Making the Move to Mastodon

The DIY social network is emerging as an alternative to Twitter. What does that mean for you?

Mastodon offers a new way of connecting with others online.

The news around Twitter has been quite dramatic recently. Some Twitter users are worried about the future of the platform, and are feeling an understandable sense of loss for the community that they have built there. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some are looking for alternatives, and many are poking at Mastodon to see if it can replace Twitter for them.

The result is that Mastodon is growing dramatically. This has been an adjustment for both new and old users alike. It’s probably fair to say that the culture of Mastodon today is a moving target, and it’s hard to say where it will end up. The arrivals from Twitter have certainly already had an impact. For now though, Mastodon is quite different from Twitter, both technically and culturally. This means that new users can often feel disoriented.

Part of this disorientation is likely because Mastodon is not really “a platform” or “an app” like Twitter is. Mastodon is part of a group of communities that run a protocol—known as ActivityPub—that allows Mastodon communities to communicate with each other, as well as with other, non-Mastodon ActivityPub-compliant software. These communities are run by  people all over the world, for many varying reasons. It’s a big, sprawling network.

So what does this mean for someone arriving from Twitter? First of all, it means that there is no one single spot to “join Mastodon”, although I suppose the home page a decent start. But there is much more to discover beyond what is listed there, and I would encourage anyone who is interested to explore the options a bit further.

Individual Mastodon communities—called servers—are usually run independently from one another, and can often be very idiosyncratic[1]. While some are aimed at a general audience, others focus on specific interests. For example, there are servers dedicated to: people in Scotland, LGBTQ technologists, academics, home cooks, or (of course) librarians, to name a few. Servers’ policies differ too: some offer open enrollment, while others may ask you to apply, or may be invite-only. They will also have differing rules and codes of conduct, which, in my opinion, is very important when considering where to sign up.

My personal recommendation would be to join a smaller server, related to your interests or profession or geography. This is because the small servers are often better moderated than their larger peers, and a small community of people with similar interests can provide a better place to start building a community. But don’t stress about this choice too much! You can still interact with people on other servers, and you can switch to another server later if you want.

What a Mastodon timeline looks like.

Keep in mind that Mastodon’s infrastructure is mostly run by volunteers, who have been putting in long hours and a lot of their own resources to handle the recent spikes in traffic. Most servers are run by people with other commitments and lives to attend to, not a team of around-the-clock engineers committed to 99.999% uptime. So have patience when things are slow. Be kind.

For librarians, the benefits from joining Mastodon will probably mostly be social. Historically, professional uses of Mastodon have really played second fiddle. But this is perhaps changing, possibly very quickly. New arrivals from Twitter have brought new practices to Mastodon that weren’t common even a few months ago. Mastodon as a professional network is perhaps a new thing.

However, Mastodon remains more oriented toward conversations than some other socials. Personally, I find Mastodon useful for sounding my trusted community for ideas (which I did for this article); for growing deeper connections with other librarians; and for listening to others without Twitter’s algorithmic filter. All of these things are professional uses (I guess?), but more importantly they’re about being interested in people. Putting people ahead of crafting a personal or institutional brand is, in my opinion, the Mastodon way. Also, it’s more fun. I’d be glad to see you over there! You are welcome to follow me at

5 Tips for Getting Started on Mastodon

1. There’s no algorithm! You find stuff by following others and interacting with them.

2. Be a real person! Mastodon has historically had little patience with people or organizations trying to build their brand or self-promote. Be authentic and be interested.

3. Contribute! Most Mastodon servers are run by volunteers. Become a moderator; contribute financially; report abuse; or just write good posts. All of these things will help your Mastodon server thrive.

4. Use the moderation tools. You can mute or block users, or even entire servers. You can also filter out posts that include keywords that you don’t like. Taking advantage of these features will really improve your Mastodon experience.

5. Enjoy yourself! The nice thing about Mastodon is that it doesn’t have to feel like doomscrolling. Meet interesting people and have a good time!

[1] My favorite idiosyncratic Mastodon server is, which prohibits posts that contain the letter “e”.

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