Mastodon Starter Guide

Mastodon is free, but you must join a server or Instance (This is Unix speak for a special kind of server for a server). Some servers are invitation only, some have a waiting list. Keep in mind that you can’t change your Username. You only need, usually, to belong to one server, and it’s not difficult to move to another. You can Follow (like Friending) any Mastdon user (if they consent), no matter what Instance or server they live on.

You can use a Web browser or an app to read or post on Mastodon. There are apps for Android and iOS, not only from Mastodon, but several third party developers as well. This page reviews some of the iOS apps for Mastodon. Mostly I’m hearing people recommend Tusky for Android devices and  Metatext for iOS.

Once you have created a Mastodon account on an Instance or Server, you need to do a few more things to really join your community.

Mastodon Profile

Fill your Profile out. You can have an avatar, a header image, and up to four links to Websites, blogs, or your profile on other social sites (Instagram, Deviant Art, Twitter, Flickr, etc.) Your profile tells others who you are, and what you are interested in. Fill out your bio. Use hashtags in your Profile (like #books, #cats, #Perl, etc.) to show what you are interested in, and make it easier for others who share your interest to find you. If you are using two-word hash tags, like #Sciencefiction, camel-cae or intercap them to make it easer for screen readers to recognize them: #ScienceFiction.

Using Mastodon

You post “toots” of up to 500 characters, and can attach images or short videos.

You can also Favorite, respond to, and repost messages from other users.

Tamitha  offers thse super helpful Mastoon tips:

Tip 1: Use hashtags. There’s no algorithm to suggest followers or shove posts into your feed in the hopes you follow someone.

Tip 2: Boost (re-post) toots liberally. *You* are the algorithm.

Tip 3: Use CW (content warnings / content wrappers) to discuss politics, the meta.

Tip 4: To create “threads”, make the first post public and each reply “unlisted” to prevent clogging up your instance’s feed.

Tip 5: Provide text descriptions, even just basic ones, when attaching photos or media.

Tip 6: Use the “report” features for moderating trolls so your admins can take action.

Mastodon Web UI

I’m still using the Mastodon Web interface. This post discusses the Web version of Mastodon.

Following Users

You can Follow or be Followed by anyone, no matter where their “home” server is (unless they set their account preferences to approve followers; then you have to wait for approval).

Once you see someone  you want to Follow, perhaps because of a post, click their Username or avatar to see their Mastodon User Profile. That will tell you a bit about them, and their interests. If you want to Follow them, click the large blue Follow button.

If they are on the same server or Instance as you, you’re finished.

But if they aren’t you’ll see a screen a bit like this:

When You Aren’t on the Same Server

You need to use the Copy button to copy their Mastodon address, and paste it in to the search field at the top left of your Mastodon Timeline.

Think of Mastodon servers or Instances as being like email: you can send and receive email even if you use Gmail and your friend uses iCloud or Hotmail, or a work address (I stole this analogy).

Mastodon and RSS

You can add any Mastodon account to your feed reader (an RSS reader like NetNewsWire or Reeder) by using the following formula:


In the sidebar on the left is the posting form or field. Beneath the area for the text of your post is this strip of icons

Mastodon Posting Tools

Paper clip Attaching images (.png, .jpg. .gif, etc), video and audio

Three stacked bars icon Polls

World/Globe icon Publishing levels (who can see your posts and where; see the docs)

CW Content Warning (protect your peers) by warning that a post topc may be sensitive

EN for English, in my case. Click this two letter abbreviation (Yours might not be EN) to post in other languages

On Attaching Images, Audio and Video

In general, rather than uploading attachments, placing a burden on the server/Instance storage and bandwidth, link to the media instead, on your site or blog, YouTube, Vimeo, or a media hosting service.

Replying and Sharing and Favoriting

If you look below any post you’ll see a rwo of icons a bit like this:

Mastodon Web UI

The double curved arrow is how you Reply to a post.  The square of arrows is how you “boost” or quote a post to increase its circulation. The star is how you Favorite a post. The open triangle of three connected dots is how you Share a post; options and methods for sharing, including email, etc. will depend on your Browser and OS. The three dots  ellipses, if you click them, provide a menu allowing you to:


The Mastodon for Web menu associated with the ellipses: Expand, copy, embed, bookmark, mention direct message, mute, block and Report options.
Maston Web ellipses menu

This is where you can directly Message someone, if they allow it, block them so you don’t see their posts, temporarily Mute them (you’ll still Follow them, they won’t know you’ve Muted them), Report a post to the Moderators, for offensive posts, or if you are concerned about threats, harassment, or other issues you see in their timeline, or completely block an entire Instance or Domain or Mastodon server, so you never see any posts from that community.

  • Liking a post by clicking the star is a personal message to the writer of the post that you liked it. This isn’t public, tracked beyond the poster, or counted.
  • If you want to spread the post, click the double-curved arrow  Boost button.
  • The nearest Mastodon equivalent to a Twitter like is to do both a Like and a Boost. 

Mastodon Direct Messages

Direct Messages, while you can limit their audience, are not secure or really private. When sending Mastodon Direct Messages, or private messages to other users, if you mention Usernames in the body of the message, Mastodon assumes you are including that user in the message as well, and sends those users the message too. Do not use the @ symbol with a Username in a message unless you want that user to receive the message.

Migrating from Twitter to Mastodon

I would encourage you to retain your Twitter account, just remove your content, delete Twitter apps, remove their access to your account via your Privacy settings  and stop posting. You can downlaod all your posts and messages, for a personal record, via your Twitter Profile. Keeping your account makes it harder to impersonate you. Add a link to your Mastodon address in a pinned post or in your profile on Twitter. Retaining your account makes it difficult for some to impersonate you. Own your namespace. Consider removing all your Tweets.

Linking to Your Mastodon Profile

There are two ways to provide a link to your Mastodon Profile. One way looks rathe like an email, the other more like a Web address or URL. The email-like version works for people on the same server or instance, but Twitter or other services may interpret it like an email address. Use the long version, as Mastodon user profcarroll suggests:

When you make your mastodon account don’t share it like an email. Share it like a link.

So not which clicks like an email but rather

In other words your link to send to friends would be:

your server +@ + Username

as a single piece of text, like a Web address or URL.

Finding People You Know on Mastodon

If you are on Twitter and want to find people who have opened accounts on Mastodon, someone wrote a server script that scrapes Fediverse Usenames (and email addresses, since a lot of people drop the leading @) from the Twitter bios and display names of people you follow over there

Once you have your Mastodon account, make an intro post and include #hashtags about your interests, like #birds, or#writing.

Dibirdify is useful in terms of finding Twitter users you follow (or have blocked) on Mastodon.

Fedi Directory is a curated directory of users based on interests and topics. It’s opt-in, you have to ask to be listed, but any one can browse it for accounts/people to Follow.

Verification on Mastodon

In your Mastodon Profile on the Web, you can include a link to your Website. You can use your own Website to verify your Mastodon identity by adding a link to your Website in your Mastodon Profile. Then copy the “rel=me” link in your Mastodon Profile  (edit Profile, then scroll down to Verification; use the Copy button). Add that link to the top page of your site (the <-tage or clickable text doesn’t matter). Alternatively, add the link in your top page’s Head metadata. After a bit, Mastodon will mark that link in your Profile as verified.


Mastodon Web Verification

Once Mastodon has spidered the link on your Website, it verifies the connection between the User Profile and the external site.

Verified Links in a Mastodon Web Profile

Mastodon Resources

The official Mastodon help pages for using Mastodon in a Web browser are pretty good! Start with Signing up for an Account and Setting Up Your Profile.

Here’s an Introduction to Mastodon: Getting started with Mastodon. Here’s another introduction to Mastodon for people used to Twitter. Once you have joined, this list of Mastodon tips is helpful.

A futuristic Mastodon introduction for 2021 is helpful for understanding the cultural and social niceties around Mastodon’s role as part of the Fediverse or Indieweb. It’s not technical.

The Washington Post has a a decent piece: A guide to getting started with Twitter alternative Mastodon.

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