Your guide to Mastodon: What is it and how is it different from Twitter?

Twitter has been quite chaotic since Elon Musk took over as CEO – approx half of the staff were laid off at the end of October, and new features such as gray ticks for trusted sources have only just been released withdrew from the page later the same day. Musk has too sparred with founder Jack Dorsey and threatened companies that pull ads from Twitter with a “thermonuclear name and shame.”

Since Musk’s official purchase of Twitter closed on October 28 for $44 billion, many users have decided to leave the site. Bot Sentinel, an organization that tracks Twitter account behavior, estimates that nearly 900,000 Twitter accounts were disabled between October 27 and November 1, according to MIT Technology Review.

Some of those leaving Twitter are switching to Mastodon, a decentralized social network built on open source software. Mastodon’s “federated network” has seen a remarkable increase – on November 6th, Eugen Rochko, Mastodon’s creator, said that the service has gained 489,003 new users since October 27th and now has over one million active users. That’s still only a tiny fraction of Twitter’s 238 million.

Read on to see how Mastodon works, how to sign up, and how it compares to Twitter. For more, see how to delete your twitter accountand get the latest news on Twitter’s verification badge plans.

What is Mastodon and how is it different from Twitter?

Mastodon is a free social media service that works much like Twitter. You can post “toots” (instead of tweets), follow other people and organizations, and favorite (like) and boost (retweet) posts from other people.

Mastodon was created and originally released in October 2016 by Eugen Rochko, CEO and lone employee of the non-profit organization Mastodon gGmbH. In May, Rochko explained the service’s oddly named replacement for “tweet.” He says the original button was called “publish,” but a dedicated backer promised lifetime support for the Mastodon Patreon account if he would change it to “toot.” (The iOS and Android apps say “publish”.)

In an interview with Time Magazine, Rochko said that he started developing Mastodon when he realized that “being able to express myself online to my friends through short messages was actually very important to me, important to the world as well, and maybe it shouldn’t be it. in the hands of a single company that can do whatever it wants with it.”

read more: Mastodon is not a Twitter replacement

Instead of one city square for everyone, however, Mastodon is composed of thousands of social networks, all running on different servers, or “instances,” that can communicate with each other through a system called Fediverse. Fediverse also includes other social networks such as PeerTube for videos, Funkwhale for music, PixelFed for photos and NextCloud for files.

Mastodon servers are not required to be connected to Fediverse, in fact the most famous Mastodon instance is Truth Socialthe social network of former US President Donald Trump.

How do I join Mastodon?

The hardest part of Mastodon is getting started. Since there isn’t one common Mastodon area for everyone – like with Twitter – you’ll need to register on a specific Mastodon server.

Servers can be based on a geographic location, subject interest, professional background, or literally anything an administrator can think of. For example, the people at just allowed to post the letter “E”, while the literary fantasists at are forbidden from ever using the letter “E” (in honor of OuLiPo writer Georges Perec’s lipogram “La Disparition”).

Two of the largest Mastodon servers, aka instances, are – the official server of the Mastodon project – and, although both have temporarily suspended registrations. Another great general purpose server that I recently joined is Other popular Mastodon instances include for journalists and for open source software.

Don’t worry too much about which server you choose – you can join as many as you like and leave or switch servers at any time. And you can follow people across servers, so choosing one doesn’t prevent you from communicating with them on other instances.

A good place to find a server to join is the official Mastodon website at The site currently lists 106 servers that have committed to the Mastodon Server Covenant, an agreement to enforce moderation, back up the site, and give at least three months’ warning before ever shutting down an instance.

Each server’s “about” page will tell a little about the Mastodon instance and list the server’s rules. If you don’t find a server you like on, try other Mastodon directories, such as, which offers a wizard for choosing a server as well as a sortable list of 3,910 instances.

Your guide to Mastodon: What is it and how is it different from Twitter?

Joining a Mastodon server requires only a few personal details.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Most open registration Mastodon servers will only ask for your email address and a password to get started. Once you respond to a confirmation email, you’re ready to start using Mastodon. Other, more private Mastodon servers may ask you to send a request to join and then wait for an invite.

How do I use Mastodon?

Like Twitter, Mastodon lets you post short messages to the world or to selected people, but instead of tweets, Mastodon posts are called tweets. And many of Mastodon’s other features are very similar to Twitter as well, with slight differences. Each post is limited to 500 characters (instead of 280) and you can include links, images (JPG, GIF or PNG, up to 8MB), audio files (MP3, OGG, WAV, FLAC, OPUS, AAC, M4A and 3GP up to 40 MB) and videos (MP4, M4V, MOV, WebM up to 40 MB).

A screenshot of the Mastodon post interface with visibility options appears

Mastodon offers four levels of visibility for all your tweets.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Your posts on Mastodon can be set to public, just for your followers, or completely unlisted from all timelines. You can create polls for your followers and use all your favorite regular emojis, plus custom emojis made for specific servers.

Any post can be tagged with an explanatory “content warning” that requires a click before viewing, and Mastodon users make use of the feature frequently.

You can even edit posts on Mastodon. Each version of your tool remains available for review, and people who reblog your post are notified after it’s edited.

Just like Twitter, Mastodon uses hashtags starting with the “#” symbol, such as #Gaming, #Anthropology or #Veganism. Since there is no algorithm to suggest your posts to non-followers, using hashtags to categorize your posts for people who might be interested is even more important than on Twitter.

You can follow any account on Mastodon, whether on your own server instance or not, and the account’s posts will be added to your Home feed in chronological order. Know that for some accounts you need to ask for permission to follow them.

Free web apps like Debirdify, Fedifinder, and Twitodon can help you find accounts you’ve followed on Twitter that have migrated to Mastodon.

If you don’t want a particular account to follow you, you can block them just like on Twitter, or you can choose to block an entire server.

Mastodon allows you to “favorite” posts, but the favorite count doesn’t appear on timelines – if you want to promote other people’s posts, you have to “boost” or reblog them. Unlike Twitter, there are no “quote tweets” on Mastodon, a deliberate choice to discourage “dunking” on other people’s posts. A separate “bookmark” feature allows you to save tweets on Mastodon without notifying the account that posted it.

Mastodon has a feature called Direct Messages, but the name is a bit misleading. Instead of providing person-to-person messaging, Mastodon’s feature sets the visibility of a post to only the people mentioned in it. In other words, they are pranks that only certain people can see, rather than actual instant messages.

How do the Mastodon timelines work?

While Twitter only has one timeline (sorted chronologically or by “top stories”), Mastodon has three: your home timeline shows all posts and reblogs from everyone you follow, your local timeline shows everything from your own server instance, and your federated timeline shows all posts from all Mastodon servers that you follow someone on.

Using a web browser, you can set Mastodon to look like Twitter, show one feed at a time, or you can see multiple feeds and notifications at once (like Tweetdeck) by selecting “Advanced View” from your settings.

A screenshot of Mastodon's advanced display interface

Mastodon’s advanced view allows you to view notifications and multiple timelines simultaneously.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Are there any mobile apps for Mastodon?

You can bet on that. Due to the open source nature of Mastodon, you have many choices for apps on both iPhone and Android.

Your first and easiest option is the official app from Mastodon gGmbH (for iOS or Android), but there are other solid third-party apps. The two most popular alternative Mastodon apps right now are Metatext for iPhone and Tusky for Android.

Mastodon Apps for iPhone:

Mastodon Apps for Android:

If you get started with Mastodon, be sure to follow me (And say hi!)

For more on social media and Twitter, follow one the timeline of the Elon Musk purchase and read about big changes that could be in store for Twitter.

Correction, November 7: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the Mastodon’s features. Mastodon added the ability to edit posts in March 2022.

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