“Mastodon is a free and open-source self-hosted social networking service. It allows anyone to host their own server node in the network, and its various separately operated user bases are federated across many different servers. These servers are connected as a federated social network, allowing users from different servers to interact with each other seamlessly. Mastodon is a part of the wider Fediverse, allowing its users to also interact with users on different open platforms that support the same protocol, such as PeerTube and Friendica.”English Wikipedia
This is a really good description but to dumb this down a bit, Mastodon is a free Twitter that you can host your self and connect to others. This becomes a network of social networks that is not controlled by one entity or company. This provides a completely different environment from what you are used to on the big social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
First of all, it is friendlier. There are for sure a fair bit of controversy and upset feeling on Mastodon too but the system is built in a different way so that it works against this behavior. Search is different – you can search for people and tags, not words used in posts. This makes it harder for the trolls to find and disturb discussions. You can neither “quote” Toots, a Toot is what a status or a post is called on Mastodon. Quoting is a feature that is really misused by trolls on Twitter and is one of the reasons that its such a problematic environment.
If you are posting something controversial you can use a “Content Warning” with a short description about the post. Other users needs to specifically click a button or a heading to see it. This is a clear signal that the author knows it may be considered controversial. This is well respected by users on the network today.
I have been using Mastodon for almost a year and I use it as my preferred Social Network. I am no longer using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The only “old” social network that survived is LinkedIn even though I am not particular active there any longer. I have found that there is a few typical groups of people that are on Mastodon, the geeks, the HBQT-folks and the leftists. The reason for this is likely that the geeks are early adopters and interested in new technology, the HBQT-fols and leftists found a safe place to hangout. Most of the time it is a very friendly atmosphere but since the user base still is pretty small (at the time of writing around 4.4M users that has posted 368M statuses) it narrows down the different topics being discussed.
When you start out on the Fediverse or Mastodon my recommendation is to take some care when choosing an instance to join. You can choose to self host your own instance but to try out, and if you don’t have the interest to run your own server, joining is the straightforward way to go. When you have an account and logged in you will have three different feeds; your Home feed with posts from the users you follow, the local feed with posts from all the users on your instance and the federated feed with all the posts in the fediverse (as your instance sees it).
There are a couple of ways to find users to follow, there are profile directories but the local feed is likely where you will start interacting. This is the reason why it is so important to choose an instance that fits your interests. You can fallow users that are on other instance too and their posts will then show up in your home feed. You can look into the federate timeline bit this is pretty crazy and will get even more so as the fediverse grows. Using and searching for hash-tags is a good way to find people to follow. Make sure that your profile is populated with relevant data so that others can find you.
I have described Mastodon as a pretty friendly and including place but sometime it shows it ugly side. The 15th of August 2018 Wil Wheaton started to be active on Mastodon but because he had used a widely available block list, that contained a lot of HBQT and/or Trans people he was bullied and consequently left by August 30. It was nothing he said or did on Mastodon that caused the bulling simply the usage of a blocklist. This is a sad history since he could have influenced or at least spread the word to a lot of Twitter users (he has almost 3M followers) to join the fediverse.
In the spring of 2019 the far right social network Gab went from their home grown system to start using a port of Mastodon. Gab is know to be a safe haven for neo-nazis and white supremacists. There are users of Gab that has discussed and later performed acts of violence (Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, 2018 – 11 dead). When this was known a long and heated debate broke out how to deal with this. It turned out to most instances blocking the Gab servers and most applications for mobile also added blocks so that they cannot be used with Gab.
But as I have state many times in this article; mastodon is a nice and friendly place. I would recommend anyone to join. If you decide to join follow me at @firstname.lastname@example.org and I will follow you back!