Mastodon & Fediverse for Beginners

written by Paula on 2021-01-08.

Die deutsche Version findest du hier.


Article 1: Mastodon & Fediverse for Beginners

Article 2: Fediverse for the advanced Article 3: Mastodon & Fediverse for Pros [coming soon] Article 4: Concordance [coming soon]

What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is a microblogging platform. Microblogging means you have a blog with short (micro) posts. Usually you'll have a 500 characters limit for your posts. Unlike well known social media platforms, Mastodon is:

Free Software

means software where the source code is freely available and can be used according to the 4 freedoms. For you that means that you can trust that there are no evil parts in the software because otherwise someone would have already found it and there would be an uproar.


(or federalized) means that there is not one big server where everything happens, that can be hacked or have downtime. Instead there are many servers, they are never all down and hacking one won't get the hacker a lot of data.

What is the Fediverse?

Imagine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & Co were all part of one giant network. That's basically what the fediverse is, except the parts are less well known, free & decentralized alternatives to those. E.g. Mastodon is like Twitter, Friendica is like Facebook, Pixelfed is like Instagram and there are many more. If you e.g. have a Mastodon account you can follow accounts on Friendica or Pixelfed and you might not even notice, that they are not Mastodon accounts.

How to get an account

Which network?

First you need to decide what part of the Fediverse you want to join. For this article I'm going to assume you want to join Mastodon. You can also start with a different network and a lot of what I'll write about will work about the same. You will find a comprehensive list of different networks in Article 2, once it's done.

Which instance?

I'll explain instances better later. For now let's just say if Mastodon is part of the Fediverse, then each Mastodon instance is part of Mastodon. So instances are small networks. If you have lots of different interests a good start is mastodon.online, the official instance by the makers of Mastodon. If you have specific interests go to joinmastodon.org to find instances ordered by theme. E.g. my own instance climatejustice.social is listed under “Activism”.

What if the instance is not open?

There are 3 registration modes for instances: “Anyone can sign up”, “Approval required” and “Nobody can sign up”. For both the first and the second mode you can just register. The difference is that for the first mode you'll get a sign up email immediately, in the second case you'll have to wait for approval from a moderator. In my experience this usually doesn't take more than a day. In the 3rd case it's possible you can still sign up. Usually there will be a message displayed explaining why the instance is closed and/or how and under what circumstances you can still sign up. An example for this is climatejustice.global. Only if the message says that signups are not possible do you really have to find another instance.

How to get started with your account

Writing an intro post

If you're new it's always a good idea to write an intro post. Use the hashtag #introduction (#introductions and #intro are also used) and tell us about yourself. What are your hobbies, interests, political views, causes and – very important – pronouns. Of course only tell us what you are comfortable with. Use hashtags so you are more easily found. A good intro post will get you some boosts and follows from like-minded people.

Filling your (home)-timeline(s) with interesting content

At the beginning your home timeline will be quite empty or filled with stuff from accounts you are automatically following if you sign up for a specific instance. That is often admin stuff, which might not interest you. If you want you can unfollow the accounts you are following to start new. But then it's a good idea to start following people who post interesting stuff. There are many ways to find those. You can for example browse recommendations under the hashtags #FollowFriday and #FollowRecommendation. There are also some lists out there showing accounts by category. E.g. there is Trunk. For climate justice specifically there is my list here. Then there is @FediFollows with recommendations ordered by category in this thread.

Once you follow a few people just check out the home timeline. There will be boosted posts from accounts you are not following yet. If you like what you see you can follow those too to fill the timeline more.

If you are using the advanced interface you can also create hashtag timelines. Just search for a hashtag and click on it. A new column will open which displays posts of that hashtag. In the top right corner you can click to pin the column. Once you did that you can click in the top right corner again and add additional hashtags to the column.

Further Articles

Getting started with Mastodon explains the user interface quite extensively, so if you are overwhelmed at first, this might help. Though note that this guide explains the old (or now known as advanced) interface. – by Kev Quirk, written on 2018-08-13

Guide To Mastodon is a very extensive guide that covers a whole lot of topics. – by Noëlle Anthony and contributors; constantly updated

Mastodon: friendly Microblogging is a short but comprehensive guide from what Mastodon is to Statistics. – by Izzy, written on 2020-01-06

The Fediverse: the distributed social network contains lots more of articles and resources.