It has been a week since I started experimenting with using Mastodon and these are some of my experiences and thoughts about it during that week. Something I learned while using Mastodon made me realize I want more than what Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram are providing as my social media platforms. Especially, Twitter during this period of tremendous turmoil.
I have been a Twitter user with various accounts since October 2007. However, with all the upheaval going on at Twitter recently, along with how the new leadership seems to be taking it in a direction that isn’t sustainable, I started looking elsewhere.
Last week I decided to try using Mastodon again, after hearing good things about it and how much it has improved since I attempted to use it back in 2018 but didn’t find it useful to me at that time.
The short version.
Mastodon isn’t for everyone and it isn’t Twitter. Which to me makes it exactly what I want. The focus isn’t on corporate advertising, influencers, trolls, viral posts, or an algorithm that attempts to keep you onsite.
From what I have seen so far the focus is on good conversations, a chronologically based timeline, where for many Instances taking care of trolls and bots quickly to create a more safe place online is part of what they do.
However, it isn’t perfect, there is no single entity governing what happens, you are reliant upon the Instance (server) that you join as far as enforcing their rules and norms and how they deal with asshats or trolls. So, choosing an Instance that you fit is the most important thing you do. But when you first start out, you don’t have a clue about which one to choose. Which will leave many floundering and wondering why in the hell did they bother to try Mastodon.
My advice is to do some research about what Mastadon is before signing up. Know what you are getting yourself into, and talk to people you follow on Twitter who are also on Mastodon for their advice regarding their thoughts and if they have any ideas on an Instance that would be good for your interests. Then if you are still interested, sign-up and see what you think.
The biggest thing to remember is that Mastodon is not Twitter. It has its own norms, features, and vocabulary. Remember, you are the newbie, not the person with a million followers (or however many you have), and have 10 or more years of being a big wig on Twitter.
Personally, I found it was a great time to just start over and create a new set of people I follow, though there are a few from Twitter still in my timeline. Who knows if you give Mastodon a chance, it might become your new social media home, even if Twitter does pull out of its current nose dive and doesn’t crash. I know that I am leaning in that direction after only a week.
Just remember Mastodon is not Twitter and to me, that is a good thing.
Now on to the rest of the story.
the great Twitter migration.
When I started my experiment to try Mastodon again, I became a tiny piece of the great Twitter migration. It seems that others were thinking the same way as I was and were looking for Twitter alternatives as well as what they were seeing during Elon Musk’s new ownership of the site.
An awful lot of Twitter folk signed up for Mastodon over the last week.
What I didn’t realize when I created the account was that I would have to pick what Mastodon calls an Instance or server. That instantly became a real pain in the arse. I’ll be quite honest, WTF was the first thing I thought, how in the hell do I know which Instance I want to join? So, I went through the lists and randomly picked out one that sounded sort of interesting and created my account.
Part of that difficulty was on me. I didn’t do enough homework before deciding to use Mastodon again and didn’t know how important the correct Instance is to making your Mastodon experience a positive one. That is the one thing that I would do differently if I had it to do over again.
Making it Work
Figuring out what Instance to pick was a hurdle. It was confusing and pretty intimidating. However, I’ve been doing social media stuff long enough to know with any new site you join, that there are things you have to learn and norms to figure out. The idea is that I have to get outside of my comfort zone and just work through it.
Even so, the first few hours were frustrating and at times damned confusing while I was learning the new terms that were being used so blithely around me. Terms like Instances, CW, boosts, federated network, and Fediverse, along with so many others. Learning the differences between Twitter and Mastodon was eye-opening, to say the least. Even though they look and might seem similar the differences are significant.
Thankfully, the interface itself is pretty straightforward and once I enabled the advanced web interface, things got a lot better. After a few hours of floundering around, I was getting ideas, hints, tips, and food for thought from many generous longer-term Mastodon users.
As others have said Mastodon reminds me of when I first started using Twitter back in 2007. It was actually nice to have conversations with people and not just consume what the corporations, newsites and the like were dishing out. I will admit that over time I stopped conversing on Twitter as much as I once did and mostly went into consumption mode on there.
I felt that good conversations were more important on Mastodon and that users’ feelings of safety and freedom from abuse or trolls were a valued commodity, not something that was dismissed as getting in the way of keeping people on the site.
Not All Peaches and Cream
However, during that first day, I also learned that Mastodon is not all peaches and cream. The asshats and trolls are still lurking and looking for new fodder to beat on almost as quickly as they do on Twitter. Thankfully you can quickly block, and mute them. Then as I found out later, moderators tend to be quite good about silencing trolls and troll farms. Also, some of the choices made in the development of Mastodon limit the troll’s reach, because search and boosts (retweets) work differently there.
Being a part of the great Twitter migration, I also got to watch how the horde of Twitter ex-pats (of which I am one) reacted and behaved to being on Mastodon. Most were great and willing to work within the norms that Mastodon had created over the years. Unfortunately, I also saw too many who were coming in with the attitude “here I am”, then purposely breaking shit, flouting norms, and all too often from where I sat, being asshats to those who were trying to help.
Based on my previous experiences on Twitter, sadly I rather expected this to happen.
Too many of the “what’s in it for me” or “I’m going to do whatever to fuck I want” crowd was coming in and attempting to take over and remake Mastodon into another version of Twitter that they could dominate. Then they whined, pissed, and moaned about how their rights to free speech were being violated or that they weren’t being allowed to do what they wanted, when the Instance moderators and administrators kicked their butts off their servers, blocked their accounts or their Instances.
During those first three days, I blocked or muted far too many of the posts that I was seeing on my local and federated timelines (not my personal one). At that point, I decided to move to a different Instance (interest group/server) and see if things got any better. If they didn’t, as much as I liked many of the conversations I was having, I might as well head back to Twitter, since I had my timeline there was fairly well locked down.
Thankfully, my new Instance was and is much better at moderating asshats, trolls, and troll farms. The moderators and admins do a great job keeping our Instance free of crap and have blocked other Instances that do not moderate their users. In fact, they had blocked my previous Instance for just that reason, which made the move a little more difficult than it would have been otherwise.
Over the week, I have learned what many of the norms and expectations on Mastodon are and don’t have a problem with them. They work to protect users from abuse or trolls and to make it a safe place to be themselves.
So what do I think after one whole week on Mastodon?
Before I opened my Mastodon account, I knew that going in that I needed to adapt to how it does things, not the other way around. Opening my account there was being done for good reasons, beyond trying yet another social media site or that Twitter is currently in a death spiral. It was because I have been unhappy with the direction of both Twitter and Facebook for several years and have started the deletion process multiple times in both. Only to stop due to FOMO and that they do have many things I do enjoy reading or people that I follow.
Being on Mastodon has been a good experience for the most part, but I had to get past the confusion factor of being a new user and figure out a better Instance than the one I initially chose for that to happen. If I had remained in my original Instance I have a feeling that my thoughts about Mastodon at this point would be quite different.
Since the move to my new Instance most of the conversations I have had with people on Mastodon have been good to great and the amount of crap that I don’t want to see or deal with has been reasonable and when it does happen to block the issue and reporting it works better than I expected.
Plus I can also choose to block other Instances that I don’t want to deal with at my level and won’t have to see anyone from there until I unblock them. I don’t expect asshats or trolls to ever completely go away and it would be too idealistic to believe that they would. But Mastodon seems to provide enough limits to keep them more at the pain-in-the-arse level than the big problem they are on other social media sites.
It’s Not Perfect
However, do I agree with everything that I am reading or seeing on Mastodon?
It’s not perfect.
I know that I bring my own biases and perspectives, based on my life experiences, not anyone else, issues I’ve dealt with, and certain values I hold dearly, which others may not like or agree with. Just as there are many Mastodon users with who I don’t agree with how they do things.
We all have pasts to deal with, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be an asshat to others while dealing with those demons or living the life that we have chosen for ourselves. You can disagree, but you can also do so respectfully and not attempt to force your beliefs on anyone else.
Will I stay with Mastodon?
When I do go back on my Twitter timeline now, the negativity is palpable. Too many people are asking what comes next, what will the next stupid change be, gallows humor about its future, and so on. It seems that so many people have left or stopped being active as Twitter devolves into something that I don’t want to be a part of.
My timeline is much quieter now than it was in the past. However, I don’t see myself completely stopping using Twitter because there are some people there I don’t want to loose touch with and many brands that I follow because I enjoy using their products. So unless Twitter completely goes under, I will keep my account and check it every so often.
It’s also too early to really say one way or another whether Mastodon will become my permanent social media home. There is an undercurrent that is noticeable from many of the pre-Twitter wave people, that with so many new people that Mastodon will be changing too much.
So, I will wait to see how the Twitter wave changes Mastodon’s norms that were created for very good reasons and do protect its users in the Fediverse. I hope things work out and it maintains its unique identity because if it devolves into another Twitter, I won’t stay. I will go back to blogging on a blog that no one reads, read my RSS feeds, and reluctantly check Twitter and Facebook every few days to see what’s going on.
Mastodon isn’t right for everyone, but I am leaning toward the idea that it might be right for me as long – as it doesn’t change too much – aaaand I keep the number of people smaller by focusing on quality over quantity.
These articles are good summations of Mastodon and provide better explanations of what to expect than I would:
What is Mastodon? A social media expert explains how the ‘federated’ network works and why it won’t be a new Twitter
A Twitter Refugee’s Guide to Mastodon.
This article from a long-time Mastodon user really made me think and is one that I strongly recommend any Twitter or Facebook user read if you are thinking about using Mastodon.
There are many other new user guides to get you more familiar with moving to Mastodon beyond those and I urge you to look for them if moving there is something you are interested in doing.