The Vibes of Mastodon

Back in December, I decided to leave Twitter and joined Mastodon: the federated social network that’s not owned by any one person or company. Shortly thereafter, I tweeted for the final time on Twitter. I had originally intended to test out several options for replacing the newly-Elon-Musk-purchased social network; but after dabbling with Post, Hive Social, and Tribel Social, I discovered that none of them really had the same “feel” as Mastodon. The “vibes” were—are—really different, and I like it.

So if you’re interested in joining Mastodon, here’s what you can expect:

It Feels like the Internet of 1999

If you remember the internet of 1999, you probably remember it feeling like the wild west: frontier town websites, scrappy discussion forums, and no algorithm guiding, gatekeeping, or filter-bubbling what you saw.

Imagine those heady times, add some better moderation, and you have Mastodon.

The spirit of old-school webrings is alive in the niche Mastodon instances that have gathered around various professions, scientific research topics, and fandoms. The spirit of discussion forums is on the platform in the way hashtags are used across the “Fediverse” (a collective name for all of the interconnected ActivityPub servers) to connect with people who are interested in the same topic across the world.

Now, this also means that you’re not spoon-fed interesting content like on big social media sites. If you’re interested in NASA, you’ll need to follow the #NASA hashtag. A lot of new users have reported the Mastodon experience being a solitary one; but that’s just because they haven’t gone looking for people and topics they are interested in.

Mastodon doesn’t need algorithms or recommendations to surface the people users want to follow; instead, we just see their posts come up in hashtags (oh, did I mention you can follow hashtags? More on that later). But in short, it feels like the old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century internet; not least of which in the way that…

It feels more cooperative

One of the first differences you’re likely to notice between posting pictures on Mastodon and posting pictures on Twitter is that people on Mastodon are much more interested in utilizing image descriptions. Not only are they a huge quality-of-life improvement for people with vision problems and slow internet, some people use them for further explanations and even extra jokes. People want others to see what they share, so they make it more accessible.

People also don’t tear other people down as much on Mastodon. In fairness, this may be a personal experience, but since there’s no algorithmic advantage to tossing off a hurtful zinger at an opponent, you’re a lot more likely to see people answering kindly, or just muting or blocking troublemakers. It makes for fewer mic drops, but it’s still nice to see such kindness and cooperation.

That cooperation also comes up in the form of hashtags. Since there’s no algorithm pushing content you’re likely to interact with, people often find others using hashtags; just like in the old days of Twitter. See a topic you want to learn more about? You can follow a hashtag just like you follow a user and see all the federated posts a server knows about with a particular hashtag in your timeline. This also means that which instance you choose doesn’t have to be particularly important, as you can follow topics and users from essentially any server from your account.

That cooperative nature also leads to users donating to their instance administrators to keep the site going because they like it; kind of like with public media. Some servers have a Patreon account with perks, while others simply put up a PayPal or Kofi tip jar. Compared to a big social media company that requires advertising and subscriptions to stay afloat…

It feels more solid

Early in my experience with Mastodon, I put my coding and development account on a smaller, up-and-coming server; but shortly after I joined, the massive increase in signups from people fleeing Twitter caused some uptime issues on the small, self-hosted server. In order to relieve the load, I moved the account to Universeodon, a bigger server (which interestingly also hosts George Takei‘s Mastodon presence).

The move took all of five minutes, and I didn’t lose any followers or follows. In essence, I was able to pick up exactly where I left off; I didn’t have to rebuild my network on a new server. Everyone just came with me, and it was very simple.

This gives me a lot of confidence for all of my accounts; if one server goes away, I can go to another instance. In fact, if Mastodon itself goes away, I can go to another service altogether, such as Pixelfed or Friendica (or the inevitable Mastodon fork that will inevitably be released within hours), and since it’s all based on open standards, there’s no way for a billionaire with a trollface gif to pull the rug out from under me.

In a lot of ways…

It feels like the future

Honestly, Mastodon feels like the type of social media that Starfleet would use; my instance is my starship, and it plays nice with all the other instances in the fleet (though there are a few Romulan warbirds out there that we don’t interact with since they’re trying to do devious stuff).

Maybe we won’t be using social media by then. But if we are, I hope it’s something federated and standards-based; something a single bad actor can’t destroy without our consent.

We’re building a new social internet out there. Won’t you join us?

Flipping the Bird: How to Mastodon

Last time, we talked about the options for replacing Twitter if you want to “flip the bird.” I’ve made the choice to switch to Mastodon, at least to start; and I’ve really been enjoying it. If you’d like to make the jump, even if only to try it out, I’m here to help.

First of all, you should know that, despite Mastodon’s reputation for complication, that’s really more of a messaging problem than a real problem. Don’t worry; despite a couple of hiccups and bumps in the road, it’s actually set up pretty much exactly like email. If you have set up an email account, you can set up a Mastodon account. And I’m here to help.

tl;dr: If you can understand email, you can understand Mastodon. Don’t stress about choosing a server (instance); it changes very little about how you use the network, and switching is easy and lossless if you change your mind later.

What is Mastodon?

On the surface, Mastodon looks like a capable Twitter competitor (more technically known as a “microblogging social network”). It offers a 500-character limit on text posts, the ability to upload up to four pieces of media per post, the ability to edit posts, a “feed,” hashtags, following…all the basics.

But it’s different from Twitter in one key way: Mastodon is federated. We’ll talk more about that in the next article, as well as answering some other frequently asked questions; but what you need to know now is that it is not run by or beholden to any one operator. You can access the entire social network from any server, and you can pick up and move from one server to another in seconds.

The How-To

How do I join Mastodon?

People try to make a big deal out of how to join Mastodon. But don’t fall for it. It’s dead simple: just go to and click “Create Account,” or download the mobile app and tap “Get Started.” And here, admittedly, is where Mastodon’s first messaging hiccup can be found.

How do I choose a server?

This honestly isn’t as big a deal as it sounds. Most guides start with a long diatribe about this part of the process, but it’s actually pretty simple: scroll down the list at (or in the “get started” section of the app) and choose one you vibe with. The exact one you choose doesn’t really matter any more than the exact email provider you choose really matters.

But if I want to follow my friends, don’t I have to be on the same server?” Nope! With a few minor exceptions (usually related to bad behavior), anyone on any server can interact with anyone on any other server if they want. Just like email; you don’t have to have a Hotmail account to email people on Hotmail.

Do they have different features?” Not really, for the most part. Again, just like email, there are a couple of standard features; some servers might add a couple of bells and whistles (a longer post character limit here, a different visual design there), but for the most part you’ll get the same features on any server you join; and the Mastodon Server Covenant is an attempt to make sure they’re all safe.

But what if I choose wrong?” If you find that the server you’re a part of doesn’t meet your needs for one reason or another, just pack up and move to another. It’s easier than getting a new email address, because your follows and followers come with you.

Can you just decide for me?” Okay, okay. Check out,, and See if any of those catch your fancy.

How do I finish setting up my account?

After you’ve chosen a server, you’ll need to click “Create Account” in the top right if you’re on the desktop version; but if you’re on the mobile app, you should be taken straight to the next step.

After that, on both platforms, you’ll see the rules for the server in question. Note that this isn’t some super duper long license agreement; on most servers, you’ll have a half dozen, maybe ten rules to follow; usually in the general vein of “don’t do anything illegal and respect others.” You don’t have to give away any rights to participate on Mastodon. Kinda nice, isn’t it?

Once you’ve accepted the rules, just fill out the signup form and verify your email, exactly the way you would on any other online service.

How do I follow people?

Like any other social media service, you follow other people by typing in their username in the search box and clicking “follow.” The wrinkle is that usernames on Mastodon are composed of two parts—exactly like an email address. First comes the user’s handle (mine is “@ilinamorato”). Then comes the server where the user is based, which is formatted just like the end of an email address (mine is “”). Put them both together, and you have a full Mastodon username (@[email protected]).

Here’s where the second Mastodon Messaging Mistake comes in: if you’re on the desktop version of Mastodon, you should always look up profiles this way when you want to follow them. The search bar is at the top of the “Explore” tab; just paste the full Mastodon username into that bar and follow them from the search result that comes up. If you view a profile on their server instead of yours, you’ll be faced with a login page—and that can get confusing. So just copy the username (the full username!) into the search bar on your server and follow them from there. And if you use the mobile app—you probably don’t have to worry about any of this!

How do I tell people my handle so they can follow me?

On your profile, you should see a Share link. You can just use that, simple as anything.

Or you can tell people your Mastodon username the way you tell them your email address: by giving your handle first, then your server. They can paste that into their search bar and follow you easily.

Why is it so empty here?

Probably because you aren’t following anyone! Mastodon has no algorithm; you just get a chronological feed of every post by the people you follow, with no recommended posts. You can watch the “federated” feed (which is a firehose of every post by every user on every other server that your server knows about) or the “local” feed (a slightly less overwhelming firehose of every post by every user on your server); but the best way to get content on Mastodon is to follow people, or hashtags.

• • •

And that’s it! Everything after this is just answering FAQs. I’ll have a follow up post in a bit with some of those questions, but this is all you really need to know to have a great time on federated social media!

On the Ludological Decisions of an Oligarch

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is I find concerning about Elon Musk, but I think it’s this: he plays life like a game.

The people I know in real life who play it like that are insufferable, but Musk has the money to force other people to play it too.

Life isn’t a game.

I used to be a fan of his; largely because of SpaceX, which I’m still partial to. But he plays SpaceX like a game: rather than seeking excellence or science, he seems to seek spectacle in space; something NASA and ULA don’t do as much.

I used to want a Tesla, but he’s been playing that company like a game, too; all the work from home shenanigans, all the insistence on things being done his way, his attempt to rewrite the history of the company to get his name listed as founder.

The Boring Company is a game. The Hyperloop is a vaporware game that really only exists in concept so he can sell more Teslas. OpenAI doesn’t have much to do with Musk anymore, but it’s still kind of run like a game.

His family is a game, his sexual assault accusations are a game, his political affiliation is a game, the Ukraine-Russia war is a game. He makes his moves, he chuckles and giggles, he makes a pun, he posts a meme, and he goes on to his next move in the game.

Now he’s bought Twitter as a game, and I’m expecting him to run it as a game. Could this be when he finally gets serious and actually treats something with the gravity it deserves? Sure. But I’m not holding my breath.

Having fun with things, being whimsical, nothing wrong with any of that. But there’s a difference between that and treating other people’s lives (and the big forces that move people’s lives) as if they have no stakes that matter.

Because they don’t, to him. He has enough money to make ludological decisions about the lives of other people, while remaining insulated from their consequences himself. Every rich person does. But he has taken the additional step of assuming there ARE no consequences.

It feels like the reign of a clown king, holding unchecked power and facing no repercussions for his actions.

It feels like there should be a resistance.

I don’t much care who runs Twitter. But what I do care about is that people are cared for, that the helpless are helped, and that the voiceless have voice. That people are treated with dignity and worth.

And I don’t think you can gamify that.