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Social networks have gotten a lot of press attention over the past few years for the actions of irresponsible users. Even though most social networkers are happy to use the platforms for discussion, reasonable debate, and cat photos, a few bad apples have caused trouble.
Cyberbullying, NSFW content, terrorist propaganda, and extreme views can all be problematic. Twitter in particular has had difficulty in managing extremism and propaganda. It’s also been poor at dealing with offensive behavior and bullying.
Which brings us nicely to Mastodon, a new open-source social network that is focused on the user. What you want to see, what you want to ignore, what you want to share — these things are all governed by granular controls, meaning you retain complete control over what is seen.
Mastodon Instances for Everyone
If you head to mastodon.social to sign up, you’ll find that there’s more than one Mastodon. While they’re all connected, the various instances of Mastodon (all running on separate servers, administered by volunteers donating spare server resources) offer different experiences.
For instance, the first you find might be focused on a particular topic, like technology or a TV show. Another might offer general discussion but with strict rules against “non-progressive” name calling.
Be wary, however. While you might find an instance that focuses on technology, you’re just as likely to stumble over one that offers pornography. Mastodon supports audio and video (see below), so you might run into material you don’t want to see. As a result, children should not use Mastodon unsupervised.
There are around 1,400 Mastodon instances. You can see the full list at instances.mastodon.xyz, where you’re bound to find one to join. Here, you’ll see the status of each server, how often that server is online, whether they accept registrations, use HTTPS (the secure method of using the web), IPv6 (find out what IPv6 is), and numerous other things.
Signing Up for Mastodon
Once you’ve found an instance you like the look of, sign up. You’ll need to provide a username, valid email address (for account verification) and a strong password. After signing in with a verified account name, you’ll see a columnar user interface, similar to Twitter’s Tweetdeck web app.
You’ll see four columns:
- Your profile and Toot field — A Toot is the Mastodon equivalent of a Tweet.
- Home — Toots from people you follow will appear here.
- Notifications — Any Toots directed your way, and other activity, is listed here.
- Getting started — Here you’ll find a list of views, from the Local timeline (from users on the same instance as you) and the Federated timeline (the full timeline across all instances), as well as details of blocked and muted users. You’ll also find a link to the Preferences screen.
The first thing you should do before sending a Toot, however, is to click Preferences. From there, set up your avatar image, preferred username, and profile. You can do this in Edit Profile. There’s also a link in the Profile column.
Once you Save Changes, click Back to Mastodon, and use the Search field to find users discussing topics you’re interested in. When you find someone, open their profile, and click the Follow button.
The more people you follow, the more interesting the Home column will be!
Ready to share your thoughts with the world of Mastodon? Unlike Twitter, where you have a mere 140 characters to share your thoughts, Toots can comprise up to 500 characters. This means you can share a lot more in one go!
Like Twitter, you can add hashtags and @ mentions to your Toots.
A wide selection of emojis is available for you to add to your Toots, and you can also upload photos. The CW button enables you to set a custom content warning. This will obscure your tweet until a reader clicks on it. Similarly, the NSFW button will appear when a media link or image is added.
Photos can be added from your device via the camera icon. How your post is disseminated across the instance and beyond is determined via the globe button.
Safety, Security, and Privacy With Mastodon
The globe button, labelled Adjust status privacy, is one of the most important elements of your Mastodon experience. Each Toot can be given a privacy level:
- Public — Posts to public timelines.
- Unlisted — Not displayed in public timelines.
- Private — Posts to followers only.
- Direct — Posts to mentioned users only.
This focus on privacy and safety is further enhanced via the Settings > Preferences screen. Here, you can specify a default post privacy setting and configure notifications. For instance, if you want to block notifications about activity by non-followers, you can check the corresponding box and click Save Changes.
Additionally, two-factor authentication is available for your Mastodon account. Sure, it’s a new social network and many cybercriminals will prefer the low-hanging fruit of established services. But it’s better to be safe and secure online than not. Indeed, several mobile apps are available for Mastodon, so enabling 2FA enabled is a wise idea, just in case someone nabs your phone.
Make Mastodon Mobile
All current mobile platforms have Mastodon client apps available.
- Windows 10/Xbox One/Windows 10 Mobile users should go for the Mastodon app, a straightforward client app that brings the mastodon.social instance to your device. You’re currently locked into this instance, but you’ll be able to join others later.
- Several Android clients are available for Mastodon, but the top pick has to be the imaginatively named Tusky. This open source client will let you interact with your preferred Mastodon instance and share words, pictures, and videos just as you would through the browser.
- iOS users can use the Amoroq for Mastodon client. This comes with the same features you would enjoy in the browser, including emoji support, GIF and video upload, hashtag search, and so on.
Time to Toot, Not Tweet?
From a peak in 2014, Twitter’s share price has been in sharp decline. Extremism is turning off users. Bad behavior and rudeness is turning the once-popular and respected social network into an arena of unpleasantness.
In short, Mastodon is a great alternative to Twitter, and one that might actually get out of the starting gates and make its presence felt. While it might currently be devoid of celebrities (or even people who got famous purely from social networking), that shouldn’t stop you from trying it out. Spend a few days giving it a try — Mastodon might just be the social space you’ve been looking for.
Have you tried Mastodon? What did you think of the mobile apps? Or would you rather social networks just went away? Tell us in the comments!