but I wasn’t super impressed by the diversity.
Fedi.Directory is a human-curated, searchable subject index of Mastodon accounts. Want to find people who talk about Commodore 64, or art history, or solarpunk? This is where you can get really specific.
If you’ve followed ResearchBuzz for a while, you know I created a couple of Mastodon resource lists last November. Between the two of them, the lists contain over 80 different resources related to Mastodon. I haven’t checked the links since I wrote it so I don’t know if they all work, but I suspect that enough of them do that it’s worth a browse. Here is part I and here is part II.
Mastodon URL Helper — Mastodon’s username format can be confusing to the new user. Enter your Mastodon user name and MUH breaks it down for you, showing you your user name, your instance name, your home page, and how you can get RSS feeds of your content.
MastoTrends — Want to see popular links that are flying around Mastodon? Just open this page. It grabs some random large servers via the Instances.Social API, looks at their popular link lists, and filters them for duplicates. All you have to do is browse.
MastoWindow — Mastodon is very hashtag-friendly. MastoWindow lets you search for Mastodon instances and and explore their hashtag content.
MastoWindow v2 — Browsing hashtags one instance at a time is great, but sometimes you want to do a wider search. MastoWindow v2 searches for hashtags across a number of Mastodon instances (over 80 at this writing.)
RSStodon v2 — I’m not going to include the first version of RSStodon here, because it stunk. But that’s why I made version 2. Enter the language code of your choice and a hashtag, and RSStodon will create RSS feeds for that hashtag from the top 10 Mastodon instances in your language of choice (as listed on Instances.Social.) Not only that, the feeds are bundled into an OPML file that you can download and import to your favorite RSS feed reader.
Mastodon Web Search — You can’t search across all of Mastodon’s instances at once because it’s decentralized, but what if you tried it using Google? MWS looks up Mastodon instances via the Instances.Social API and bundles them into a Google search with the site: syntax.