I signed up for Mastodon a month ago. Ok, fine. I month minus two days. It’s been long enough that I’m relying on it now and check it more often than Twitter. This blog shows up my impressions and learnings.
I’m happy with Mastodon overall. With two caveats
- A social network is only useful if the people you want to interact with are on there. A good percentage of the people I follow are now on Mastodon (or both Mastodon and Twitter).
- It took a while to get settled. Granted Twitter had a learning curve too. But it was a long time ago. (My first post was in 2009). Some of it is forgetting. Apparently, I used to use the TwitterFox browser extension. And some of it is because the unofficial apps are better than the “official app”
Signing up for Mastodon
Signing up for Mastodon isn’t particularly user friendly. First you have to pick a server. Before you know much about the service.
A server is kinda like an email provider. You get a different domain name @gmail.com, @yahoo.com, etc. You can still talk to people on other servers, just like email. But that’s where the comparison ends. You don’t get a different user interface or special email user features. So what is different by server
- People can learn something about you from just looking at your name. For example, fosstodon supports free and open source software.
- Mastodon has a local timeline to see things other people on the server posted (regardless of whether you follow them).
- Different servers have different moderation rules. For example, I wanted one that was ok with non-human accounts for NYJavaSIG and CodeRanch.
- Servers are volunteer run and can close up shop. If that happens, you have to move.
- Servers can be banned by other servers. (ex: one with terrible moderation)
For my personal account, I chose mastodon.social because it was one of the two main ones and I didn’t know what I was doing. I later learned that people are encouraged to do choose different ones to spread the load. I chose to not to move at this time partially because it is cool to see the big timeline while I’m getting my bearings and partially because new servers keep getting stood up and switching after things stabilize reduces hops.
For NYJavaSig, I was interested in hackyderm.io and fosstodon.org because they are tech in nature. Fosstodon seemed more open to non human accounts. For NYJavaSig, I was able to register immediately. By the time, I got to doing registring for CodeRanch, you had to fill out a form saying why you wanted an account and have someone approve it. That took about a day.
Speaking of switching, you keep your followers/followings. Your toots (like posts) don’t move as far I can tell. That’s not important to me though.
Ultimately, it isn’t that important which server you choose. It is the accounts you follow that matter. Which brings us to….
Finding people to follow
I started out finding people on twitter who posted that they moved to Mastodon. Then I followed people I saw via boosts (like retweets)
After that, I learned that Marc Hoffman created JavaBubble for the Twitter/Mastodon/GitHub handles of Java folks. Non human entities are allowed like the NYJavaSig. He has good quality control. My contribution of CodeRanch to the list got rejected because almost our all tweets are about our free book promos. (Which is fair. We should post more outside of the promo).
I didn’t import the whole list for my personal account because I want my feed to be mostly English. I did add a bunch of people from it though. And it serves as a great lookup table. I did import the whole list for CodeRanch so I can look at the feed from there if I want.
There’s also websites, described by this blog post to help automate finding folks you follow.
Buttons when tooting (posting)
There’s a few interesting buttons when creating a toot.
- World icon – you can control the access of your posts to public, unlisted (anyone with a link), followers only and visible to only people mentioned. The later being a direct message. More on that in a minute
- Content warning – Mastodon encourages a content warning for certain topics. Even neutral ones. Like “politics neutral”. The idea is to give people a clue what is inside and let them click if they want to see it. I like this idea. Also could be useful for tv/movie/book spoilers :).
There’s no official Mac app. The browser approach isn’t bad. I like the notifications view shows you how many there are. However, I have three accounts. Two of which are on the same server. An app would let me have a better experience across the three.
First I tried Mastonaut. Switching between accounts wasn’t bad. You can have multiple columns for different timelines (home/local/federated). I didn’t like that because it auto refreshes. And the local/federated timelines are busy places. The big problem with this app is that it didn’t let me add two sites from fosstodon. So I have my personal account and two of nyjavasig. Between this two problems, I kept researching.
Next I tried Whalebird, which I like. It’s a lot like slack. You have to choose which account you want at a given moment, but it is one click. And like Slack so feels familiar. Like Slack, it has channels, you get choices of: home, notification, mention, direct messages, favourite, bookmark, local timeline (your server), public timeline (local + all accounts someone on your server follows), and search.
Remember I was going back to DMs. The apps to a good job separating them out. So even though they are “just posts”, they feel like a native concept. I’m happy with Whalebird and sticking with it. At least for now.
There is an official app for Mastodon for iOS.It only supports one account so not very useful to me. I then read this comparison of 8 apps. I decided to try Toot! I paid the $4 and learned that I didn’t like it. First, the sign up isn’t intuitive. You sign up as anonymous to the server and login. Ok fine, setup is one time. However, the app doesn’t show how many comments there are on a toot. I really wanted that feature so I tried Metatext.
I’m happy with Metatext so far. It is open source with the code on GitHub. It’s basically maintained by one guy. But it’s free. So I can always switch in the future if another one becomes better for my needs.
To switch between users, you hold the user icon in the top left to get the other choices. There are home/local/federated timelines on top. And search/notifications/messages on the bottom.
In your profile, you can enter up to four links. They give you a URL to include that includes rel=”me”. Resave your profile after adding the link to your page to show you control it and the links show up as green/verified.
You can definitely change the body of the link to something other than “Mastodon.” And I think the link it is a one time check. I deleted one of them a while ago and it is still there. For github, there is a hack to get the verification link to work.
Mastodon is free. However, the servers are paid for with donations as this is not a for profit endeavor and there are no ads. I signed up for the $10 a month Mastodon plan (which includes mastodon.social) and $5 a month Fosstodon plan.
Both also have $8/month plans now that Twitter has set $8 as the appropriate price for social media. Mastodon’s is called “8 dollars count too” with a description of “People have asked for this tier”. Fosstodon’s is called “Elon Tier” with a description of “Forget Twitter blue and stick it to Elon by supporting Fosstodon instead/”
What don’t I like (or haven’t figured out yet)
With just under a month of experience, I don’t know yet if these are dislikes or not having found a better way yet.
- I haven’t found a mobile app that notifies me about direct messages
- I get a number of posts in other languages. There’s a bug on github so this one isn’t just me.