The deluge of former tweeters pouring into alternative social networks seems to continue, and the social network likely to get the most attention is Mastodon. This open-source network of independent servers (called “instances”) had grown to 2.5 million users between October and November and continues to grow.
Admittedly, there’s been a bit of confusion among the new members of the Masto set about what it looks like on Twitter and how it differs. Going through all the different permutations of how to really use Mastodon in full would require more than a single article, and in fact there are several resources available (a few of which I’ll mention at the end of this article). So since the beginning of any social network is finding other accounts to follow – and hoping they’ll follow you back – here I’m going to explain simply how to follow (or unfollow) someone and how to manage your own followers .
But before I go step-by-step, here are just a few things I’ve discovered in the three weeks I’ve been trying out Mastodon. I hope they help anyone trying to figure out how to deal with this new non-Twitter.
It doesn’t really matter which agency you join first. A wide variety of instances are available, some targeting specific groups of people (for example, “data junkies,” “creatives,” or “sci-fi fans”), and others more generally. You can find a number of places to start with on Mastodon’s “join” siteor you can search for a query that follows a specific interest use this tool.
But don’t worry about which agency you join first. As long as you’re comfortable with the general feel of one agency, you can still operate fairly freely among the others. You can still follow people using other agencies (I’ll tell you how later), and they can follow you. And if you find another instance you prefer, you can move your account there – and all your followers will move with you. The only thing that won’t go with you is your past posts.
Introduce yourself. When you sign up for your first instance, the first thing you’ll want to do is write an introductory post. It’s considered courtesy, not to mention a good idea. Just let people know you’re there, what you’re interested in (or not interested in), and in general, say hello. And add the hashtag #introduction. Which leads me to…
Hashtags are your friends. Use them in posts so that people who might be interested in your topic can find you. When you start a hashtag, you get a drop-down that shows which hashtags have been used recently and how many times that week – the longer a hashtag has been used, the more likely your post is to be found and read. (Note: I’ve read in at least one post that it’s better for people using audio readers if you mention your hashtags after the body of your message instead of writing something like “I’m a #journalist who #writes about #iphones.”)
Do not worry. The important thing to know is that Mastodon really isn’t as hard as this all sounds. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – all these social networks started out as something we had to learn how to use. Just dive in and you’ll have it in no time.
That said, here’s how to follow and unfollow people. These directions refer to the standard web app and Mastodon mobile apps; there are several other apps available, and directions for them may vary.
How to follow people
Because Mastodon doesn’t use algorithms to determine when you see a post, everything in your home feed will arrive in the same order it was posted. Who you follow determines what you see in that feed.
Assuming you are looking for a specific person:
- The first thing you can do is type your friend’s name in the search box. It’s in the top left of the web app; in the mobile app there is a search icon at the bottom of the page.
- If the name appears anywhere on your friend’s profile, it should appear in your search results (in the middle of your web page or under the “All” tab in the mobile app). If nothing appears under your friend’s name, they may not have used their name when registering. In that case, try searching under the alias they usually use.
- Once you’ve found the person you want to follow in the web app, just click the icon next to their name – it looks like a person with a plus sign. If your friend allows all followers, the icon will be replaced with one with a person and an X. If you no longer want to follow that person, click the X icon; the plus icon reappears and you unfollow them.
- If the person limits their followers, you will be told that your follow-up is pending. Once approved, that icon with an X will appear next to that person’s listing.
- In the mobile app, tap the person’s name and you’ll be taken to their profile page. Tap the “Follow” button next to their name. The button will change to “Following” or you will be told that tracking is pending. Again, to stop tracking, all you have to do is tap the button again.
A few additional notes:
- If you see someone in your feed that you’d like to follow, the process is pretty much the same on both the web and mobile apps: just click or tap their name so you’re on their profile page and select the To follow knob.
- It doesn’t matter if a person is a member of your instance or not – you can still follow them. There are exceptions: if the person approves everything that follows and decides not to approve you, for example, or if your instance is blocked by the administrator of that person’s instance for any reason. (In that case, you should probably contact your administrator to find out why.)
Keep an eye on your followers
To approve someone who follows you, here’s how.
Using the web app
- click on Edit profile under your profile name.
- Select Appearance in the left column.
- In the center, check Requires follow requests.
Using the mobile app
- From you Home page, tap the gear icon in the top right corner.
- Scroll down and select Account settings.
- Press hamburger icon with three lines in the top right corner and select Profile.
- Scroll down to Requires follow requests and tap it.
Anyway, when you turn on Requires follow requestsyou will notice that a small lock appears next to your Mastodon address just above it, indicating that all follow requests must be approved.
Do you want more information?
Here are some additional resources to help you navigate this new social network.
- Mastodon help – A good introduction to Mastodon: what it is and how to get started.
- Fedi Tips – An instance of Mastodon that offers several tips for the best use of the resource. It’s a good idea to make this one of the first addresses to follow; the full address is @fed[email protected]. You can find a list of tips for beginners here.
- A large list of Mastodon resources – What it says it is, a list of various resources for Mastodon users. A great place to explore.