Setting up a new Mastodon account can seem an impossible technical achievement at first. It’s really not. This post will help cut through the confusion and show you how to get set up in about 5 minutes.
Create a Mastodon account in 5 minutes or less
If you’re already a Twitter user and you’re considering exploring Mastodon, just in case, this is the guide for you.
Step 1 - Join a server (takes 3 minutes or less)
You can go to the official site, https://joinmastodon.org, and try signing up. It will ask you to pick a server. This is where it all gets complicated. What is a server? Which one do I join? How does it all matter? Why is this so complicated? Instead of all that, I recommend going to https://instances.social and using their nifty little setup wizard to side-step the whole issue. They will ask you what languages you speak, how big you want your server to be (just say you don’t care), and how sexually explicit you’re ok with your mastodon experience being. Then you get a list of recommended servers to join.
Which server you pick decides 2 things at this point:
It determined what your handle will be. Mastodon handles are a little confusing. They have two @ symbols in them. It @username@servername. Kind of like an email and a Twitter handle smushed together. The server you join determines the @gmail.com suffix part of your mastodon handle.
The default content in your local feed. When you first sign up, if you have zero followers and follow zero people, you will still be able to see all the public posts from people on your server. Do your best to pick a server that is thematically related to something you care about.
If you try and sign up for a big fancy server, there might be a waiting period before they approve your membership. To complete this step in under 3 minutes, I recommend signing up for a bunch of servers at the same time and going with whichever one lets you in first.
You can always migrate your account to a different server in the future, so I don’t recommend overthinking this step. Just start using the platform. See if you like how it feels. If you start using the platform, you’ll slowly pick up on different servers’ own rules. Once you’re comfortable with how it all works, you’ll be in a much better position to decide which server you want to be a part of long-term.
Step 2: Make it easy for people to find you (takes 1 minute)
Chances are there will be a bunch of other people you know from Twitter going through this exact same process at the moment. To make the transition easy, upload the same profile picture you have on Twitter and copy your bio over exactly.
Then add your Mastodon profile to your Twitter bio so that people know it’s actually you. There are scrapping tools that people use to find their Twitter friends on mastodon, and adding your mastodon handle to your Twitter bio makes it easy for these tools to index you.
Step 3: Follow some folks (takes 1 minute)
We’ve found two apps that are helpful for finding your Twitter friends on Mastodon.
Signing into either of these apps with your Twitter will let you export a list of your followers, people you follow, and any lists you’ve created. Importing the CSV into mastodon at
https://<yourservername>/settings/import will let you follow anyone from you’re Twittersphere who’s on Mastadon.
Things you should probably know
Instead of Twitter's 140 characters, Mastodon offers you 500 characters in a post. Hilariously, a post is called a ‘toot’, likes are called favorites, and retweeting is called "boosting". Hashtags, following, followers, search, replies, polls, threads, and everything else works as you’d expect.
You can edit toots (ha!) on Mastodon (for free). If you do, there will be a small asterisk next to your timestamp, and anyone can see the history of changes.
Verifying your account on Mastadon is free and fairly straightforward. Go to your settings panel there will be a snippet of code that you can place on any website you own. If you then link to the website in your profile, Mastodon verifies that the website does indeed belong to you.
Having a dual presence makes all kinds of sense
Rather than quitting Twitter entirely, we agree with John Bull’s dual presence approach. After setting up his Mastodon account, he continues to use Twitter but crossposts most of his tweets to Mastodon and checks in every now and then to respond to comments.
Maintaining a mastodon presence is a low-effort safety net if anything ever happens to Twitter, but the key is that it’s “a nice community space in its own right”.
Mastodon is not an advertising platform. There’s no algorithm deciding what you see. Your feed is just a chronological list of updates from people you follow. We’re so used to being social on advertising platforms that it took a minute to relax into how Mastodon feels. And we have to admit, we’re enjoying the difference.
That said, at Chirr App we’ve always been Twitter first. We don’t believe Twitter is going anywhere. If you’re looking to quit Twitter cold turkey, we think Ed Bott put it best in his article on why there is no social media alternative.
"My friends, I have been to Mastodon and I regret to report that it is not the answer you seek. Mastodon is the desktop Linux of social media. Sorry, but that’s a fact. It’s an impressive technical achievement that is deliberately decentralized and requires advanced technical knowledge to master. Those two attributes pretty much vaporize any chance that it will become a credible replacement for Twitter."
Mastodon has just over 3 million daily active users. That makes it about 100 times smaller than Twitter at the moment. They might not have the same number of users just yet, but more and more people are moving to the platform because of Twitter’s controversial new management.
Twitter is on shaky ground right now, and we understand people’s hesitancy around continuing to invest time and effort into the platform. A dual presence lets you continue to use Twitter as you would, but adds the reassurance of having a backup, and lets you gradually explore an interesting new community on Mastodon.
Pro tips and gotchas for new Twitter users
Enable advanced web interface
If you’re planning to use Mastadon on a desktop, then you should know that there’s a Tweetdeck-like interface built into the platform. You can enable it by going to your
Settings > Preferences > Appearance and checking the ‘Enable advanced web interface’ checkbox. This lets you use multiple-column feeds and is great for staying on top of different hashtags and finding interesting conversations to jump into. We wrote a whole separate post on how you can use this style of interface and why it’s so valuable.
If you do decide to try this approach out, we recommend turning off the notifications sounds on each column so that the little pings don’t drive you crazy.
Download a mobile app
Using the advanced web interface is great for finding interesting conversations on the platform, but it can get a bit intense after a while. If you want a more familiar Twitter-like experience without having to switch back and for between advanced mode, you can just download the Mastodon mobile app. We’ve had a little trouble uploading videos with the official apps, so we also tried out some third-party ones. Metatext or Toot! on iOS and Tusky on Android seem to be the most recommended ones.
Be careful with your DMs
Direct messages are not encrypted. Server admins can see them. So don’t use them for anything too sensitive. This raises the complicated question of who owns mastodon and how it is run. I’m going to hand over to Tech Columnist Joanna Stern here because she does an excellent job of explaining the decentralized nature of Mastodon (and how she got in touch with her own server admin) in this 7-minute Wall street journal interview