How to Join Mastodon, the Open-Source Twitter Alternative – A Complete Guide

default image

So you‘ve heard about Mastodon, the hot new open-source, decentralized social network. You want to give it a try as a possible replacement for Twitter, but not sure where to begin? Don‘t worry friend, I‘ve got you covered!

As a long-time Mastodon user and tech enthusiast, let me walk you through everything you need to know to get up and running on this exciting platform.

What is Mastodon and Why People Are Flocking to It

First, a quick primer on what exactly Mastodon is and why it‘s suddenly blowing up:

Mastodon is a free, open-source social media platform started in October 2016 by Eugen Rochko, a Russian software developer. Frustrated with Twitter‘s lack of accountability and rampant abuse issues, Rochko wanted to create an ad-free, decentralized alternative focused on user safety and autonomy.

The result is Mastodon’s unique, federated network structure. Rather than one central platform like Twitter, Mastodon is made up of thousands of independently operated servers, each with their own rules, tools, and moderation policies. Users on any Mastodon server can seamlessly follow and interact with users on any other server, making it feel like one cohesive network.

This decentralized design means no single corporation owns the platform or users’ data. Mastodon is funded through individual server donations, user subscriptions, and grants, with development driven by its open-source volunteer community.

Now, with Elon Musk’s controversial takeover of Twitter, there’s been an exodus of disgruntled users looking for greener pastures. Between October 27th and November 6th, Mastodon’s user base shot up from around 230,000 users to over 1 million, according to founder Eugen Rochko. People are flocking to sample its ad-free, community-owned, chronological timeline.

By the Numbers: Mastodon‘s Meteoric Growth

  • October 2016: Mastodon launches
  • October 2019: Hits 1 million monthly active users
  • October 2022: User base sits around 320,000 before Twitter buyout
  • October 27th, 2022: Elon finalizes Twitter purchase
  • November 1st, 2022: Mastodon passes 1 million monthly active users
  • November 6th, 2022: Over 1.6 million users with 7,000+ servers

This exponential growth shows no signs of slowing. As issues continue to plague Twitter under its controversial new leadership, Mastodon stands poised to become the ethical, decentralized social platform of the future.

Why You Should Join Mastodon

So those are the basics, but why should YOU hop aboard the Mastodon train? Here are a few of the key benefits:

  • No ads or algorithms: See posts chronologically from people you actually follow, with no filtered timelines or ads in sight.

  • 500 character limit: Longer than tweets, allowing for more thoughtful discussion.

  • Privacy controls: Granular privacy settings, block lists, and content warnings help take control of your digital space.

  • Custom emojis: Express yourself with fun custom emojis and avatars offered by each server.

  • Data ownership: Your content belongs to you, not a corporation. Data portability allows you to switch servers while retaining your followers.

  • Healthy communities: Smaller, niche servers let you find your tribe and strict moderation limits harassment.

  • User governance: Community-written rules and democratically elected mods on each server means you have a say in policies.

  • Open protocol: Anyone can contribute ideas and code to improving the open-source Mastodon protocol.

For those unsatisfied with Twitter’s direction or looking for an online home that aligns with their values, Mastodon ticks all the boxes. Now let‘s get into the nitty gritty of actually joining.

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started on Mastodon

Ready to take the plunge? Here is a detailed walkthrough to getting yourself set up on Mastodon today:

Choose a Mastodon Server to Join

To sign up for Mastodon, first you’ll need to select a server to join. Each server operates independently with its own moderation and vibe, similar to message boards of old.

Browse the servers listed at to find one that fits your interests and values. Things to look for:

  • General/local topics: e.g. US-focused, UK-focused, gaming, music, LGBTQ+

  • Size: Bigger servers have more users to interact with but can be chaotic. Smaller ones foster community.

  • Open registration: Avoid any marked as “Invite-only.”

  • Code of conduct: Servers with detailed community rules tend to be safer spaces.

I suggest picking a smaller server (<10k users) for now while Mastodon is overloaded with new sign-ups. This will allow for quicker account verification and first postings. You can always join more servers later!

Sign Up for Your Account

Once you’ve selected your server, it’s time to create your account. Click the “Sign Up” button and you’ll be walked through the following:

  • Pick a username: This will be your unique handle on this server. I’d go with some version of your name.

  • Enter an email & password: Make sure these are typed correctly!

  • Set a display name: This is the name that shows on your posts. Get creative!

  • Agree to the server’s terms and codes of conduct. Read through these to understand the rules of your new online home.

Once your account is created, you’ll receive a confirmation email. Be sure to verify this promptly so you can start posting!

Customize Your Profile and Settings

Before diving in, take some time to customize your profile and adjust any default settings to your liking:

  • Upload a profile picture and header image. Show off your personality!

  • Write a clever bio. Give people a snippet about your interests and intentions on Mastodon.

  • Make your account private. This ensures only approved followers see your posts.

  • Enable two-factor authentication. Add an extra layer of login security through apps like Google Authenticator.

  • Adjust preferences. Choose your default post privacy, disable GIF autoplay, etc. Poke around to get familiar with the options.

Once your profile is spiffed up, it‘s time to start exploring!

Find and Follow Users

Now the fun begins! Here are some tips for finding interesting people and topics:

  • Follow suggested users on your homepage like server mods and popular local users.

  • Introduce yourself with a first post using #introductions and #mastodon hashtags.

  • Search for topics and locations using hashtags and the search bar. The "People you might like" suggestions are also handy.

  • Follow interesting posters when you come across them in posts and hashtags.

  • Import your Twitter social graph using a Mastodon Twitter crossposter app to find mutuals.

  • Participate in Follow Fridays (#ff). Share your handle and follow back anyone who follows you.

Building up a robust follow list tailored to your interests ensures an engaging home feed. And don’t be shy about connecting – most Mastodon users are excited to welcome newcomers!

Post Your First Toot

Once you’re ready, it’s time to test the waters with your first post (called a "toot"!) Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Introduce yourself and share what brought you to Mastodon

  • Reply to another user‘s post or participate in a hashtag

  • Share an interesting article, meme, or piece of art

  • Ask the community a question to spark discussion

  • Live-toot your thoughts and reactions to something happening right now

And remember, if your first post doesn’t get much engagement, don’t get discouraged! It takes time to build an audience. Relax, be yourself, and have fun connecting with your new follow graph. The hearts, reposts, and comments will come with time.

Interact via Boosts, Faves, and Replies

Mastodon has its own versions of retweets, likes, and replies for interacting with others’ posts:

  • Boost: Reposts a post to your followers. Shows appreciation and expands the reach.

  • Favorite: Marks a post you enjoy. Similar to Twitter’s heart icon.

  • Reply: Starts a comment thread in response to a post.

Make use of these tools to engage with posts you find interesting. Boosts in particular help build a sense of community. And unlike retweets, boosting does not directly notify the original poster, preventing dogpiling.

Mastodon Etiquette to Know

Since you’ll be joining established communities with their own norms, it’s good to learn some Mastodon etiquette tips:

  • Review server rules/codes of conduct. Follow all posted guidelines.

  • Be thoughtful with hashtags. Don‘t over-tag posts or use irrelevant ones.

  • Give trigger warnings. Content warnings let users filter disturbing/NSFW posts.

  • Respect context collapse. Your posts may have readers of all ages and backgrounds.

  • Assume good intentions. Mastodon rewards kindness.

  • Don‘t be a stranger! Engage with your fellow users via boosts, faves, and replies.

Apps and Tools for Accessing Mastodon

Mastodon is fully open source, so there are a variety of apps and tools for accessing the platform:

  • Web app: The default, full-featured interface usable from any browser.

  • Mobile apps: iOS and Android apps with offline and push notification support. Many third-party options too.

  • Desktop apps: Cross-platform apps like Tootle and Koyu offer enhanced experiences.

  • Twitter cross-posters: Automatically mirror tweets to Mastodon and vice versa.

  • Browser extensions: Make your web experience more Mastodon-friendly.

  • Bots & APIs: Automate posting and access Mastodon data through its developer-friendly API.

So while the official apps are solid, don’t be afraid to shop around for the tools that fit your preferences. The possibilities are wide open.

Take Control of Your Social Space

There you have it! You now posses all the knowledge needed to join Mastodon and start enjoying a social network owned by its users, not shareholders.

The decentralized community experience simply can‘t be matched by Twitter or other closed, corporate platforms. Once you join Mastodon, you‘ll have:

  • A transparent, democratically moderated online home

  • Control over your data, privacy settings, and algorithms

  • A chronological timeline filled with enriching content

  • Better tools to cultivate your digital community

Excited yet? I hope this guide has equipped you to claim your corner of the Fediverse. Just choose a server, set up your profile, start following users, and get posting! I look forward to seeing your cute intro toot. Happy Mastodon-ing!


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.