In spring 2017, yet another Twitter alternative was making the rounds, Mastodon.

If you want to jump ahead, take a look at the Mastodon User's Guide. If you want to compare Twitter and Mastodon, check out this essay by Kevin Marks, Mastodon, Twitter and publics 2017-04-24.

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The creation story might appeal to you: “Eugen Rochko was annoyed with Twitter. The company had made a series of changes that he thought eroded the value of the service: limiting how big third-party applications could grow, for example, and implementing an algorithm-driven timeline that made Twitter feel uncomfortably similar to Facebook.” – is an open-source Twitter competitor that’s growing like crazy

There are also some people that like how it is federated, allowing each server to use it’s own rules. Some people like this very much. “In fact, bans Nazis. Not even implicitly, but explicitly.” – Mastodon Is Like Twitter Without Nazis, So Why Are We Not Using It?

Other people don’t like how federation means that user names are not unique. Why do we keep implementing global names? This won’t scale for the next ten thousand years. Eventually, at some point in time, global names don’t make sense. First users get cool names like alexschroeder, everybody else gets awkwardnames like alexschroeder.1; federation helps. But not everybody likes it, e.g. Taking A Ride On Mastodon. One would think that some sort of context will always be required. The existence of other people called Alex does not limit us. Email addresses work the same. The appearance of big global namespaces like Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, and maybe AIM and ICQ before them, made all the difference. Suddenly people wanted global names. But IRC doesn’t have global names, mail doesn’t, people in real life don’t. The “problem” is expectation and the solution is expectation management. Multiple accounts on different instances are separate entities, like different email accounts. The fact that they belong to the same person is a property stored in contact databases of the people I know. Which is as it should be.

Federation and “losing” stuff from other instances is what will rescue the local and federated timelines. It’s what will allow us to build different communities. Some people have multiple Mastodon accounts on different instances in order to do precisely that. Conversely, they don’t like the followbots that “import” users from other instances even though nobody on the local instances subscribed to them.


Some links on the identity politics of Mastodon: What is GNU Social and is Mastodon Social a Twitter Clone? Or: Mastodon WTF timeline, about the growth of the Japanese Mastodon population and the cultural clash this caused. It also refers to this post on one of the subcultures that was strong when Mastodon started to take off, Mourning Mastodon.

Recommended reading: What I wish I knew before joining Mastodon. “Words in toots aren’t searchable yet, but hashtags are.” Users are also searchable, e.g. “”. If you need to pick an instance, here’s how to preview local and federated timelines of Mastodon instances without signing up, by Kevin Marks. The reason I think about the “right” instance is because I think a local timeline with folks that share a common interest makes it easier to find new people to follow. That’s harder to do if the local timeline is in a different language, or people who don’t share my interests. And since the locals decide which toots get imported from other instances the federated timeline is similarly affected. Picking the right instance is important.

How To

Is there a “how to use micro blogging?” There probably isn’t. Ideally, you signed up to an instance that is sort of into something you are interested in, and then you look at the local timeline and reply to random people, and follow them if what they say is interesting enough for you to want more. And if that doesn’t bring you joy after a day, then short form blogging like Twitter, Mastodon, or GNU Social just isn’t for you in 2017?

Then again: How to Mastodon is an introduction for anybody new to the service.


As with all new networks, the network effect is strong: existing networks have a lot of value (“all my friends are there” or “I need it for business reasons”) and a new platform with zero contacts has zero value. So how do you create new connections?

The above is problematic for a new instance: you have few local users and they’re not following any remote people so all the timelines are empty. This is why people have written follow bots which do nothing but crawl the network and follow everybody. As they follow a ton of people, all their toots are pulled into the bot’s local instance, populating the federated timeline, allowing locals a better experience.

Trunk is a web app trying to enable people to mass-follow others based on common interests. More on the blog post Trunk for Mastodon.

More Reading

A FAQ of sorts, with interwoven comments, by “Dr. Edward Morbius”.

Some thoughts for the future: Mastodon Systemic Sustainability.

Interesting tootstorm by Edward Morbius.