Mastodon For Dummies
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Mastodon is a decentralized social media platform that's made up of thousands of separate computers (also known as servers or instances) that have all agreed to speak the same language and share certain data.

When you create your Mastodon account, you get a username, which will be tied to one of these servers. Each server in the network has its own personality — and some servers pride themselves in having no particular personality. Every server is free to join, although some may be closed to new accounts or may require that you get on a waiting list.

The most difficult part of getting a Mastodon account is choosing which server to join. Fortunately, there's a Mastodon web page (shown in the image below) to help you sort through your options.

Screenshot showing the Join Mastodon page. ©Mastodon
Your first stop should be

You can sign up for Mastodon using the app or the website. However, signing up on the website — on your desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone — is easier than signing up with the app.

Your very first step in getting Mastodon is to go to the Join Mastodon page. Then, click the "Get the App" link to use the app or click "Create Account" to use your web browser. Both the website and the app are free, and creating your account on one allows you to use all the features of both.

If you click "Get the App," you'll be taken to a screen where you can choose to go to the Apple App Store (to download the iPhone app) or to Google Play (to download the Android app). Once you get to the app store, download and install the Mastodon app as you would with any app.

Because Mastodon is based on a free and open standard, there are many apps to choose from to use Mastodon. Start with the official one, which is called Mastodon.

Browsing your options

When you visit the Join Mastodon page and click the "Create Account" button, you'll be taken to the Servers page, which is shown below.

Screenshot showing the Mastodon Servers page. ©Mastodon
Checking out the servers

Many more Mastodon servers than the ones you see when you scroll down this page are available. However, the servers on follow certain rules known as the Mastodon Server Covenant, which is an agreement by the server's owner to work to keep the server free of hate speech, to back up their data daily, to have a person on call to deal with technical issues with the server, and to give users of the server at least three months’ notice before shutting down the server.

Because these servers have agreed to the Server Covenant, they are seen as trustworthy, stable, and safe places to serve as your home in the Mastodon universe.

Although you can't go wrong with any of the instances listed on the servers page, some will be a better fit for you than others — and that's what makes Mastodon so cool!

Spend some time browsing through the different servers listed here. Note that you have several options for filtering the results — including by geographical region and topic (listed on the left side of the screen) and by legal structure, sign-up speed, and language (selected from drop-down lists at the top), as shown below.

Screenshot showing the Mastodon server descriptions page. ©Mastodon
Reading the server descriptions

Once you've found a server or two that sound like places where you'd like to hang out and call your home base, the first potentially make-or-break characteristic of the server is the sign-up speed, which is how fast it will take for you to get an account.

Understanding sign-up speed

When you browse the list of servers, you'll see two types of buttons: "Apply for an Account" button and "Create Account." The "Create Account" button means that the server has instant signup: You can have a new account on that server in the amount of time it takes for you to choose a username and a password.

Servers with an "Apply for an Account" button require that new accounts be approved by an administrator. This approval may take only a few minutes or a day. If you're super-excited to start using Mastodon, go with one of the servers that have the blue "Create Account" button.

Don't worry too much about picking the perfect server. Choosing a server doesn't have to be permanent. You can move your account (and all of your followers!) to another server easily after you sign up.

Reading the rules

Regardless of whether you choose to apply for an account or go with a server that has instant account creation, check out the rules of your chosen server before you commit. To see a server's rules, first click the "Create Account" or "Apply for an Account" button to go to the server.

Once on the server, you'll see a description of the server on the left, with the name of the server administrator and the number of users. Below the server information, click "Learn More" to read more about the server, including its code of conduct, which describes the guidelines for how users are expected to behave while using the server.

Rather than having a complicated set of rules that try to make the greatest number of people happy and end up pleasing no one (such as what centralized platforms like Twitter and Facebook must do), each Mastodon server sets specific rules and the conduct expected from users.

If you don't like the code of conduct on one server, check out other servers until you find one with a code of conduct more in keeping with your beliefs.

Previewing a server

When you sign up using a web browser, many of the servers listed at allow you to browse the content on the server before joining. If you click to the server and see posts, rather than immediately seeing a sign-up or login page, you've come to one of these.

To see the content posted by the local users of the server, click the "Local" link on the right side of the page. The posts listed under "Local" are by people who would be your neighbors if you were to join this server. Are they talking about things you're interested in? If so, this may be the perfect server for you!

Meeting the admin

Another way to choose a server is to find out more about the person running it. Every server prominently displays the person in charge of keeping the server running and enforcing the server's rules. Click their profile from the server's home page or from the server's "About" page to read more about them and to see the things they're interested in and what they post.

On Mastodon, the admin sets the tone for the server. If the admin seems like someone you'd like to hang out with, that's a good indication that you've found a home.

Seeing why smaller is better

A server might have just a handful of members to many thousands. Servers with a smaller number of users are vital to keeping the entire universe interesting and avoiding a monoculture. Smaller servers also tend to have stronger personalities than larger servers. And smaller servers are often less prone to slowing down because they're less likely to get a lot of traffic.

Because every server allows access to the other servers, you have nothing to lose by going with a smaller one. In the same way that you're more likely to make friends in a small community group versus an international club with millions of members, joining a smaller Mastodon server makes you a bigger fish because the pond is smaller.

About This Article

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About the book authors:

Chris Minnick is a programmer, coding educator, course creator, and writer. He is the author of Beginning React.js Foundations, Coding with JavaScript For Dummies, JavaScript For Kids For Dummies, and more than a dozen other books about coding. He has taught web and mobile development, React, and JavaScript to thousands of programmers worldwide.

Chris Minnick is an experienced tech educator and writer. He is the author of JavaScript All-in-One For Dummies.

Michael McCallister has over twenty years’ experience as a technical writer. He is passionate about simplifying complex tech topics for novices.

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