A Pollyanna’s Guide to Mastodon

I’d had a dormant Mastodon account for a few years before really diving in this November as part of the general the Twitter exodus. I’ve come to discover I really love it. As I described to my wife recently, for me it’s kind of like the BBS systems of old (my first introduction to the Internet) crossed with modern-day social media. It may take the form of something like Twitter, but the culture and the interactions are, in my experience anyway, much closer to those old BBSs: Light-hearted, respectful, and chatty. I meet and interact with lots of random people who share one or more of my own interests, sometimes intensely and obsessively. It’s fun to meet people like that. You feel like you’re part of a community and that, hey, people aren’t that bad sometimes.

Because of all of this and my tendency to dive head-first into new things (in the last couple of years: music production, songwriting, guitar pedals, running), I started my own instance at spacelase.rs and convinced a few people to join me (you, whoever you are, are welcome to request an account too).

Since these new Spacelaser-ers are mostly new to Mastodon, I put together this onboarding guide that is really just a description of my own experiences. I’m sharing it here in case its useful for others.

Hello, welcome to Spacelasers!

You’ve joined a fun, small instance that @josh set up for trusted friends and acquaintances. If you are new to Mastodon, you might be feeling a bit confused about what to do next. Don’t worry, help is on the way.

Here are some things to help get you started:

  1. Unlike other social media sites, Mastodon doesn’t present you with suggested accounts to follow. Instead, it’s important to do some work at the start to find good people to follow.

  2. Check out the Federated” tab to the right of the page. It’s a feed of all the accounts that current Spacelasers users follow, with some other accounts followed by those accounts thrown in. Follow people liberally. Once you do this, you will see their posts and their boosts” (reposts) in your feed. You may also want to follow the boosted accounts. You can always unfollow accounts later; what’s important is that you start getting a taste of who is out there, and what they are talking about.

  3. Search hashtags. Since there is no global search in Mastodon (you can only search for people and hashtags), hashtags are important. And they work differently in Mastodon than in Twitter. In Mastodon, they help you find and join conversations. Check out, for example, #introduction, #music, #catsofmastodon, #running.

  4. You can follow these hashtags so that posts with them appear in your feed. Click the icon to the top right when conducting a search.

  5. Hashtags also let other people see you. If you want to be discovered by likeminded folks, use hashtags!

  6. Federation is complicated. When you follow the suggestions above, you’ll start seeing more and more posts in your feed, and you can start interacting with more and more people. However, you’re only seeing the people and the posts that our particular server knows about (based on people and instances that are followed by Spacelasers users). There are thousands of servers, and millions of people, out there. As this instance grows and, especially, as our users follow more people, we will be exposed to more servers and thus, more people. That, in turn, will make hashtag searches more useful and will help you be discovered by others.

  7. Check out the Local” feed. It’s only posts from Spacelasers users. It’s a fun way to find out who else is here.

  8. Here are some other good tips from @liztai@hachyderm.io:

  1. Follow people who engage, are kind & classy
  2. Respond to people’s posts. Don’t just blast your content & ignore.
  3. Block mercilessly. Don’t bother engaging with trolls.
  4. Follow happy hashtags like #catsofmastodon and #Bookstodon
  1. Have fun! It takes some time to unwind the behaviors that algorithmic social media has ingrained in us. Mastodon isn’t about how many followers you have, or making that perfect comment on a trending topic. It’s not about being aggressive and angry. It was intentionally designed to encourage a friendly, respectful conversational flow that, over time, you might find pretty fun and relaxing. Rather than walk away feeling anxious and angry, you may find yourself feeling happy knowing that you are part of a safe, friendly online community.

  2. Always ask @josh about anything and everything. He’s here to help :).

January 17, 2023