Leaving Twitter: Getting Started With Mastadon


I like to explain things. Sometimes my teenage son listens, which is nice of him. But I know he’s just humoring me.
So you may have heard that Twitter is now a raging dumpster fire. Now that the lunatics run the Tweetsylum, you’re looking for a way out. Or you want a handy explainer to give Uncle Frank and grandma for when you’re discussing the social media dumpster fire around the holiday table. This is for you.

To the more technically savvy Mastodon experts: I am course glossing over some less salient details. ELi5 baby. But if I get anything blatantly wrong, let’s fix that, drop me a Toot, a comment, or whatever.

Update 2/10: Now that Twitter has borked API access, the Mastodon/Twitter tools for contacts/followers/refollow and cross posting I mention below may be bork. But you can still extract your Twitter data.

Update 3/5: NEW TOOLS HERE: This list is actively maintained: https://hueyy.github.io/awesome-mastodon/

Is Mastadon the same as Twitter?

Pretty much… at least in the sense that they let you shout (in 500 words or less) into the void and hear and see others shout back. You get a Mastodon account, you follow people, and others follow you back. You post your stuff, and anyone who follows you will see your stuff pop up in their Mastodon feed. Anything they post will show up in yours.

Sample screenshot of the native Mastdon interface

Instead of a Tweet, it’s called a Toot. Still has #hashtags, buzzwords/keywords you can use in your posts. You can save toots from other people. On the Birdsite, when you recycle someone’s post for your followers, it’s a Retweet. Here it is a Boost.

Want to respond to someone’s Toot with your own reply. Go ahead. Want to indirectly mention a user, you @mention them just like on Twitter. You can also Direct Message them.

When someone responds to your post, @mentions you, DMs you, save or favorites your post you get notifications (which can be enabled or disabled). When someone follows you, you likewise get notified.

If you run across another user that you don’t like, you can Unfollow or Mute them just like on the Bird site.

Just like on Twitter you can control who can see, respond or otherwise interact with you or the posts you Toot. You also have standard post-sharing tools and links to share this Toot elsewhere.

Well, that just seems like Twitter, what’s the difference then?


Ugh. Do I have to find/refollow everyone on Mastodon that I used to follow on Twitter?

No – there are tools for that. I used https://www.movetodon.org/ but a few minutes with google will find:

Do I have to manually copy all my Tweets? Can I cross-post between the two?

Moving your tweets? I haven’t heard of a tool that does that yet. Sorry.

You can Export your tweets from Twitter, but I just requested that myself, I dunno if the information in there is in a form that one can readily write a tool to import into Mastodon. Hey, I know Powershell, how hard can it be. Stay tuned. Likewise, if you know of a Twitter->Mastodon migration tool that does posts, let me know.

But cross-posting? Yep:

Is there an app?

Tons. Besides the official Android and iOS apps by the core Mastodon.org team, since the APIs and code are open-source, everyone and their sister can integrate Mastodon into their own apps, so there are plenty. [https://joinmastodon.org/apps]

Personally, I use a small window-less (thanks Open-as-Popup extension) Google Chrome window on my server’s website, parked down in a corner of my Windows desktop. Update 3/5: I use #elk –> https://elk.zone/ now its very cool; its both an alt web-client that can be run as a web-app. Support for account switching, some other cool features. Actively developed.

Other Twitter migration resources:

Well, there are gobs of these; google.

So what about these “Servers”? Do I have to tip someone?

This is where a lot of people’s eyes glaze over when their excited Mastodon-using friends start talking about why they should ditch their Twitter and go to Mastodon. There’s a reason I left this to the end. But I think it’s also one of the strongest arguments for Mastodon. A “Save the Best For Last” thing.

Unlike Twitter, or most other social network services (Facebook, Reddit, Instagram), Mastodon has no centralized computer infrastructure that “runs” it. All of Twitter’s servers are owned and controlled by Twitter. Each of the Mastodon servers are owned and controlled by individuals, groups, companies or institutions – who donate the computer hardware, electricity and network bandwidth.

While there is no “central” Mastadon server, but rather there are thousands of Mastodon servers, they all communicate and share posts, follows, users with one another. How, or IF the administrators/owners of each server grant membership is entirely up to them. Whether they charge money for membership on their server is entirely up to them. If you want an account on a Mastodon server that only features artwork about fire hydrants, I would expect to submit a portfolio for review.

Besides membership, each server gets to decide the rules for its members. The owners and administrators get to choose those rules and they provide/assign the moderators who enforce those rules. Here is the About / Rules page for my home server, mast.to.

It seems intimidating, but this is really the only hard part about getting started with Mastodon – picking your home server. And there are lots of them. But one of the really nifty things about Mastodon’s decentralized server “federation” they call it, is servers can be created for ANY group of like-minded people. There are lots of servers for various geographic areas, countries etc. Servers for schools, professions, and not a few companies. Expect all of those Twitter-suspended journalists to start harassing their editors for their own Mastodon servers. Companies can use Mastodon servers to augment or take the place of internal messaging services like Slack or Teams, but also enable users to post publically from those same accounts. Cool!

So how do I pick one? If I make a mistake, can I ‘move’ to another?

There I can’t help you. The Mastodon organization (who coordinates and oversees the code maintenance, server integration etc.) does curate a list of Mastodon servers that have agreed to uphold The Mastodon Server Covenant (i.e. “don’t be a dick” and some IT commitments), but while that contains a bunch of the larger, more populated “mainstream” Mastodon “instances” that’s not an exhaustive list.

There are a few mainstream instances, but there are tons that cater to particular communities, lifestyles, and tastes. There are instances for schools, instances for cities, and instances for lawyers. Instances for Lawyers who like ketchup.

If you search for “list of Mastodon instances” you’ll find a bunch of indexes. Here’s one for example, and they have both a flat list and a “choose wizard”. You’ll find a lot of “top 10 Mastodon servers” types of articles as well. There are a lot. But, whichever server you choose take the time to ensure you agree with any terms of service and are ok with their acceptable content and moderation rules.

If you really don’t want to choose, just go with one of the “big” mainstream instances. Find a Mastodon that has

In general, the mastodon server that is more populated, busy, and connected with other servers is a safer bet; its gonna be around tomorrow.

If you want to MOVE from one Mastadon server to another, it’s a simple matter of signing up for an account on the new instance, Exporting your data from the old one, and Importing it into the new one. Your followers will have to refollow you at your new location, but your account at its old location will be grayed out and it will redirect to the new one. The federated network will even announce your move for you. Here are the details.

Hrmm. If each server can make up and enforce its own rules, what’s to prevent the weirdos from creating their own Mastodon server?

Unfortunately, nothing. They totally can. BUT, each Mastodon server is able to restrict, filter or completely block other servers; or users form those servers. Check out the Moderated Servers list on the about page of any Mastodon server’s About page.

Even if another server isn’t entirely crazy, enough to have your server’s admins block it entirely, you as a user can still entirely block all content and users from that server; that user or server disappears from your feeds.

Further, if you see content or users that you think might violate the moderation rules of your server, you can Report them; your server’s administrators/moderators can deal with that content/user on their site accordingly; including blocking that server entirely. Even better, if you think that user/content violates the rules for its/their home server, you can fwd the report to the admins/moderators of that server too!

Well, that doesn’t seem so bad

There you go. Hopefully, this helps demystify Mastadon a little bit. See you on the federationTootspace, follow me at @tezoatlipoca@mas.to. If you or Uncle Frank or grandma have any more questions that aren’t covered in the already very good official Mastodon.org Guides, like their “Getting Started Guide” (I doubt it, but whatever), then ask away here or on Mastodon, I’d be happy to ‘splain some more.

Lastly, since each Mastodon instance is provided by someone (and computers, electricity and bandwidth aren’t cheap), please be sure to tip/donate to your instance’s admins (see your instance’s About page). If you like the work that the Mastodon.org people do on the whole network, its source code or the apps, then be sure to donate via their Patreon or sponsor them here.