How to Get Started with Mastodon


(This is not an April Fools joke.)

What the h*ck is Mastodon?

A four-column Mastodon interface similar to TweetDeck
The Mastodon interface. Click the image for a larger image.

The very short answer is that Mastodon is an open-source alternative to Twitter that is already extremely polished. It almost works better than Twitter itself. It sure as h*ck is a lot faster.

Here is the nerdy answer from the GitHub repo:

Mastodon is a free, open-source social network server. A decentralized solution to commercial platforms, it avoids the risks of a single company monopolizing your communication. Anyone can run Mastodon and participate in the social network seamlessly.

An alternative implementation of the GNU social project. Based on ActivityStreams, Webfinger, PubsubHubbub and Salmon.

What Mastodon does is provide people the opportunity to create their own Twitter-like community.

Each community, or server, is called an instance. The most popular instance is the official one at The second most popular is probably

There are many others; you can check some of them out in the list of known Mastodon instances.

You can follow and interact with people across instances and view users you don’t follow in the Federated timeline. The main distinctions are community guidelines, specific purposes of the instance, and privacy settings; not everyone wants to be public.

Furthermore, it’s up to each instance to decide which other instances to federate with. This means that if you use, the federated timeline will only consist of updates from and, whereas federates a lot more instances. You might want to review the instances a site federates with before deciding on where to register.

Mastodon has three kinds of timelines—feeds if you will:

  1. A timeline of the users you follow (like Twitter)
  2. A public local timeline of everyone on your instance
  3. A public federated timeline of everyone across some hand-picked instances

Let’s back up a bit and watch a brief silent video to give you a visual preview of the platform:

Here are some of my first impressions of the platform:1

I really dig the NSFW feature for photos and the content warning feature for text updates*. This makes it very easy to hide spoilers and other upsetting content—and very hard for people to excuse their transgressions. I feel very strongly about spoilers.

Just in time for the impending onslaught of Game of Thrones’s next season.

Get started

Sign up, duh

Sign up, dummy. Just start with the official instance for now.

Don’t forget to select an avatar, bio, and display name

Find friends

Use the find friends tool to connect with friends from Twitter.

Here are some people you should check out:

  • Me, obviously
  • Gargron, the creator of Mastodon
  • Sarah Jeong whom you should already know from Twitter

Update: some prominent new arrivals from the InfoSec community


You probably don’t want to use Mastodon in a clumsy browser tab if you plan on being a power user so here are your options:

You can also customize Mastodon with userstyles2 for your browser. This list does not contain all the userscripts such as this contrast-friendly userscript that’s very reminiscent of Tumblr’s design.

“Why shouldn’t I just wait and see?”

If you don’t mind being late to claiming a good username, sure.

As of now, almost 25,000 have signed up.

That’s it for now

Pretty easy, right?

Have at it—and follow me @[email protected].

  1. If you want to know how I embed updates, check out the fiddle I created. ↩︎

  2. If a userstyle script isn’t working for you, you may need to add your instance’s URL pattern(s) to the list of includes at the top. ↩︎