# 2017-11-16 How to Mastodon

Ever wondered what social media is for? Mastodon is a microblogging platform, like Twitter. What you do is post microscopic blog posts: little text messages, possibly containing links to more text and maybe some images for you to look at. And you “follow” other people in order to read their little messages. It’s quick, it’s not a lot of work, the river of news just flows past and you dip in and out as you please. But how do you get started?

Here’s what you do:

Pick an instance. An instance is your server. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google+, everybody is on the same instance and thus the same rules apply to everybody. Mastodon instances are like the other websites, everybody has their own site and makes their own rules. Thus, you want to pick an instance where the admins share your opinions on free speech and its limits. The Instance Directory has a wizard that helps you choose.

Every instance has a local timeline. If you visit an instance without having an account, you’ll see a preview of their local timeline (”A look inside...”). It’s a good idea to pick an instance with a topic that you are also interested in. Tabletop games, science fiction, cyberpunk, cooperatives, heavy metal, programming, art—perhaps there is an instance for you. There, you’ll quickly find like minded people to follow.

Then again, once you have a bunch of people to follow, the local timeline decreases in importance. Still, it’s nice to have an account on an instance that matches your interests.

How do you know what an instance is about? You can skip the instance directory wizard and check out the list of instances directly. Each instance has a little blurb that might help you choose.

Create an account. This is easy: email address, password, confirmation email, perhaps install an app for your phone and all that. You know how this works.

1. Pick a display name.
2. Write a short bio using hashtags.
3. Upload a profile picture (”Avatar”).

Hashtags are important so that similar minded people can find each other. Mastodon only supports searching for usernames and hashtags!

Write an introduction. Write a post (a “toot”) and use the hashtag #introduction. Say who you are and what you’re interested in, and use more hashtags. Here’s my introduction for the dice.camp instance, for example:

#introduction I run #osr games using my own hose rule document but it all started with Labyrinth Lord which I knew long before I knew B/X. Sadly, my Indie Game Night is no longer a thing but I still love Lady Blackbird, all the #pbta hacks on my drive, and so much more. But in the three campaigns I run, it’s all OSR right now.

Post this introduction, then use the dot menu (⋯) to “Pin to profile”. Your introduction will now be the first thing people see when they visit your profile. Here’s my profile. After a while you are of course free to pin a different post to your profile. I recommend you start with your introduction, however.

Start interacting. Click on the icon with the little group of people on it and start reading the local timeline. If you like something, make it a favorite by clicking on the star (☆). If you have something to say, reply by clicking on the arrow (↰). If you want to spread something, boost it by clicking the two arrows (🗘).

Be aware of how these three actions come across:

• Marking something as a favorite does not start a conversation. People will smile and nod and read something else. Some people like to use this as a friendly conversation end: I like what you said and have nothing more to add. Others like to use this as a bookmark. How you use it is up to you.
• A reply is cool. If you want interact with people, this is important. Write something and avoid the temptation to just mark something as a favorite. I recommend clicking on a toot you’re going to reply to and checking the existing answers (scroll to the bottom in the third column). You don’t want to repeat something other people have already said, right?
• A boost is nice for artists and creators, but be aware that Mastodon doesn’t deduplicate boosts. That is, if somebody is following a bunch of people and four of them boost a toot, then they will see the boosted toot four times in their timeline. Consider not boosting a toot that you have seen a few times in your timeline already. Also know that a boost ads no personal touch. People will follow you if they can get a sense of the real you, and that requires posting your own toots.

Follow people. Click on the profile pictures of the people you might want to follow and check whether you like what they have recently written. If you do, follow them by clicking on the person plus (👤➕). If you changed your mind, click on the person cancellation (👤🗙).

If you followed a person and the icon turned into an hourglass (⌛) this means that they protected their account and have to authorize you. Be patient.

How do you find more interesting people to follow? Look to see who your favorite folks are following. You can find them via the profiles of the people you are following. If you’re on Dice Camp, for example, you can visit my profile and check out my follows. You’ll get a neat list of 100 people or more and you can just click on that follow button (👤➕). An even more aggressive strategy would be to look at the list of people following the administrator (no. 1), since new accounts will automatically follow no. 1. Thus, it’s a list of nearly everybody.

Keep following people: You need to keep finding more people to follow in an interest based network since people will be dropping out all the time. Your relatives and friends from school don’t disappear as quickly on Facebook, nor do journalists and news outlets disappear on Twitter, but in the more interesting and interest-based communities, that’s simply how it is. You need to replenish the pool and keep finding and following more people. They’re everywhere.

If you are confused by toots, remember that clicking on one gives you all the ancestors (the chain of replies from the original posting to the toot your looking at) and all the descendants (all the replies to the toot you are looking at). Note that if you want to see all the replies to the original toot, you now have to scroll all the way to the top and click on the first toot.

Multiple accounts, do you need this? Some people have multiple accounts. I do. I like to keep my gaming separate from everything else. There’s one account for gaming and history, and there’s another account for programming, politics, environmentalism, social media, photography, and everything else. That’s because I think that the overlap between these two big subject areas is small. Mastodon has no way of sorting your followers into groups, no way of sending a messages to a certain group, no way of reading messages from a certain group. The solution is to create a separate account for each subject area.

Many people think this is unnecessary and they are interested in the whole picture of people they are following.

Keyboard shortcuts. No worries. You don’t need to know about these. Some people like to use them, however. And since it took me a while to discover them, here’s a list.

• r to reply
• m to mention author
• f to favourite
• b to boost
• enter to open status
• up to move up in the list
• down to move down in the list
• 1-9 to focus a status in one of the columns
• n to focus the compose textarea
• alt+n to start a brand new toot
• backspace to navigate back
• s to focus search
• esc to un-focus compose textarea/search
• ? to display this legend

And there’s an undocumented keyboard shortcut ｢g｣ to go to places:

• g b goes to blocked users
• g f goes to your favourites
• g h goes home (shows twice)
• g l goes to the local timeline
• g m goes to muted users
• g n goes to notificattions
• g o opens the current toot
• g p goes to pinned toots
• g r opens a reply
• g s goes to getting started
• g t to your federated timeline
• g u goes to your profile

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– Alex 2017-12-20 21:44 UTC

A brief introduction to Mastodon

– Alex 2018-01-08 18:00 UTC

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