Photo by Rolf van Root on Unsplash

Getting Started with Mastodon

Social Media Jan 20, 2023

If you are joining Mastodon for the first time, you may have some questions about how to use the platform, what the shiny buttons do, etc. This page has everything that you need to get started.

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Missing or incorrect information? A feature that should be covered in this guide? Let me know @padraig@mastodon.ie
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UPDATED 2023-01-25: Updated to include "Creating Your Account" section. 

Creating Your Account

Well, before you can read this guide, you are going to need an account. Now, you may think that going to joinmastodon.org and signing up would be the play, but it is not.

With Mastodon or the entire Fediverse for that matter, there is no one central server (like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram)

I could write you a whole explanation about the Fediverse but I would be here all day. All you need to know for now it is a series of different applications/platforms that can be interconnected with each other.

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Think of it like email.

You have a @gmail.com account but someone has a @outlook.com email address.
You can send and receive emails to and from each other already.

Same concept!

Go to the instance of your choice. and sign up (If it's open for registration)

Fill in the details and take note of your 'username', which is going to be the address that you can share with people or link on your website. @username@instance.com

Credit - Opal Stack

Congratulations! 🎉
You created a Mastodon account. Let's get you started!

Feeds

  • There are 3 main feeds. Home, Local and Federated.
    • Home - This contains all the public posts from everyone that you follow in chronological order (Newest posts at the top). This also includes #hashtags that you follow.
    • Local - This contains all the public posts from everyone that is on your server (mastodon.social, mastodon.ie, social.coop, etc) in chronological order (Newest at the top).
    • Federated - This is all the public posts from everyone who is connected to the server. More about how this works will be described below. These are generally in chronological order with the newest posts at the top but these may be delayed depending on how busy the local server is.

Customising your profile

Customising your own profile couldn't be simpler and should be the first thing that you do when you create your account.

Add a profile picture, header image and a description of who you are.

Don't forget to include hashtags and other profiles if associated.
🤖
Did You Know?: Adding #NoBot to your bio means that relay/follow bots do not follow you. While there is no ruling on this or preventing any bot or person to follow you, it's generally respected by developers. 

You are also given the ability to add some links to your website.

How do you get the green box and the tick? Quite easy actually. On your website, you will want to link to your website but add a rel="me".

<a rel="me" href="https://mastodon.ie/@padraig">Mastodon</a>

If you do not have the ability to add a link in but have access to the <head> header scripts, you can add the following:

<link rel="me" href="https://mastodon.ie/@padraig"/>

Hey! Thank you for checking out this getting started guide. I worked on this over a few nights to ensure that I covered the basics for everyone to get started. Check back every so often for updated information.

Consider becoming a member for FREE! You unlock all posts and instantly get an email with all my brand-new posts as soon as they go live! Payment is never required.


Understanding a post.

This is a post. It contains their name, their Fediverse address, post privacy, time, text, pictures (or videos) and action buttons.


From Left-to-Right:

  • The user's avatar
  • The name of the user
  • The full Fediverse address
  • The privacy setting 🌎 [This will be explained more in-depth in 'Privacy Options' below]
  • How long ago they posted.

The post text and the image. An icon can be seen in the top left of the image which can be used to 'blur' the image should you no longer wish to see it.

From Left-to-Right:

  • The 'Reply' button and the number of replies.
  • The 'Boost' button reposts the post on your feed.
  • The 'Favourite' button alerts the user that you like the post.**
  • The 'Bookmark' button allows you to store the post in your own private feed for you to come back to in the future.
  • With the menu button on the far right, you will find various options:

First Follows

As a new user, you are probably wondering who to follow and what to post

  • Check out posts that are in your 'Local' feed to see if anyone catches your eye.
  • You can browse the 'Profile Directories' to find random accounts.
  • If you have a Twitter account, use a service like Fedifinder to find out which followers are on the Fediverse.
  • Always share your full address if you are mentioning your Mastodon account. Eg: @padraig - This only applies if the user that you are telling Mastodon about is on the same instance as you. The best way to share your address would be the full address. Eg: @padraig@mastodon.ie
  • If you are given an address, you can use the Search function to find the account. Either @padraig@mastodon.ie or https://mastodon.ie/@padraig would work.  
  • You can also follow hashtags in the same way that you can follow users. Search for the hashtag and click the little follow button beside it. These appear in the 'Home' feed. In Advanced View on the web browser, you can 'Pin' the timeline as a column.

Lists

You can create your own custom feed with accounts that you wish to have in your own tailored feed. You could add in your work colleague, tech journalists, meme accounts or local friends. Like hashtag columns, you can pin them in 'Advanced View'.

To create a list, go to a user's profile and click on the ⋮ menu, choose 'Add or Remove from lists'.  You can choose to add the user to an existing one or you can create a new list.

In 'Advanced View', you can edit the column to only show replies to other people in the list or to anyone.


Composing a post.

You have created your account and now you want to post. Great. Let's take a look at the composer:

  • At the top, you can enter your text content.
  • Emojis and custom emoticons (which can only be used by users on your instance but can be seen by anyone) can be found by clicking on the monochrome 😂 icon.
  • At the bottom, you will find 5 options.
    • 📎 - This allows you to attach up to 4 images or 1 video (you cannot mix and match)
    • The second option is for polls. Polls can have anywhere from 2 - 4 options. You can set a timer as to how long the poll will run. The time starts when you 'Publish' the post. Users who vote in the poll will get a notification when the poll ends with the results.
      • NOTE: You cannot use attachments when using polls.
    • 🌎 - This icon is for Privacy Settings. See 'Privacy Options' above for more information.
    • CW - This is 'Content Warning' or 'Content Wrap' - This allows you to set a title for the post and users will have a choice to expand the post in order to view all the text. Images/videos that are uploaded while using this feature will automatically be blurred. See 'Content Warning' below for more information.
    • EN - This is for the language. Users may set the language of their post to a different language and this is an indicator to allow to show that post was created in a different language. The default is English. Support of this feature is dependent on the server.

Not sure what to post? How about an #introduction.

  • A great way to attract new followers when starting out is to do an #introduction - The #introduction hashtag has become a tradition for all users and gives other users a synopsis as to who you are. Utilise hashtags for topics that you are interested in such as #cats, #technology, #politics and more. The more hashtags, the merrier. Remember to 'Pin' your post.

Editing a post

Did you post something and you either made a spelling mistake or forget to add something? Don't worry, you can edit your post.

Once the post is live, click on the ... menu beside your post and click on 'Edit'. This will allow you to make edits to the text. The history of the edits can be viewed by clicking the pencil icon once it has been edited at least once.

If you forgot to attach media or you feel that it is worth a redo, click on the ... menu and choose 'Delete & Re-draft' which will copy the post back into the editor, ready to go again.

There is no time limit or the number of times you can edit a post.


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Did you know? You can pin up to 5 posts at any one time! *

Privacy Options.

Clicking the 🌎 when composing a post will show 4 options.

  • Public - Self-explanatory - The post will appear everywhere.
  • Unlisted - The post will be posted in the 'Home' feed for users but will not appear in the Local feed or the Federated feed. Users browsing your profile will be able to see it.
  • Followers Only - The post will only be visible to people that are following you.
  • Mentioned People Only - Only the accounts that you mention in the post will see it. This should not be treated as a 'DM' or 'Private Messaging' system. Use a messaging app like Signal or Telegram for that.

If you reply to a post that has a privacy setting chosen, it will honour that option. You can change the privacy of the post but you should aim to respect the privacy option that is in place.


CW - Content Warning

Content Warning (or Wrap) is a function that you can enable on your post. It is a hotly debated topic within Mastodon about how it should be used and whether certain topics should exclusively be used within Content Warning.  There is a loose set of 'rules' as to what should be placed behind a Content Warning.

Some examples of topics are:

  • Politics (Regardless of stance)
  • Current Events (ie. War in Ukraine, Uprisings and other major events)
  • Spoilers for TV Shows, Movies, Games or Books.
  • or simply a long post that you wish to wrap content in...

If you are unsure whether something should be in a Content Warning, seek out your Instance Admin and ask them before posting. Additionally, seeing what other people do in the 'Local' feed will give you an indication.

Something that I personally try and do is add (+) or (-) where applicable to the subject of the Content Warning to let the user know if the post is positive or negative.

Here is what a post with a Content Warning looks like:

@Connemaraweather@mastodon.ie with a Content Warning. The subject is presented with a 'Show More' button
@Connemaraweather@mastodon.ie with the full post once you click 'Show More'
A Content Warning post with an image on Mastodon. The default view.
Unblurring the image on its own
Showing the text within a Content Warning post. 

If you wish, you can adjust the behaviour of this to show all Content Warning posts and images without having to click on anything.
Go into 'Preferences' >> 'Appearance' and at the bottom, you will find the option:


"Another plug to sign up? 🙄"
No, it's not another plug to sign up for the blog but a plug for my Mastodon.
I am happy to answer questions about Mastodon and I hope to see you there.


Managing Content on Mastodon

On Mastodon, you have a lot of control over what you see on the platform and you can fine-tune it to your liking.

Now, instance admins will block some other instances that are problematic or don't align with the values of the home instance. Unfortunately, you will not be able to follow or interact with users on those servers and visa-versa.  

If you come across a user or even an instance that you do not like, you can block the user or the entire instance. This will not affect other users. Instance admins should be contacted alerting them to the problematic instance so it can be banned server-wide.

To block someone or an entire domain, click on the user's profile and click on the ⋮ menu and click on 'Block @user' or 'Block domain <instance URL>'

Blocking options.

Muting

If you are in a thread and there is too much 'noise' from people liking, boosting or replying to your post, you can mute it. 🔇 This means that you do not get any notifications about the post. Go to the post, click on the ... menu and choose 'Mute Conversation'

Filters

Filters allow you to hide or outright remove certain phrases, topics, hashtags and more from your feeds.

You can have multiple filters set up at any one time with various options (ie. which feed it affects, whether they expire after X amount of time or whether you want certain topics to be hidden completely or be able to click to read it (like a CW))

Filters page.
  • Title - Set a title for the Filter list. This is for your view only.
  • Expire After - You can choose when this list expires.
  • Filter Contexts - You can determine which feed(s) this Filter list applies to.
  • Filter Action - You can choose whether filters are hidden with a warning for you to click on or whether to hide them completely.
  • Keywords or phrases - Here you can enter the phrases or keywords and whether they should match the entire word/phrase or part of it.

Accessing Mastodon.

There are multiple ways to browse Mastodon.

  • Web - Simple View - This is generally the default view for all new accounts. This is one column and you have to click on the 'Notification', 'Local' and 'Federated' feeds.

  • Web - Advanced View - This is a multi-columned layout for power users. Users who have used TweetDeck would be familiar with this layout. Additional columns can be added such as lists and hashtags.

    • To enable 'Advanced View', go into 'Preferences'. In the 'Appearance' section, check the box for 'Enable advanced web interface', and click on 'Save Changes'. Click '< Back to Mastodon' to view the new interface.
  • Mobile - There are a plethora of Mastodon apps available including the official Mastodon app, but I recommend using a 3rd-party app as the official app is missing features.

    • iOS - Metatext - Best free app. Ivory (Currently in TestFlight) - Made by the same developers as TweetBot. More than likely will be a paid application once complete.
    • Android - Tusky is the best free app. Tooot is an alternative (I have not used this one personally but friends and other users have claimed it's good.)
  • Desktop - If you are looking for something that is not web browser based but an actual application, then look at Whalebird or Hyperspace

Federation

Federation is a term used to describe how multiple instances are connected together.

And it's not just Mastodon -> Mastodon either.
It can be Mastodon -> Pleroma or Mastodon -> PeerTube (A video hosting site) or eventually it would be Mastodon -> Tumblr and visa-versa.

Over time, due to interactions with other users on other instances and platforms will it all grow. Day by day, week by week, month by month, it will keep getting bigger and bigger.  

How this all happens can only be described through a diagram:


FAQ

Q: Who runs the Mastodon 'network'?
A: Mastodon is not owned nor controlled by one entity. Each server is run independently from one another. No one can take over the entire 'network'. It's not possible. Each server (or instance) is independently managed by either an individual or a small team.

  • The non-profit Mastodon gGmbH which was established in 2019, is the company that develops the Mastodon software. They also own and operate the mastodon.social and mastodon.online instances.
  • The 'Network' is actually a protocol in the same vein as SMS or Email - Mastodon uses the ActivityPub protocol, an open, decentralised method of communication that became an official standard of the Web by the W3C back in 2018.

Q: I have seen some posts that are longer than 500 characters, how is this possible?

A: Mastodon has a default character value for posts at 500 characters. Instance admins can change this value as they see fit. On Pleroma (Alternative software), the default character limit is 5000. Users may be using tools and plugins to post large posts.

  • An example of this would be WordPress using the ActivityPub plugin which allows users to post full-length blog posts on the Fediverse.

* This is based on mastodon.social's settings. Other instances may have more or less but that decision is down to the instance admin.

** Favourites do not amplify the post in any way. It is just a notification that you can send to the author of the post telling them that you like it.

Tags

Padraig Fahy

A tech support guy by day and a gamer by night!