Newbie’s FAQ on Mastodon social network

I’m a new Mastodon user and writing this post to help you decide whether the new growing (users tripled in last 10 days) social network is for you.

What is Mastodon?

It’s a decentralised social network that is hosted by users for users. A small number of users will host instances where the rest of users can choose to join. It’s open-source, free, ad-free, newsfeed-algorithm-free.

How does it work?

Instances have their own local community and flavour. You choose and join an instance that you trust and like. That instance connects with other global instances so that people can connect and share across instances.

What can be shared?

Text up to 500 characters, photos, videos, links, the usual stuff.

How does it look like?

Why this?

But why?

Due to the nature of decentralised and distributed instances, it’s just hard or impossible for an organization or someone to try to build a brand or place advertisements. As of now, there are over 1000 instances of Mastodon.

So what?

In a matter of days, I’ve had a private group discussion with someone from Sri Lanka and someone from Japan about freedom of expression. I’ve had a group discussion with a digital nomad living in Vietnam and an instance owner in Hongkong about the status of Mastodon in China.

From my experience, these types of conversations simply don’t and probably can’t exist on Twitter or Facebook. Of course there are still funny videos and photos going around, or shitposters if you enjoy reading shitposts, just pick which instance to join or who to follow according to your preference.

The decentralised model means no one single company can monopolise your social network and communication channel. Multiple points of failure means Mastodon as a whole is here to stay, even if an entire instance goes down.

Instead of a corporation running Mastodon, the efforts and hosting costs are distributed across instance owners. Most of them self-fund, some welcome donations from supporters. Basically, the community helps itself.

Why now?

  1. Much more tech-savvy people now than 10 years ago to spin up and run their own instances. Students, witches, queers, hobbyists, tech people etc.
  2. Server prices drop but the supporting open-source tools become more mature, easier than before to administer, deploy and support instances.
  3. General unhappiness with the way mainstream social media is run by a few large corporations, with the overarching goal of making profits.

But the name sounds…

Remember your impression of the name Google when it first came out? Mastodon is the elephant from dinosaurs era. Meet fluffy elephant friend

Give me some numbers?

368,200 user accounts, 1039 instances, 4,601,715 posts. Number of posts counted using a general purpose web automation tool I’m working on.

https://instances.mastodon.xyz/list
total = 0;
for row from 2 to 1040
total += Number(this.fetchText(tx('((//tr)['+row+']//td)[6]')));
echo 'Total posts - ' total

Is there a list of instances?

https://instances.mastodon.xyz/list

Can I preview an instance?

http://www.unmung.com/mastoview

Can I host my own instance?

https://digitalmind.io/post/deploying-mastodon-on-digital-ocean

Can I contribute ideas, feedback, code etc?

https://github.com/tootsuite/mastodon/issues

Can I contribute money?

https://www.patreon.com/user?u=619786

Who created Mastodon?

Eugen Rochko. A 24-year-old guy living in Germany, who graduated from university last year. From his last name, I guess he might be from Russia? In a sense, you can say that he has built on a set of open-source technologies that have been around for a long time, and brought it to mainstream.

He has worked on it since 2016, but only released it some time in Q4 2016 after his graduation. I think an article by Verge or Motherboard in early April was when it started to take off. He lives on contributions on Patreon instead of earning multiple times more through market salary of his skills.


Why do you even bother to write a FAQ?

  1. I believe in a distributed or decentralised social network — when users are really empowered, the community can create something beautiful.
  2. My friend said this when I share Mastodon on Facebook — Meh too little, too late. Not gonna change anything? Remember app.net or diaspora?
  3. I’m sick of computer algorithms deciding what I see on my newsfeed, and the never-ending new features which feel bloated and useless to me.

Now, tell me honestly.. Do you have multiple Mastodon accounts?

Well you’ve guessed it, yes.. Ryu and Ken always go together.

Any other articles or resources on Mastodon?

Yes, plenty — check out official Mastodon FAQ and other Medium articles.