Mastodon: A New Hope for Social Networking

Originally published at: Mastodon: A New Hope for Social Networking - TidBITS

With centralized, ad-driven social networks in disarray and suffering from misinformation, harassment, and declining users, can the long-simmering Mastodon microblogging system offer a distributed future for conversation and community?


I’d like to echo Glenn’s comments in the article, a much nicer spot than Twitter, a much quieter one (may feed the first point) but a lot of the same folk I’ve followed for years there at this point. I was on the verge of leaving all social media after the debacles of the last few years, but Mastodon has kept me with at least one foot in there. I’m if any of y’all are on there.


Like the old Internet, as long as everyone plays nicely, a distributed platform has its advantages.

But not everyone plays nicely and I fear it’s only time before some bad actor ruins it for everyone else.

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I have that same fear, except…it can’t be one bad actor:

  • A bad instance, and instances block it. This has happened many times in the last few months, and there’s a shared blocklist for egregious behavior that many major instances consult. (For blocking troll, extremist, etc., instances.)
  • A bad admin, and instances block the instance.
  • A bad Mastodon developer, and people fork the software and servers update to the fork.
  • A bad person, and they’re muted, blocked, or kicked off their instance.

In the above cases, you’d rely 100% on Twitter banning or acting on an individual or your own mute/block controls. Federation makes it a much different problem.

But it absolutely can occur. What if 100,000 people start posting horrible stuff at once from 1,000 instances?


There is no algorithmic timeline on Mastadon trying to create more engagement, unlike on Twitter. I never looked at the stock Twitter app and it’s “for you” algorithmic timeline - I used a third party app and just scrolled up from where I last left off, for both the accounts I followed and the accounts I had segregated into lists (something, by the way, that Mastodon lacks - the ability to put an account in a segregated list without actually following the account.) For a good 14-15 years I saw every single post that appeared in my timeline, in the order that it appeared there. I so wish Twitter remained that way…

Anyway, a lot of the hateful engagement happened simply because Twitter made more money when that happened. There is no central Mastodon that will make more money by trying to force engagement. (That, and I just don’t think that Mastodon will grow as large as Twitter did.
It’s not the easiest social network for neophytes to join.)

And if the people running the instance that my account is on start allowing bad posts to appear in the feed (I don’t know how - I just get posts from people that I follow), I can move my account to another server.


Wasn’t it Scotty that said in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” : “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”?


A few weeks ago, I tried in earnest to get set up and running with Mastodon. Unlike Twitter, which had little to no learning curve for me, Mastodon was nothing but confusing and frustrating at every turn. After spending way more time there in setup mode rather than using mode, I decided I’d put up with Twitter’s admin antics for now - and it was a relief to actually go back and use it. I don’t like Mastodon and won’t return. YMMV.

Agree with bjmajor; there is no (apparent) way to locate a particular mastodon group such as TWIT’s. I’ll wait until it’s less obtuse.

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I think way too much is made of the alleged difficulty of picking a server. As the article points out, the initial choice of server doesn’t matter that much, because it is pretty easy to change later without losing followers.

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Something I’ve not fully understood yet, is how does the forwarding work if you change server? Do other instances still contact your original server which then points them to your new server? Or is there some forwarding table that’s propagated amongst instances so it’s an internal lookup for each instance (e.g. @jzw@old.server ==> @jzw@new.server)? It seems the former would fail if the original server goes offline completely. And what happens if you move server a second time? I guess I’m struggling to get my head around the mechanism that allows one to change servers.

I’m no expert here, but based on a few web searches (including this article):

  • You can always do it manually. Back up your account (all your data except for actual posts), then restore it to a new account. This leaves it up to you to tell others about the new account. The old one remains active.
  • There is a redirect mechanism. When activated on an account, its profile will be updated with a redirect notice and will be excluded from searches. No other data is changed. The old account will not be fully usable, but you can still export data from it. You can cancel the redirection later.
  • There is a migration mechanism. This moves all your followers to the new account and sets up a redirection. Followers on servers that support the “Move” capability will automatically unfollow the old account and follow the new one. Followers on other servers will have to do it manually.
  • There is also a delete mechanism, which blows away everything. Restore is not possible and the old name can’t be used for new accounts. But there may be cached data on other servers.


There shouldn’t be a multi-hop access for followers (assuming you migrate and don’t just redirect). They will automatically be updated to the latest address.

If the original server goes down or if the old account is actually deleted, then that redirection will go away. Followers that haven’t yet updated will be stuck trying to figure out where you went.

Similarly for your posts. Posts are not moved to the new server, but remain available on the old one. If the old server goes down or the posts get deleted there, then they become unavailable, except maybe if another server has them cached.

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I’m if anybody wants to link up. My impressions have been:

  • It’s friendlier than Twitter.
  • I’ve had more followers and responses in a short time on Mastodon than I have in 9 years on Twitter.
  • It’s all very fleeting, so except for the flittering of responses I get, there is no action unless I go back in and do stuff.

So ultimately I don’t find it very interesting.

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I’m curious what you mean by this, and what you were expecting? I’m not a big social media user, but after following some interesting people, there’s always something to read.

Just ++ what David wrote. You can just go to your account settings on the existing account and make a few changes. I think the missing piece is that you need to export a list of whom you follow to import on your new account, which is just a few clicks to export on the old and import on the new.

It’s not a big deal to migrate, though you might lose some people who follow you. So it’s best to post some warning and potentially get the new account set up before discontinuing the old one. We’ll likely see continued improvement, too: pain points will keep getting sanded down as development proceeds.

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If you don’t make fresh posts, your older ones are rarely discovered and replied to (is maybe what Doug means, but also worth pointing out separately). Twitter, sometimes people find a thread or post from years before. Mastodon is much more timely and ephemeral because of the lack of ways to find old messages or have them surface through an algorithm or your own choice!

For most people, going to one of the main, free general instances is straightforward and you can just use the web app. The overhead of finding an instance is likely not important for most folks unless you are strictly trying to find a community, in which case a Discord server connected to a group, topic, podcast, fandom, is probably better.

Actually, in that sense, it’s not that much different from Twitter. So my semi-complaint is more about that kind of social media rather than Mastodon in particular. If anything, Mastodon is friendlier. Even though I’ve been a member of Twitter since 2009 I was never addicted to it and would go months without using it. Perhaps just sharing a link to an article sometimes.

Yes, if I go in and search #tags then I do find things to read and reply to. And just this morning I got another follow!

Well, Glenn, you finally made me do it! I am a long-time user of Twitteriffic app and loved it. When it was unceremoniously blocked from Twitter, that was the last straw. I have been using off and on since 2018, or so, and like many of the users there. But I was looking for something with a broader reach to still be able to see the folks I have been following on Twitter. And, this Mastodon looks like it does the trick. I do not have much to learn on the UI as I have been using CoSo for so long, so I am settling in for the long run.
Thanks for the article and tips!

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If you liked the experience of Twitterific (like TweetBot) then watch Tapbots as they made a client for Mastodon, Ivory, which I just found is in the App Store.

Better move quickly if you want to find your Twitter friends on Mastodon:

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