James Williams

How I Use Mastodon

Tags: Mastodon

It's been about two weeks since I've started using Mastodon actively and wanted to reflect on how my usage differs from Twitter. It's not meant to be a guide in the style of "Migrate to Mastodon in six steps" or the like. It's just what works for me in this snapshot of time.

"It's dangerous to go alone / The value of community

The advice "join any instance, you can migrate later" is in the best case neutral advice and in the worst case, just about the last thing you want to tell a person if you want them to actually stay on Mastodon.

Mastodon reminds me of the physical world with each instance being a defacto state or territory. They have their laws you need to abide by but they have open borders. Your first view of the "world" is through the lens of where you live. With your home feed blank, on first joining, you'll see the posts of those on your instance in the Local feed and the people they follow in the Federated feed. Whether or not one or both of these are usable depends on the size of your server.

Humans tend to chunk a single bad experience as emblematic of all. In a centralized system, there's one set of rules (well sorta) that you have to content with. Given how many migrate over from Twitter, picking the "official" server or one at random, it's easy to discover you are in a place that has what feels like strict rules and permabanned from that instance without knowing why. On one hand, I want to acknowledge that some instances might have a deep and pervasive culture of using Content Warnings. But on the other hand, I can see how someone's message asking to use CWs could be received as you want to regulate or tone-police my speech. One of the good outcomes I've seen is when these things happen in error, things seem to be resolved a lot more quickly, amicably, and there's ownership in the process failure.

I lucked out in the instance lottery. My home instance's creators and the first tranche of accounts are folks I've interacted for years so it made me feel less alone or scared I'd violate some contested norm and anchored me to the experience.

No Algorithm == More Engagement ?

One of the things I didn't like about Twitter's feed was knowing that likes would be used as a signal to push content to other folks feeds. [All of the following mentioned without any knowledge of the internals] Just because I interact with someone a lot doesn't mean that all of my interests perfectly overlap with theirs. Seeing a decapitated reply (if I follow both parties in a convo) almost always lacked context. As Favorities don't surface activity to the feeds of followers, I've found myself favoriting more things.

Commenting is another area where I find Mastodon enticing me to participate more even without an algorithm. I really enjoy using the Unlisted option (Visible for all but doesn't surface alone in feeds). Unlisted feels like a semi-private coffee convo versus talking via megaphone. Unless the reply feels especially noteworthy, I use Unlisted and let folks follow the convo from the beginning [I sometimes boost the original toot too]. Think back to how many "Yup", "100%", "I agree" replies would clog up your Twitter feed. Let's not do that on Mastodon.

Bookmark All The Things

The lack of an algorithmic feed means you need to do your own information curation. Hashtags are searcheable but not full-text. So if you see something you want to read later, bookmark it. If you see an interesting post from someone but are unsure you want to follow them, bookmark it.

Of course, bookmarks are a thing on Twitter but I wasn't as organically exposed to people I don't follow (Local and Federated). I've been going through to read the things on occasion.

Hopeful for the Future

While I'm sad about the unfolding turmoil at Twitter and am rooting for the future success of those who have lost their jobs, I'm glad to have a social network I'm happy to post on, feels engaging, and doesn't magnify the negatives of social media that I experienced on Twitter.