No more Twitter?
I joined Twitter in August 2021 because I got a bit bored of Instagram and the rise of the reels. I’ve been looking for more communication than on Instagram and Twitter was just en vogue for a lot of photographers. I was thrown right into the NFT hype as well, made little (really little) money with NFTs and found some friends as well.
Still, I do not (yet) see a big future for me there – for a couple of reasons:
- No matter what I did, getting more users to see my photos & content seemed increasingly hard to me. Not to say: impossible
- The whole “algorithm” started to bother me more and more. For example:
- when I post a link to a website, the algorithm punished me with a dramatically reduced visibility (like less than 10% views than normal).
- I so often saw content of people that I do not follow but miss content of people that I follow because “the algorithm” decided it for me.
- The NFT hype is over and I put this aside, for now.
- Then, Musk took over and the platform went more in a direction where I have increasingly ethical conflicts.
What is Mastodon? A Twitter Clone?
When searching for “What is Mastodon Social Media“, there is a multitude of pages explaining the technical and ideological difference. Therefore, I try to keep it super short:
Let’s regard it for now (and for the sake of a short article), as a social media platform that looks like Twitter but is not owned or controlled by a single company. Yes it was developed as an alternative for Twitter, but don’t expect a Twitter clone. It is focused on text-posts that can have media (images, videos, .. ) attached.
Also: there is no recommendation algorithm in place. In fact, I cannot emphasize how much I underestimated the (positive) impact of this missing feature. But more about this later (uhh cliffhanger!).
In the following I want to look at Mastodon from two perspectives: The one is more from a consumer perspective who is seeking entertainment and more into commenting & liking than content creation. The other is more the “content creator” perspective. In either perspective I try to compare towards Twitter but also a bit to Instagram.
The Consumer Perspective
If you are not into posting a lot of content but more in commenting, liking, seeking entertainment – this section is for you!
My experience as a Consumer
- There is no equivalent of Twitter Spaces 🙁 Yes, that’s sad
- There are no Ads! No sponsored content! Really! With the increasing ad-pressure on other platforms, this was really a relief.
- You start with an empty timeline. You can browse your server’s / instance’s timeline but for me this was either to stale or ways too busy. So, you will have to invest a little bit in getting started (more about it later)
- You can just comment like or boost anything you like — without consequence for your timeline.
In Twitter / Instagram, when I engaged with some kind of content, I suddenly saw a lot of this content. Recently for example, I obviously liked some cycling-content in Instagram and suddenly my stream was full of cyclists until I marked every single reel as “not relevant”. Or if you ever made the mistake in Twitter to engage with some “controversial” content, you might suddenly find yourself flooded with such content. This cannot happen on Mastodon as there is no black-magic algorithm that selects content for you.
- That also means that posts do not get viral so quickly. On other platforms, “the algo” is a key player if content goes viral or not. On Mastodon content only goes viral when people boost or comment it.
- It’s a lot about #hashtags! Following hashtags is the way to go.
- In Mastodon, it is very transparent WHY you see content. Sometimes I wondered, why I saw a certain post, but going through the following list usually makes it obvious
- you follow someone
- someone you follow boosted content (but you can disable that)
- you follow a hashtag
- Usability: uff well. Coming from Twitter and Instagram, I have the impression that one feels that thousands of hours went into usability optimizations in those apps. All the mastodon apps I have tried so far are cool but not on that same level. Nothing that is a killer. It is just something that I noticed.
How to start as a consumer
Beware, there are tons of guides out there. I suffered a lot with getting even started because most of the guides start with technology, ideology, the importance of instances etc. I oversimplify now, but well – it is my recommendation:
- Just start with the normal Mastodon app.
- Do you have to choose an Instance? Actually, either you are already so deep in the topic that you want a special instance (but then you wouldn’t read this guide) or just use any larger instance like mastodon.social.
- Search and Follow #Hashtags that you might find interesting. Follow / unfollow until you find that your stream is a nice mix.
- Start following people whose content you vibe with.
- Follow some more people (or unfollow if you think you made a bad choice)
- Hide boosts (Retweet in Twitter speak) from people selectively when your timeline gets flooded from single persons and you dislike it.
- Have fun and be kind.
- When you are more into it, you can try to follow Instances/Servers. Yet this requires Apps that support that feature. I personally use Fedilab, but Fedilab IS a bit nerdy. Actually, I use both: Fedilab and the official Mastodon App.
Content Creator Perspective / How to Post
If you are like me and go more into posting content more regularly, then you might find this section also interesting. I separated this from the pure consumer perspective as I want to focus more on the perspective of target group and how to write posts properly.
My Experience from the Creator Perspective
Honestly: at the beginning I did not see a huge difference: Type Text, attach image, send … what’s the deal? The difference became more and more obvious just over time. Yet my main message: Just start! Seriously: I thought ways too much about “which instance” etc. Really: Just start to make your own experiences!
But let’s start with a brief list of things that MIGHT be interesting to know right from the beginning (and I wished I had known earlier):
- The size of a post (the character limit) can be defined by the instance admins. mastodon.social for example has 500 characters, mountains.social has 700 characters. I just thought 500 is a global limit and wondered how some people could write VERY long posts.
- The size of videos is also defined by the instance. mastodon.social is currently at ~40mb. Regarding the huge size of video files and that server costs are financed on donations, I can understand those limits. Alternatives are video hosting services like YouTube, vimeo, PeerTube (down the rabbit hole of decentralization you go!), …
- You can simply edit posts! A thing I missed at Twitter for long. A typo, a missing hashtag, … just edit and save.
- DO NOT bother with “hacking the algorithm”. I have witnessed SO many posts / talks on Twitter how (not) to post because of “the algorithm”. All this: “not too much text”, “just 1-x hashtags”, “don’t post links”, “engage with ‘big accounts'”, “do not post more than x times a day”, … FORGET IT. There is no black magic in the background.
- There is no thing like quote-Tweets. Seems like there is quite some debate about whether it is integrated or not. It’s just not there, yet.
- Just post without thinking of an algorithm!
- Post Links if you want! This is the internet – Links are cool.
- People follow hashtags – use Hashtags to be discovered. Maybe don’t flood your post with hashtags – it just looks terrible.
- Post for people not for an algorithm.
- Twitter has ~500 million Monthly Active Users (Statista, January 2023), Mastodon has about 1.5 million Monthly Active Users in August 2023 (FediDB). So, Mastodon is just 0,3% of Twitter! … But given the fact that on Twitter, my posts hardly ever reach more than 1000 users … I literally do not care.
- There are no such elaborate statistic tools on mastodon! And there cannot be! Due to the fact that Mastodon is a decentralized Fediverse, you have no views counter. As a numbers person, this bugs me, but at least you have the amount of likes, boosts and answers / comments. You can also track this via MastoMetrics.
- I do get MORE interactions and conversations with users than on Twitter even after that short time …
- People on Mastodon really opted for this technical solution because they disagreed with the others. It is another ideology here. Please respect it.
- One feature I personally like as well is the option to auto delete content after a couple of months. It just gives back some control
Maybe I extend this in the future …
How to start as “content creator”
In addition to the “how to start” above, you might consider the following points:
- MAYBE choose an instance that fits to your content and/or audience .. or just start at a larger one like mastodon.social. But the most important thing: just start.
- Verify your account if you have your own website.
- Fill your profile, add a nice profile image and maybe add the term “searchable” in your description, so that some mastodon search engines know that you WANT to be indexed.
- Make an #introduction post! Quite a couple of people follow this hashtag.
- Use #Hashtags that do make sense for your content.
- Use Alt-Text! Really, it’s a thing! Users value having some alt-text. I often use Asitca.ai to generate good alt-texts for photos.
- Interact with other people, be kind (well that should be a no brainer)
- Use content warning on sensitive material (read the server rules): Instances usually have a “Server Rules” section in their About-page. Just give it a quick review to avoid unnecessary hassle.
- Sign up and follow me 🙂
- Get an app for Mastodon – Mastodon (joinmastodon.org)
- Lots of statistics about the Fediverse: FediDB – Fediverse Network Statistics
- PeerTube Video Hosting PeerTube – Wikipedia, if you want to go down the rabbit hole of decentralization 😉
- If you want to step out of Instagram for a decentralized solution: Pixelfed – Decentralized social media
- All this decentralization: Fediverse – Wikipedia