Your Guide to Mastodon: What It Is and How It's Different From Twitter

Your Guide to Mastodon: What It Is and How It’s Different From Twitter

Twitter has been pretty chaotic since Elon Musk took over as CEO – roughly half of the staff have been laid off late October, and new features such as gray checkmarks for trusted sources were released just to be took the site down later the same day. Musk also has fought with founder Jack Dorsey and threatened companies pulling ads from Twitter with a “thermonuclear name and shame.”

Since Musk’s Official Purchase from Twitter closed on October 28 for 44 billion dollars, many users decided to leave the site. Bot Sentinel, an organization that tracks the behavior of Twitter accounts, estimates that nearly 900,000 Twitter accounts were disabled between October 27 and November 1, according to MIT Technology Review.

Some of those who leave Twitter move on to Mastodon, a decentralized social network based on open source software. Mastodon’s “federated network” has seen a noticeable increase – on November 6, Eugen Rochko, the creator of Mastodon, said that the service had gained 489,003 new users since October 27 and now has more than one million active users. However, that’s still only a tiny fraction of Twitter’s 238 million.

Read on to see how Mastodon works, how to sign up, and how it compares to Twitter. To learn more, see how to delete your twitter accountand get the latest information on Twitter verification badge plans.

What is Mastodon and how is it different from Twitter?

Mastodon is a free social media service that works much like Twitter. You can post toots (instead of tweets), follow other people and organizations, and favorite (like) and boost (retweet) other people’s posts.

Mastodon was created and originally launched in October 2016 by Eugen Rochko, CEO and sole employee of non-profit organization Mastodon gGmbH. In May, Rochko explained the service’s oddly named substitute for “tweeting.” He says the original button was called “publish,” but a committed supporter has pledged lifetime support of the Mastodon Patreon account if he changes it to “toot.” (On iOS and Android apps it says “publish”.)

In an interview with Time Magazine, Rochko said he started developing Mastodon when he realized that “being able to express myself online with my friends through short messages was actually really important to me. , also important to the world, and that maybe it shouldn’t be in the hands of just one company that can do with it what it wants.”

Read more: Mastodon is not a substitute for Twitter

Instead of a public square for everyone, Mastodon is made up of thousands of social networks, all running on different servers, or “instances,” which can communicate with each other through a system called Fediverse. The Fediverse also contains other social networks like PeerTube for videos, Funkwhale for music, PixelFed for photos and NextCloud for files.

Mastodon servers are not required to be connected to the Fediverse, in fact the most famous Mastodon instance is Social truththe social network of former US President Donald Trump.

How do I join Mastodon?

The hardest part of Mastodon is getting started. Since there is no common Mastodon area for everyone – like with Twitter – you will need to register on a specific Mastodon server.

Servers can be based on geographic location, topic of interest, work experience, or literally anything an admin can think of. For example, people from are only allowed to post the letter “E”, while literature enthusiasts are prohibited to never use the letter “E” (in honor of OuLiPo writer Georges Perec’s lipogram “La Disparition”).

Two of the largest Mastodon servers, aka instances, are – the official Mastodon project server – and, although both have temporarily suspended registrations. Another great general server that I recently joined is Other popular instances of Mastodon include for journalists and for open source software.

Don’t worry too much about which server you choose – you can join as many as you want and leave or switch servers at any time. And you can follow people on servers, so choosing one doesn’t prevent you from communicating with those on other instances.

A good place to find a server to join is the official Mastodon site at The site currently lists 106 servers that have committed to the Mastodon Server Covenant, an agreement to enforce moderation, perform site backups, and give at least three months’ warning before shutting down an instance.

Each server’s “about” page will tell a bit more about the Mastodon instance and list the rules for the server. If you can’t find a server you like on, you can try other Mastodon directories, such as, which has a wizard for choosing a server and a sortable list of 3,910 instances.

A screenshot of the Mastodon registration form

Joining a Mastodon server only requires a few personal details.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Most Mastodon servers with open registration will only ask for your email address and a password to get started. Once you’ve responded to a verification email, you’re ready to start using Mastodon. Other more private Mastodon servers may require you to apply for membership and then wait for an invite.

How to use Mastodon?

Like Twitter, Mastodon lets you post short messages to the world or select people, but instead of tweets, Mastodon posts are called toots. And many other features of Mastodon are very similar to those of Twitter, with slight differences. Each publication is limited to 500 characters (instead of 280), and you can include links, images (JPG, GIF or PNG, up to 8 MB), audio files (MP3, OGG, WAV, FLAC, OPUS , AAC, M4A and 3GP up to 40 MB) and videos (MP4, M4V, MOV, WebM up to 40 MB).

A screenshot of Mastodon's publishing interface with visibility options displayed

Mastodon offers four levels of visibility for all your toots.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Your posts on Mastodon can be set to be public, only to your followers, or completely unlisted in any timelines. You can create polls for your followers and use all your favorite regular emojis, as well as custom emojis created for specific servers.

Any post can be marked with an explanatory “content warning” that requires clicking before viewing, and Mastodon users often take advantage of this feature.

You can even edit messages on Mastodon. Each version of your tool remains available for review, and people who reblog your post are notified after it changes.

Much like Twitter, Mastodon uses hashtags that start with the “#” symbol, such as #Gaming, #Anthropology, or #Veganism. Since there is no algorithm to suggest your posts to non-followers, using hashtags to rank your posts for people who might be interested is even more important than on Twitter.

You can follow any account on Mastodon, whether or not it’s on your own server instance, and posts from the account will be added to your home feed in chronological order. Be aware that for some accounts you need to request permission to follow them.

Free web apps like Debirdify, Fedifinder, and Twitodon can help you find accounts you’ve followed on Twitter that have migrated to Mastodon.

If you don’t want a particular account to follow you, you can block them like on Twitter, or you can choose to block an entire server.

Mastodon lets you post “favorite” posts, but the number of favorites doesn’t show up on the timeline – if you want to promote someone else’s posts, you’ll need to “boost” or reblog them. Unlike Twitter, there are no “quote toots” on Mastodon, a deliberate choice to discourage “dunking” on other people’s posts. A separate “bookmark” feature allows you to save posts to Mastodon without notifying the account that posted it.

Mastodon has a feature called Direct Messages, but the name is a bit misleading. Rather than providing person-to-person messages, Mastodon’s functionality sets a message’s visibility only to the people mentioned in it. In other words, these are toots that only certain people can see, rather than actual direct messages.

How do Mastodon timelines work?

While Twitter only has one timeline (sorted chronologically or by “top stories”), Mastodon has three: your home timeline shows all posts and reblogs from everyone you follow, your local timeline shows everything happening on your own server instance and your federated timeline shows all posts from all Mastodon servers you follow someone on.

Using a web browser, you can configure Mastodon to look like Twitter, displaying one feed at a time, or you can display multiple feeds and notifications simultaneously (much like tweetdeck) by selecting “Advanced Display” in your Preferences.

A screenshot of Mastodon's advanced display interface

Mastodon’s advanced view allows you to view notifications and multiple timelines simultaneously.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Are there mobile apps for Mastodon?

You bet. Due to the open source nature of Mastodon, you have plenty of choices for apps on iPhone and Android.

Your first and easiest option is the official Mastodon gGmbH app (for iOS or Android), but there are other solid third-party apps. The two most popular alternative Mastodon apps currently are Metatext for iPhone and Tusky for Android.

Mastodon apps for iPhone:

Mastodon apps for Android:

If you’re starting out with Mastodon, be sure to follow me (And say hello!)

For more on social media and Twitter, follow a Elon Musk purchase timeline and read on the big changes that could be in store for Twitter.

Correction, November 7: A previous version of this story incorrectly described Mastodon’s features. Mastodon added the ability to edit posts in March 2022.

#Guide #Mastodon #Twitter

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