Things I Wish I’d Known Before Joining Mastodon

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Mastodon is a social media platform based on open standards and protocols. It offers an alternative to corporate-owned social media platforms such as Twitter (and is the closest thing to a Twitter alternative available today). The Mastodon network is called the “Fediverse”, a series of independently owned and operated servers that communicate using a common protocol (ActivityPub). Over the past few years, I’ve heard of a few social media alternatives and never paid that much attention to them. However, as the algorithms make getting my content in front of more eyeballs more frustrating, I began to seek alternatives. I landed on Mastodon and it’s been a great experience so far. There is no algorithm that chooses which content you see in your timeline! There is a bit of a learning curve, so here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that I wish I had known going into it:

People Have Different Reasons For Leaving “The Bird Site”

Many people flocked to Mastodon because they are upset with Twitter and other large social media networks (on Mastodon, Twitter is frequently referred to as “The Bird Site” or #birdsite). This is a consistent theme on Mastodon, it’s not overbearing, but be prepared to consume some content that pokes fun at Twitter and complains about Twitter policies and practices. Personally, I am still using Twitter as well, but I like that we have some more choices today.

Mastodon Users Come In Waves

Mastodon is gaining in popularity. At the time of this writing, I have seen several posts from Mastodon administrators stating that server loads are increasing and users are being added at a higher rate than normal. I’ve also noticed an uptick in subscribers to my account (I am on the  infosec.exchange server as infosec.exchange@paulasadoorian. Increased numbers of Mastodon users seem to coincide with controversy involving Twitter. Recently Twitter has removed select journalists from the platform (but now appears that they have been added back) and revised a policy that deals with the mentioning of other social media sites (but then has since removed references to the updated policy).

Choose Your Server Wisely

You can choose from a selection of Mastodon servers. Each server is maintained by a person, or group of people, that are responsible for the maintenance and the rules. This means sometimes a server will go down. This also means that the creators and maintainers of a server can set the rules for that instance. Be certain to get familiar with the rules of the server you’ve chosen to join. Two popular servers for information security folks are https://infosec.exchange/ and https://defcon.social/. The popularity of these servers is growing exponentially, as Jerry Bell points out in a recent “Toot”: “Infosec.exchange crossed 40000 accounts a few minutes ago.  7 weeks ago, we had ~180 active accounts.” (And yes, a “Toot” is like a Tweet, even though the button now says “Publish”).

Don’t worry, you can move around (most of the time)! If you’d like to move to a different server you can do just that. Your followers will essentially get a re-direct and all of your data will move with you. However, there are cases where moving may not be possible (such as the server administrator has suspended your account). It is wise to choose your server carefully (or create your own) and fully read and understand the server’s policies before joining.

Verified Means Something Different

Verification works differently. To become “Verified” you simply have to own a website and put a snippet of code on the website you own that points back to your profile. This gives some level of assurance that you are who you say you are.

You May Not Find All The Features You Expect

Here are a few ways that Mastodon is different from other social media experiences:

  • There are two different timelines: one for your local server and one from other servers in the fediverse.
  • The designers of Mastodon left out the ability to quote a post and comment on it. On Twitter we call this “quote tweet”. They felt this feature breeds too much negativity.
  • You can censor your images, allowing a user to decloak the image before they see it, allowing some self-censoring to take place.
  • Liking a post does not impact its popularity. If you “boost” a post, it’s the same thing as a “Retweet”.
  • You can Direct Message (DM) users on Mastodon, but keep in mind anyone could be added to the conversation at any time, so don’t assume privacy.
  • You can use tools such as https://fedfinder.glitch.me/ to find the fediverse handles of people you follow on Twitter and easily add them on Mastodon,

Conclusion

Will Mastodon replace Twitter? I believe that remains to be seen. However, each time Twitter changes a policy or does anything to upset users, people seem motivated to start learning Mastodon and create accounts. I believe this trend will continue and we’ll see a slow migration coupled with spikes in new accounts. I and other Mastodon users have noticed that engagement can be pretty high on Mastodon, e.g. if I post the same content to all my social media accounts, Mastodon has the highest engagement. It’s certainly something to try over the holiday break even if you think “I can’t handle another social media platform”. On the whole, I really love the Mastodon community thus far!

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