2017-11-16 How to Mastodon

Ever wondered what social media is for? Mastodon is a micro-blogging 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.

The advanced list has more information about status, uptime, version installed, and so on, and that might give you an idea of how conscientious the admins are.

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.

Edit your profile.

  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 unless your admin installed an extra feature.

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:

I run 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 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 favourite 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:

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 favourite folks are talking to, responding to, or boosting.

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.

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

More links:

Explaining the columns of the Mastodon user interface
Image by Adam K



Resources for Mastodon Newbies.

– Alex 2017-12-20 21:44 UTC

A brief introduction to Mastodon

– Alex 2018-01-08 18:00 UTC

How does Mastodon work

– Alex Schroeder 2018-08-19 05:58 UTC

Eine Anleitung auf Deutsch

– Alex Schroeder 2019-01-14 10:18 UTC

I used to recommend newbies check out the accounts someone they know already follows. But you know what? I don’t think I ever did that. Signal to noise is no good. Too many abandoned accounts, and the endless chore of hundreds of clicks to make – this doesn’t scale well.

Conversely, hiding your network (Settings → Preferences → Hide your network) makes perfect sense. So do that instead. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2019-03-06 21:10 UTC

I have been greatly liking the new social platform this year ❤

– jadiilelz 2019-03-16 10:44 UTC


– Alex Schroeder 2019-03-16 21:50 UTC

Think about the “delete and re-draft” feature Mastodon has (instead of being able to edit your posts)... When you do it, all the boosts and replies get disconnected. They don’t move over to your new toot. If they did, then we could just call it “edit post” but that’s exactly what some people didn’t want: if you liked a toot, or boosted a toot, they claim it would be very wrong to then change what the toot said. And since there is no way for the software to distinguish edits that fix typos (which would be OK) from edits that change the meaning of a toot (which isn’t OK) ... there we are: unhappy! 😭

Editing statuses doesn’t work for Diaspora, either. It doesn’t even work for Diaspora comments even though you cannot like or share comments. I guess they simply assumed that if people can reply to it, you shouldn’t be able to change it. You may delete it, of course, and write a new comment ... at the end, where it belongs. 🤷

– Alex Schroeder 2019-08-28 11:13 UTC

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