Making Mastodon my new home

I have a vague memory of coming across the name Mastodon in the past, but I never cared about it until I read this post by my colleague at Automattic.

For those who are not aware of what Mastodon is, it’s a social networking software that anyone can download and install – thus creating a Mastodon instance.

Unlike social networking services like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit, Mastodon is different in who owns your content that you publish.

Understanding Mastodon instances

When you create an account and tweet on Twitter, your tweets are basically stored on Twitter’s service who can decide to purge your data anytime, if it’s against their terms of usage.

Mastodon, on the other hand, will be a Twitter-like service that is installed by you on your own servers. Such a setup is called a Mastodon instance.

If you are not tech savvy, you can always join other popular Mastodon instances like mastodon.social and mastodon.cloud that accept registrations. mastodon.social is the flagship Mastodon instance that was created by the Mastodon developer, Eugen Rochko – Github and Mastodon profile.

mastodon.social is crowded and registrations are closed at the moment. mastodon.cloud is the next close Mastodon instance recommended by the admins of mastodon.social, but depending on your interests, you can always choose any instance/server of your choice here.

Federated network

Given that you are signing up on a specific Mastodon instance/server, you might wonder if your communication is limited to that network.

No.

That’s where Mastodon excels. It’s a federated system that enables members of one instance/server to communicate seamlessly with other members of other instances/servers.

I am @arunsathiya@mastodon.social and this does not mean that my toots (status updates/tweets) are limited to that Mastodon server. Any user from another Mastodon server can follow me and engage with my toots.

Given the nature of this federated communication, Mastodon is highly resistant to governmental interference.

The admins of a specific Mastodon community/server/instance are who govern that community.

If a community ever decides to shut down, or is forced to shut down by authorities, you can always move to another community and continue being a part of Mastodon.

Similarly, if you ever find yourself not comfortable with being an user on a specific community, you can always setup your own Mastodon community on a server of your choice.

Another choice is to allow services like masto.host to setup a Mastodon server for you.

When you choose to own your own server, you are in control of your community – you can disable registrations if you prefer so, limit your Mastodon community to your family/friends and do much more with available administrative features on the Mastodon software.

Impersonation?

You might wonder if you sign up with your name on a specific Mastodon community like mastodon.social, what happens to the same username on other Mastodon communities?

Example: Let’s say you are ben@mastodon.social, but it does not mean that you are ben@mastodon.cloud as well, unless you sign up and secure the same username on that Mastodon community.

You might wonder if this would cause impersonators to rise, but this is pretty much not a Mastodon issue, but an issue in any federated systems. This applies to emails and domains. There is no way you can prevent this, but to sign up on all Mastodon instances with your preferred username on each. This kind of beats the purpose of a federated system though.

It’s up to users to verify the authenticity of the person they are communicating with.

How do I access Mastodon?

Mastodon communities are web apps that you can access on any web browsers. A few networks that I have signed up for:

I can sign in into each of these Mastodon communities on Android, iOS and Mac OS using available apps. I have tested a few Android apps so far, including Tusky, Mastalab and Twidere. Of the lot, Tusky is my favorite ATM.

On the Mac OS front, Whalebird is really good.

Extending Mastodon

Mastodon is not limited to tooting with other users, but there are specific use-cases that are cropping up already and seem impressive. Two such cases:

Mirrored.Social is an instance that will #mirror some popular accounts from other social networks. If you wish to stay updated on MKBHD’s updates from Twitter, on Mastodon, there’s a bot that does just that.

Likewise, hntooter is a Mastodon bot that auto-toots front page news from Hacker News.

What you do with Mastodon and what you build on Mastodon network is limited by your creativity.

Limitations?

There are a few limitations at the moment.

For example, if you choose to sign up on a specific Mastodon community, but soon realize that this community’s rules do not resonate with your thoughts, you might want to move out to another community.

In such a case, there is no way to move your toots (content) to the new Mastodon instance. There is a open Github issue requesting this feature right here. Similarly, Mastodon does not integrate well with other software like WordPress at the moment. There is a open Jetpack request here to integrate Mastodon as a Publicize service.

I also haven’t got the hang of how Mastodon’s content visibility works. I should probably setup a Mastodon community of my own to understand how it works better.

Resonates with WordPress and other FOSS

I recently quit Twitter, Facebook, Google and the likes for available FOSS alternatives. It’s been two to three months since I quit these networks, and I don’t have any regrets. I am particularly glad that I am being more responsible about my content, my work and my personal information.

Mastodon seems to resonate a lot with WordPress as well. WordPress as a free open-source software (FOSS) can be downloaded, installed and extended by anyone. Mastodon feels similar with a difference in how federated communication comes baked in.

I came across a few other media publications and resources about Mastodon as well, which are definitely good reads:

If you do sign up on mastodon.social as well, do holler! I am @arunsathiya@mastodon.social.

Updates

August 27, 2018, 2045 IST: As David mentioned on the toot below, not everyone sees the same timeline as others – even when you compare users in the same instance.

This is because of the privacy settings set on toots. In his words,

Due to each user’s privacy settings on a toot, who each of us are federated with, who is blocked, whis suspended server-side.

Additionally, global reach/virality is a concept that cannot be predicted on Mastodon. Everything is driven around human engagement and could take time.

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