10 quick Mastodon tips

10 quick Mastodon tips

There has recently been a huge rush of people trying out Mastodon. This is also noticeable in the number of people reading my earlier Mastodon Guide. I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a brief list of usage tips that I wish I had at hand when first setting up my Mastodon home.

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This is for people who now have Mastodon accounts and have poked around a bit, but are still a bit confused about the whole experience.
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I've now created a page with 10 instances to choose from, for people who haven't yet created an account and are feeling overwhelmed by the many options.

1) Good apps

Metatext or Toot! on iOS and Tusky on Android are oft-recommended apps. One progressive web app (PWA) I've also enjoyed is Pinafore.

Remember it's possible to just use the web interface. You can save the web address of your home instance as a shortcut on your phone. I myself prefer this because it maintains all the features that some apps forget to implement (like setting the language of your toot). It also helps me avoid notifications on my phone.

No account yet? For creating an account, start in a web browser first, before downloading an app. Also, beware of some apps renaming features to something that is unique for that app.

Yes there are "official" apps by the lead Mastodon developers but I rarely see them recommended.

2) Understand the concept of "instance"

You can think of instance as the web address at the end of someone's user name. This is where they signed up and this is where their version of Mastodon is hosted. Examples of instances: mastodon.lol, floss.social, qoto.org, scholar.social

So yes, even if we are all on Mastodon, there are many different "islands" that people call "home".

An instance can be set up for a single person or host tens of thousands of people. When people ask "Are you on Mastodon?", an affirmative answer could mean many different things. Perhaps more relevant is "What instance of Mastodon are you on?"

Instance is sometimes also just called "server".

Note: While members on all instances potentially have the ability to talk to members on all other instances, each instance can choose to block or limit interaction with others. This is up to each instance to decide, and is often in the hands of the admin.

Illustration of a network of instances, symbolized by colorful circles and lines drawn between them.
Mastodon instances come in many shapes and sizes, all with more or less clear community guidelines and rules and sign-up constraints.Together they form a part of what is known as the Fediverse (federated social media).

3) Why you (sometimes) can't see someone's full profile

Before an account on another instance is followed by yourself or someone else on your instance very little is shown about it. Think of the account as not having been "fetched" yet, and hence it is unknown to your instance.

In those cases you need to visit people’s web profiles on their own instance to see follows/followers and older posts.

There is usually a link to someone's profile you can click, but for reference the syntax looks like this:

https://instance.address/@username

To follow these "unfetched" accounts, the easiest way is to copy and paste the web address of their profile into the search box in your own home instance, and then click follow in the search result. Now other people on your instance will see that person in the Federated timeline as well.

You can also enter the username in the search box, here is an example of what mine looks like:

@axbom@social.xbm.se

4) Timelines and lists

There are three timelines and you can make your own lists.

  • Home = the people you follow show up here, and since version 4 of Mastodon you can follow hashtags that show up here
  • Local = everyone on your instance show up here
  • Federated = everyone on your instance plus everyone on other instances followed by someone on your instance. The bigger the instance, the higher the potential for “noise” in this timeline.

The visibility of a toot

If you follow someone, their toot ends up in your Home timelines. If you don't follow but they are on your home instance, you will their toots in your Local timeline. If you do not follow and they are not on your instance, but someone on your instance follows them or searches for their toot, they will show up in your federated timeline.
Diagram explaining with boxes and arrows how the visibility of a toot is determined. Based on specific variables, it will be determined if a toot is visible in the home, local or federated timeline - or not at all. The diagram is a remix and next iteration of the diagram posted here by Cas.
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To whom it may concern: Please stop grabbing and cropping out the sources of this diagram and sharing it without attribution. Link back here. The content will update from time to time and people will be more helped by knowing the source.

You can link directly to the flowchart like this: https://axbom.com/mastodon-tips/#flowchart

If you add people to lists then you might say those are additional "timelines" you can look at. Since I follow people in other timezones I for example have a few of those people in a list. This saves me scrolling back in the public timelines to find their toots. Remember, it's all chronological.

If you're curious, yes I made another flowchart for the visibility of a tweet.

5) Controlled posting and post privacy

  • Use Content Warning (CW) on posts that can be emotionally taxing or triggering.
  • When you select "Followers Only" your toot will only be visible to followers.
  • When you select "Unlisted" your toot will be seen by followers and will be visible on your profile, it just won't appear in the timelines. This is great for example when you are replying and you don't necessarily want followers to be bothered with your reply in their timeline.
  • Want to send a private message? Also known as DM on other platforms. Select the option "Mentioned people only". Only the people you mention in the toot will be able to see it. Toots are not end-to-end encrypted so don't share sensitive information.

6) Moving to another instance

You can move to another instance and keep your followers. Your posts, however, will not carry over to the new account. Also, you can only move if your "old" account still exists.

Use export/import and redirect or move to notify followers.

Moving your account is the same as redirecting your account, but it will also irreversibly force everyone to unfollow your current account and follow your new account, if their software supports the Move activity.

7) Unfollow generously

On Mastodon unfollows make sense because attention to wellbeing is often front and center. Make sure you unfollow if you're not finding value, being overwhelmed or in other ways finding content difficult to process. And yes it's okay to follow and unfollow in the same day.

Conversely, do not take offense when being unfollowed. Appreciate people for doing what makes them feel better.

8) There is no algorithm

Don't like posts to "feed" the algorithm. There is no algorithm at work to give you quick rewards and emotional peaks. Likes have absolutely no effect beyond bookmarking them for yourself and sending a notification to the owner of the toot. It does not make them more visible.

If you want your followers to see a toot, boost it.

9) Consider accessibility

Content warnings (CWs) are a part of accessibility. By putting CWs on your toots you are helping people avoid content that negatively impact their wellbeing.

Another aspect is images. Make sure you add alternative text (Alt-text) for any images you post, to help people with impaired vision enjoy the timelines as well.

For a guide on how to think when describing images I recommend this article by Daniel Göransson:

Alt-texts: The Ultimate Guide | Axess Lab
This post contains everything you need to know about alt-texts! When to use them and how to perfectly craft them. By me, Daniel, a web…

The third aspect of accessibility is language. If you post in more than one language, like me, you will want to set the language of your toot. This helps screen readers get the language right. And it also makes it possible for people who can not read that language to remove those toots from their timelines if they want.

You can set the language in the web interface (I haven't seen it yet in the apps I've used).

And finally: hashtags.

It's helpful if you write hashtags in what is called camel case. This means that each new word should be capitalized. So instead of #digitalethics you would write #DigitalEthics. It would also work to write #digitalEthics.

The point is to make it easier to discern different words in hashtags for anyone using screen readers or struggling to read.

10) Mastodon is not a replacement

Mastodon doesn’t replace “something else” (most significantly the birdsite). It is something else. You are in control to make of it what you want. Don’t be in a rush. Take deep breaths and enjoy how the pace is different.

And maybe, just maybe, some of that friction you're experiencing is actually worth it. 😊


Bonus 1: Verify your account

If you have a personal blog or other independent web presence you can (1) add a link to your Mastodon profile from that website and then (2) add that link to your web profile. That link will appear as verified on your profile, indicating you are the actual owner of that web space.

The thing to keep in mind is that the "backlink" you add on your website must include the rel="me" parameter. So it will have to look something like this in the HTML code:

<a href="https://social.xbm.se/@axbom" rel="me">Follow me on Mastodon</a>

If you do not want the link visible on the page you can instead choose to add the link via a link tag in the header, inside the <head> section, like this:

<link href="https://social.xbm.se/@axbom" rel="me">

Best of all? Anyone can do this and there is no monthly charge. 😉 If you don't already have a website I can recommend carrd.co (affiliate link) for publishing a simple one-page business card website for yourself. Note: To add the linkback here you need the Pro account, which is $19/year (add via HTML widget).

If you do sign up for carrd and want to say thanks for this article, you can use the link above or the referral code M3PDWFZ8 and I will get small kickback. I only recommend carrd because I've myself found it to be one of the most affordable and painless landing page hosts.

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Troubleshooting: Mastodon will only check for the backlink when you save your profile, so you may have to go to your profile, make a change and save your profile again to complete the verification.

Bonus 2: Advanced web interface

If you want to get started on the advanced web interface, using personalized columns, this video should get you going. It shows how to add a column for a hashtag search. Note: the hashtag has to exist on your server/instance for you to be able to add it.

Bonus 3: Helper for making threads

I built this tool for when you want to plan out longer threads of content beforehand. It counts the number of characters in each consecutive textbox. It can really be used for any social media platform.

Bonus 4: Find Twitter friends

These are the main tools people are using to find the Mastodon/Fediverse handles of their Twitter friends. The first two are similar, they search for Mastodon handles in profiles (with false positives). The third one lets you specify an account. Repeat visits are encouraged to see if more people have added their handles.

I am not affiliated with these and do not know the creators. Use at your own risk (data scraping is always possible). Always revoke access after giving access to a tool you don't plan on using again soon.

  1. Debirdifier
  2. Fedifinder
  3. Twitodon

Follow

Interested in following me on Mastodon? The most straightforward method is to copy and paste my username into the search box on your home instance/server, or in the app you're using:

@axbom@social.xbm.se


Further reading

More of my own and others' posts on Mastodon, social media migration and indieweb.

A Brief Mastodon Guide for Social Media Worriers
Tips and advice for getting started with Mastodon. Especially if you’re used to Twitter.
4 Twitter features Mastodon is better for not having
When less is more for healthy conversations
Good explanation of why Mastodon does not have a "quote-tweet" feature
How to Leave Dying Social Media Platforms
(without ditching your friends)
[PDF] Moving Across Lands: Online Platform Migration in Fandom Communities | Semantic Scholar
This work examines transformative fandom, a longstanding, technology-agnostic community surrounding the creation, sharing, and discussion of creative works based on existing media, to explore the causes and effects of online community migration. When online platforms rise and fall, sometimes communi…
Bye, bye algorithm
Saying goodbye to Twitter, LinkedIn et al.
Indieweb and self-hosting my own space
As I’m moving all my online assets to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) I wanted to share my current setup. I also want to emphasise that I’ve been able to set this all up with decent technical knowledge and an understanding of how the internet works, but far from adept
Why I left algorithm-based social media and what happened next
This is a blog adaptation of a recent 15-minute talk I was asked to do at an Ambition Empower event. Having noticed that I am no longer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn people are naturally curious as to my reasoning and how this works for a small business owner.

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