What is Mastodon, social network users are leaving Twitter for? All you need to know

Interest in the open source social media platform known as Mastodon rose again As users search for an alternative to Twitter, if Elon Musk’s takeover means the end of this site as we know it.

If you’ve been fleeing a sinking Twitter ship in search of a potential Mastodon life raft — or wondering if you want to — here’s what you need to know.

Welcome to Fediverse

The first thing to keep in mind is that Mastodon is what is known as the “unified” network, which is a collection of thousands of social networks that run on servers around the world linked to the popular Mastodon technology, on a platform known as “Fediverse”.

You sign up for a specific server, which is run by everyone who set it up, and volunteers usually do it out of their own pocket or take donations through Patreon. They will have their own rules and policies, for example, who can join and how strict the conversation is.

You can even start your own server if you want to set the rules yourself. Other than that, there is a list of servers that focus on specific sites or topics of interest. All servers on that list have signed the “Mastodon Charter” which promises “active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia”.

Whatever Mastodon server(s) you have registered with, however, you can follow users on a different server without any problem.

Oh, and since this is a volunteer-run system, there are no paid ads in your feed.

Usernames are different

Once you choose a username and set up your account with a header and profile picture, you can get started. Unlike Twitter, your username will be @[username]@[the Mastodon instance you signed up to]. For example, it could be @MuskyElon @aus.social. Think of it as an email address – the first part is your chosen ID, and the second part is the organization that takes care of your inbox.

There are apps on iOS and Android that allow you to log into your Mastodon account(s).

Finding Twitter users is a chore

If you want to track down all the people you follow on Twitter on Mastodon, unfortunately there is no easy way to do it.

You can start looking for people you know, or head back to Twitter and see if they’ve announced their move. Services like Twitodon allow you to log in with your Twitter and Mastodon account and scan to find users you follow. But it will only be able to find users who have also used Twitodon.

Once you follow some of the people you’ve found from Twitter, you can browse their lists to find others you may know.

Posting is similar but different

For a start, you may have to get used to your posts’ labels as “toots” instead of “tweets”.

On the plus side, you’ll have nearly twice as many characters (500) to write a post, and extra features like spoiler warnings for text and images.

You’ll have more control over who can see your post, from being discoverable via the server, to just the people you mentioned in the post – similar to a direct message.

Hashtags work similar to Twitter on trending topics, and you can share someone else’s post with your followers by boosting them – which works in the same way as retweets. But there is no such thing as a “tut quote”.

Verification is easy and free

There has been a lot of drama on Twitter about Musk’s move to ask people to pay for verification, while at the same time not actually verifying their identity. Mastodon has a verification system available to everyone who has their website.

If you link to a website that you control your profile, it can identify you as the owner of that website, giving followers some justification to trust yourself as you claim.

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