How do I discover accounts to follow on Mastodon and the Fediverse?

There are lots of ways to discover interesting accounts on topics you are interested in, see below for a complete list.

(If you want to follow people you already know in real life, the most reliable way to do that is to exchange account addresses with them. Click here to go to the account address guide.)

Do a keyword search

You can find a lot of interesting accounts nowadays just by typing keywords into the search box on Mastodon. Once the results come up, choose the Profiles section to only see accounts. (Searching for profiles works a lot better after changes made in the Mastodon 4.2.0 update from September 2023.)

Follow hashtags

Maybe the easiest way to to discover new accounts on particular topics is to follow hashtags. Posts with followed tags will appear in your home timeline automatically as soon as they’re posted, so you don’t have to go looking for them. Click here for more details on how to follow hashtags.

Join Groups

Groups are special kinds of accounts which share posts on particular topics. If you want to post to the group, you just mention the group’s account and your post gets shared with all the group’s followers. Click here for more details about groups and how they work.

Word of mouth

When you follow an account that account will usually share interesting posts by others, and if you like the posts you can follow the authors of those shared posts too. There is no algorithm on Mastodon and the Fediverse, it’s all human beings, and word of mouth is a significant way to discover interesting accounts.

Browse other people’s follow lists

You can usually browse an account’s follows and followers by visiting the account’s original page. (Bear in mind though that some people have their follow lists to private, in which case the lists will be hidden.)

If you browse a profile’s follows and followers without going to the original page, it will just show accounts from your server. That’s why the original page is better as it shows you the complete lists.

Follow FediFollows

I run an account over at @FediFollows@social.growyourown.services ⧉ which publishes themed lists of interesting accounts to follow, with a new topic every day. The accounts are all hand picked and currently active. You can also browse previously suggested accounts organised into categories at fedi.directory ⧉.

Browse directories

Another method is to browse human-run Fediverse directories. They only list a fraction of the users on the Fedi, but they’re a really good way of beginning the process of building up your timeline. The people you follow will then share posts from others, and soon you’ll be discovering even more accounts to follow just by browsing your own timeline.

Here are some good Fediverse directories:

  • Fedi.Directory ⧉ is a human-curated collection of Fediverse accounts that tend to post about specific topics, so it’s a smaller selection but with more guaranteed quality. (By the way, as mentioned above, I’m the one who maintains this directory 🙂)
  • Trunk is a community-run opt-in directory ⧉ of people looking for followers. Users decide which categories they go in, and the listings are moderated by the site’s maintainers.
  • Fediverse.info is a keyword-based opt-in database ⧉ of people looking for followers. Users decide which keywords they have on their profiles.

Follow curators

There are human-run accounts dedicated to sharing interesting posts on specific topics or areas. Following them can offer you lots of suggestions for interesting accounts to follow.

Look at trending posts and hashtags

Mastodon has a built-in feature for seeing which posts and hashtags are trending, this can help you discover interesting accounts and active topics:

  • To access trends on your server’s website, click the # Explore link on the right of the screen. You can also browse Explore on other servers’ websites if you want to, as it doesn’t require logging in.
  • To access trends on the official apps click the magnifying glass and leave the search box blank. There’s no Explore label on the official apps, but it’s the same contents as Explore. This will show you trending posts and hashtags which will help you discover even more interesting people. There’s also an extra tab labelled “Community” which is the same thing as the Local timeline on the web interface.
  • You can also see trending posts and hashtags on third party apps, they will have their own interfaces for seeing them, usually labelled “Trending” or similar.

Trending posts are based on how often they have been recently shared, trending hashtags are based on how often they have been recently used.

Install StreetPass for Mastodon on your web browser

There’s a free open source web browser extension called StreetPass for Mastodon ⧉ which checks if websites you’re browsing have featured their Mastodon address using a verified link. The extension gradually builds up a list of Mastodon accounts you might want to follow, based on which sites you’ve browsed.

Search for flag emoji to find accounts in particular countries

You can also use Mastodon’s search function to search for standard emoji. If you paste or type a particular country’s flag emoji into the search box, it will show you accounts and posts using that flag, which are usually located in the flag’s country.

For example, if you put the Swedish flag 🇸🇪 into the search box, most of the profiles containing that emoji are Swedish.

Hang out on the timelines

Finally, the most traditional approach to discovery is simply to hang out on the timeline, search for particular hashtags, browse the Local or Federated timelines and follow any accounts you find interesting.

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How do I do likes and re-tweets in Mastodon? And what are bookmarks?

  • The Mastodon equivalent of “Likes” are “Favourites”, click the star ⭐ to favourite a post. Favouriting tells the author that you liked their post, but does not affect the post’s visibility at all.
  • The Mastodon equivalent of a “Re-Tweet” is a “Boost” (and some apps call it a “Re-Blog”). To boost a post, click the circular arrows 🔃 underneath it. Boosted posts will appear in the timeline of everyone who follows you, and boosting will also help a post appear on the trending posts chart in the Explore tab. Boosts are the only way to make a post more visible.
  • There’s also a third option called “Bookmarks” which lets you keep a private list of posts you want to read later. Only you can see your bookmarks, the people you bookmark do not know about it. To bookmark a post click ⋯ underneath the post and then “Bookmark” (some interfaces will also show a bookmark logo which you can click instead).

You can browse past Favourites and Bookmarks on your profile page on the official apps, on the icons on the right of the screen on the web, or with other interfaces on third party apps.

You can see all your past Boosts by browsing your profile page, they will be mixed in with your own posts in chronological order.

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How do I search for stuff on Mastodon?

You can search for posts and profiles on Mastodon by typing ordinary words or hashtags or emoji into the search box:

  • To search on the official app, tap the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the screen, and type in the search box at the top of the screen. The results will appear below it.
  • To search on your server’s website, type into the search box and press enter. The results will appear beside or below the search box, depending on your window size.
  • If you’re using the website through a phone, click on the 🔍 magnifying glass icon at the top.
  • Third party apps will have various interfaces for search, but they’re usually quite obvious, using a magnifying glass icon or the word “search”. (One exception is Toot! which has its search function bizarrely hidden away in the ⋯ menu in the top right corner.)

What order are search results shown in on Mastodon?

Chronological, with newest posts at the top.

How do I make my own posts more visible in search results?

If you want your post to be more easily found in searches, opt into full text searches and also include relevant hashtags. Remember to use CamelCase on hashtags that contain multiple words. Hashtags are really good for actively indicating a topic being discussed, instead of a word just used accidentally or incidentally.

Although hashtags are no longer required to appear in search results on Mastodon servers, hashtags are still important in making posts visible, because many people follow hashtags and many people search for them (especially as some servers still only allow hashtag searches). You can find out more about hashtags in this special guide.

How do I search just my own posts?

To search just your own posts, include the phrase from:me in your search. If you want to search posts that you’ve interacted with, include the phrase in:library in your serarch.

There are lots more operators like this, scroll further down this page to see them all.

Are there any special operators for filtering searches on Mastodon?

Yes, Mastodon 4.2.0 introduces a number of operators you can use to filter your search results with:

  • has:media – Only shows posts with an attachment (images, audio, video)
  • has:poll – Only shows posts with a poll
  • has:embed – Only shows posts with a link that produces some kind of embedded media (such as a YouTube or PeerTube link)
  • language:fr using language codes – Only shows posts using that language, the example would filter for posts in French. Click here to see a complete list of language codes on Mastodon.
  • is:reply – Only shows posts that are replies
  • is:sensitive – Only shows posts marked as sensitive
  • from:(FEDIVERSE ADDRESS HERE) – Only shows posts by that particular user, for example from:@FediTips@social.growyourown.services
  • from:me – Only shows posts you have made yourself
  • in:all – Searches all posts visible to you
  • in:library – Only shows posts you have interacted with or written yourself
  • before:date, during:date, after:date – Filters for posts before, during or after the selected date. Dates are written in the format YYYY-MM-DD, so for example posts after 1st June 2023 would be after:2023-06-01

Make sure there’s no space between the : and the other words when using these operators. For example, to search for posts with the word “elephant” that are in English, you would search for elephant language:en

Wait, what’s an “operator”?

It’s a special phrase you include in your search that makes the search behave in a special way. The list above describes all of the ones available in Mastodon.

Can I use several operators in the same search?

Yes, just include several operators along with the keyword or hashtag you’re searching for.

Can I use negative operators to exclude certain kinds of posts?

Yes. Just add a minus sign before the term, for example to exclude posts with polls from results you would include the operator -has:poll

How do I opt in to being searched by words as well as hashtags?

Click this link to find out how to opt in to being in full text search results.

Even when I search for stuff, there’s never anything I want!

If you’re on a very new server, it’s possible that it hasn’t noticed much of the Fediverse yet. Try following some groups as they will send all their content to everyone who follows them. Also try asking your server’s admin if they might connect to a relay server, so that the server can see more of the Fediverse.

Wait… I can search for emoji?

Yes! Any emoji can be entered in the search box, and will show posts and profiles containing that emoji in the search results.

It’s a bit more complicated with custom emoji though, you may have to strip away the colons :: around the alt text that appears when you add a custom emoji to a post. The alt text without the colons will show you posts and profiles containing that custom emoji.

My server says search options are unavailable, what’s going on?

Advanced search options require the server to be running a special add-on called “Elasticsearch”. If the operators don’t work and/or you can’t search posts by keyword, ask your server’s admin about this. It’s possible they haven’t installed Elasticsearch, perhaps because they lack the resources as it costs extra.

However, hashtag searches should work fine on all servers, even the ones without Elasticsearch.

I thought Mastodon only allowed searches with hashtags?

Before September 2023 Mastodon searches were entirely based around hashtags. Since then Mastodon also allows full text searches where you just type what you want and it searches the entire texts of posts for matches.

HOWEVER… for privacy reasons the full text search system is opt-in, so you can only get search results for people who have opted into their posts being included in full text searches. If you want your posts to be fully searchable you need to opt into this system, click the link to find out how.

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How to use and customise profile pages on Mastodon

Screenshot of FediTips profile page on Mastodon including a banner image, profile image, text description, joining date, verified link to a website, links to other accounts, links to other websites.
Screenshot of the FediTips Mastodon profile ⧉ with a verified link to the FediTips website.

On your profile page you can set your display name, picture, banner image and short text (also known as a “biog”) about yourself. You should see an Edit profile or Edit Info button on your profile page which lets you change all these things.

How do I find my profile page?

If you’ve already set a profile image, you should be able to just click on the icon that looks like your profile image to get to your profile. Your profile image is visible on the website and all the apps, usually in one of the corners of the screen.

If you haven’t set a profile image, the icon for your profile will normally be some kind of blank sihouette, depending on what you’re using to access Mastodon.

Fill in your profile’s text

It’s really important to fill in your profile’s text description (also known as a “biog”) if you want people to notice your profile. The first line of the profile text is used in Mastodon’s discovery systems, so it’s a good idea to have this sum up what your account is about.

Upload a profile picture and banner

You can upload or change the profile image and banner for your account on the Edit profile page. However, images aren’t as important as the text, and many blind people do not use profile images at all.

The images can be JPG, PNG or GIF files up to 2 megabytes in size. Pictures will be downscaled to 400×400 pixels, banners will be downscaled to 1500×500 pixels. GIFs and PNGs can be animated, though some people’s settings may prevent the animation playing when they look at your profile.

⚠️ WARNING: Do not use rapidly flashing animations on your profile images. These can be extremely dangerous to people with certain neurological conditions.

Fill in your Mastodon profile’s Extra Fields

On Mastodon, there’s also a special feature called Extra fields which creates a special section of your profile page with clearly labelled website links or any other info you want to highlight about yourself. (Extra Fields were previously known as “Metadata”.)

For example, you could have a label saying “My website” in one box and “https://example.com” in the other box next to this label. Or “My other accounts” and links to your other account addresses on the Fediverse. Or you could have a label “Favourite pizza” next to a pineapple emoji. It’s totally up to you how you use this feature.

If you add a website link in your extra fields, it’s important to include https:// at the beginning of the address so that it is clickable, and if it’s your website you can optionally verify it to prove you are the owner of the site.

Extra fields appear as prominent boxes on the website version of Mastodon, and on the official apps it appears in the About section of your profile. Third party apps will show these in various ways, usually boxes on your profile page.

To edit your profile’s Extra Fields feature through the website:

  1. Log in through your server’s website
  2. Click on your profile image to go to your profile page
  3. Click Edit profile, then go to the Extra Fields section of the page
  4. Fill in up to four labels and content. The labels can be text or emoji, the content can be links, text or emoji. If you do put links in, remember to put the https:// at the start so that they are clickable.
  5. Click Save changes

To edit Extra Fields through the official apps:

  1. Click on your profile image to go to your profile page
  2. Click Edit Profile or Edit Info
  3. Scroll down to the About section and click on the + button or Add Row to add a field
  4. You can edit an existing field by tapping on its title or contents to edit them
  5. When you’ve finished, click the Done button at the top

Third party apps may also support editing Extra Fields, and will have various interfaces for doing so.

Verifying your account

Verification on Mastodon happens mainly by adding a special link to your website, click here for more info about how it works.

How to add video, audio, images and even more text to your profile

If you want to greatly expand the introductory material on your profile page, try creating a post with the extra material and pin it to your profile. Pinned posts will always appear at the top of the profile for everyone who browses it, and you can pin up to five posts on a single profile.

Pinned posts are particularly useful if you want to let people know about images, video or audio you have created, as media can be attached to posts.

If you do create an introductory post about yourself you might want to include the hashtag #Introduction, as this is the most widely used tag for new people introducing themselves.

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How do I verify my account on Mastodon and the Fediverse?

Screenshot of the Mastodon profile of the Texas Observer featuring verified official website links in green.
Example of a Mastodon profile with a verified official website link and also running on its own server with its own domain name

If you have an official website, the most straightforward way to verify your identity on Mastodon is to link to your Mastodon profile from that official website. If you include a special piece of HTML code in this link, it will make your website address turn green on your Mastdon profile and people will instantly know that you are the owner of (or professionally connected to) that website. If people already trust your website to be official, then by extension they can trust your account to be who it says it is.

Alternatively, if you’re really keen, you can also create an official Fediverse server based on the web address of your official website. This is, for example, how the European Union has verified all its official accounts on the Fediverse.

How to make a link on your Mastodon profile page turn green

On Mastodon, you can create a special verified website link on your profile which turns green. This means anyone browsing your profile will immediately know you’re verified as the owner of the website:

  1. Log in through your Mastodon server’s website or using the web app
  2. Click on Edit profile
  3. Click on the Verification tab
  4. Copy and paste the HTML code from the verification section on Mastodon into your official website’s front page’s code
  5. On Mastodon, add your website’s address into your Mastodon profile’s Extra fields section, remembering to include https:// at the beginning.
  6. On Mastodon, press the Save changes button in your Mastodon profile settings. It is important that you do this step after you have already inserted the HTML code into your website.

After you’ve done all this in the correct order, you should see a link to your official website on your Mastodon profile, which will turn green with a green tick next to it to verify you are the site’s owner. If you have any problems, see the troubleshooting section below.

This can also be used to verify specific pages on a website, for example if you’re listed as a staff member on an organisation’s website. As long as the creator of the website is willing to add the special verification code, you can verify the link.

Create your own server and have your official Fediverse account there

If you’re really keen, the most watertight way to verify your identity is to make your own Fediverse server as a subdomain of your official website. This is what the European Union did when they made their own Mastodon server ⧉ and their own PeerTube server ⧉. Because the European Union’s official website is well known as being at europa.eu, and their servers are all subdomains of europa.eu, it means all the accounts on their servers can be trusted as being official EU Fediverse accounts. Making your own server on a subdomain is much easier and cheaper than you think.

…but don’t verify by doing any of these!

  • Don’t use “verified” badges next to your name, they don’t mean anything. Because no one owns the Fediverse, there is no central authority to give out “verified” badges the way Twitter etc do. If you do see any Twitter-style verified badges these are just custom emoji and don’t mean anything, it’s just people having fun or messing around.
  • Don’t use centralised “verification” services or sites, even if they seem to be friendly and/or temporary. As the Fediverse has expanded, various brand new websites have sprung up trying to set themselves up as the one and only way to verify identity. It’s rubbish, don’t fall for it. The entire point of being on the Fediverse is to prevent any central authorities taking over, and there are already many tried and trusted ways to verify your identity on the Fediverse without using centralised services.

My website address won’t turn green! How do I make it happen?

Don’t panic, there are things you can do:

  • Make sure that all the links to your Mastodon account on your website include rel=”me” in their link code. If there’s one without rel=”me”, for example in a dropdown menu, the verification process may fail.
  • Bear in mind there may be some delay before your website address turns green on your profile, don’t worry if it doesn’t happen straight away.
  • The website address can be case sensitive, so try typing it entirely in lower case.
  • The website address has to have https:// at the beginning (which also makes it clickable)
  • Make sure the HTML code of the a href contains only rel=”me”, the link and no other attributes such as styles.
  • Make sure that you haven’t accidentally used http:// instead of https://
  • Try using this debugging tool ⧉ to check why the link doesn’t turn green

Also, note that each server on the Fedi verfies addresses independently and at their own pace. It is possible that people on other servers may see your address turn green before you do.

If your website link still won’t turn green, try verifying through the header instead

If you can’t get the normal link code to work for verification, you can instead insert this code into your site’s front page’s header:

<link href="https://yourserver/@yourusername" rel="me">

Substitute your profile page’s URL for the example in the code, but leave it otherwise intact.

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Can I use my account to log in on other servers?

Fediverse accounts only let you log in on one server, because all the servers are independent. The server you joined is your gateway into the wider network, because all the different servers talk to each other to form a single network, despite being separately owned.

If that seems confusing, think of it this way: you can’t sign in on Yahoo Mail with a Gmail account, but you can still send emails between Yahoo Mail and Gmail accounts. The reason this works is because the different email providers talk to each other, despite being separate companies.

But I thought Pixelfed lets people log in with their Mastodon accounts?

Not quite. They have a system that lets you create a new Pixelfed account and automatically copy over settings from your Mastodon account, but you still end up with two separate accounts at the end of it (the original Mastodon one and the new Pixelfed one).

What if I want to use features that are only available on a different kind of server? For example tracking my reading on BookWyrm?

If you just want to follow people from other types of server, you can do that from your Mastodon account. Go to the profile page of the account you want to follow and click Follow, or if their profile isn’t visible in Mastodon then paste their account addresses into the search box on Mastodon.

If you want to actually use features that aren’t available on Mastodon, such as the book database on BookWyrm, then you’ll need to set up a separate account on a server that has those features. In the example of BookWyrm, you would need to set up an account on a BookWyrm server.

If you do set up separate accounts, it’s a good idea to mention these on your Mastodon profile so people know to follow your other accounts too.

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What’s my account’s address? How do I follow other people’s addresses? How can people follow my address?

The most reliable way to follow an account on Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse is to follow its account address, also known as its Fediverse address. All Fediverse accounts have a unique address that looks like this:

@ username @ server

Your address is visible on your profile page, just below your profile picture and display name.

Screenshot of Mastodon official app, with profile page visible and its account address highlighted
Account address on a profile, as seen through the official Mastodon app
Screenshot of Mastodon web interface with account address highlighted on profile.
Account address on a profile, as seen through the Mastodon web interface

If you want people to follow you on the Fediverse, give them your full account address from your profile. Addresses are by far the most reliable way to find an account’s profile. You can exchange Fediverse addresses with friends in real life the same way you would exchange phone numbers.

Each full account address is unique because only one account has that username on that server.

You can follow an account by copying and pasting its address into the search box on Mastodon (or whatever Fediverse server type you’re using) and then searching for it. The account associated with that address will appear in the search results, and clicking on it will take you to the account’s profile page. You can then follow it by clicking the Follow button.

If you can’t see the search box, click here to see how to access search on the apps and website.

An account address pasted into the search box on the official Mastodon app
An address pasted into the search box on the Mastodon desktop interface

Other types of Fediverse addresses will also work on Mastodon

As well as Mastodon addresses, the above process will also work with other types of Fediverse address including Pixelfed, PeerTube, OwnCast, BookWyrm, Friendica etc. When such an address is viewed within Mastodon it will look like a Mastodon profile, but it’s actually on another server type. If you open its original page you will see what it “really” looks like.

Why do Fediverse addresses look like email addresses?

Fediverse addresses look like email addresses because they use a similar structure for federating their networks together. Each server is independent and the servers talk to each other, so the address includes both the server’s name and the user’s name to make sure messages get to the correct account. Because only one person can register a particular username on a particular server, an account’s full address is always a unique combination.

Why does it usually show just the first part of my address in posts? Why does it sometimes show the full addresses?

In order to make the posts easier to read, Mastodon and many other Fedi platforms abbreviate addresses to just show the first part of the address when you’re @-ing people within a post. However, if there are two addresses with the same username being discussed in the same post, then Mastodon will show the entire addresses to avoid confusion.

Think of it like names and full names in real life: in a conversation you would probably just use part of someone’s name (“Have you met John?”), but if there were two identical names in the same conversation you might say both names in full to distinguish them (“Have you met John Smith and John McDonald?”).

Why can’t I just find accounts by searching?

You can find accounts by searching, however if an account is very new or if no one on your server has ever interacted with it, it may not be visible in search results yet. This is why account addresses are so useful, because they force your server to notice that account straight away.

Does registering a username on one server reserve that username on all other servers?

No. Fediverse account addresses are structured like email addresses: your address is unique because it’s a particular combination of username and server that no one else has.

Someone else can register the same username on a different server, but then their address will be different because the server part will be different. This prevents the accounts being mixed up by the network.

To avoid confusion, Mastodon shows the full addresses if two accounts with the same username are mentioned in the same post.

(This is how email works too: the person with the email example@gmail.com may not be the same person as the one with example@yahoo.com, even though the username part is the same.)

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How do I use Mastodon through the web? How do I log in through my server’s website?

You can use Mastodon entirely through your server’s website if you prefer. This works especially well on computers, but the mobile web interface is good too and appears automatically on small screens. To log in through the web:

  1. Go to your server’s website
  2. Click the Sign in button
  3. Log in with the same email and password you use to sign in on the app

Can I install Mastodon as a web app on my home screen?

Yes! Mastodon supports being installed as a web app on Android and iPhone / iPad. See this site’s complete guide to installing web apps for Mastodon and the Fediverse.

Which websites can I log in from?

Each server on Mastodon and the Fediverse is independent and has its own website you log into. The address of the website is usually the same as the name of the server. For example, if you joined Mastodon through the server kind.social you would log in through the website kind.social ⧉.

Because of the way the network is structured, there is no central website to log in from, so you must go to your server’s own website to log in. (It’s exactly the same reason there is no central email website, you can only log into email through specific email providers such as Yahoo Mail, Gmail etc.)

Although the Fediverse’s servers talk to each other to form a single network, you have to log in on your own server so that you can access this shared network.

My password doesn’t work! I can’t remember my password! I can’t log in, help!

If you are unable to log in through your server’s website, try doing these steps in this order:

  1. Make sure you are logging in on the correct website. You have to log in through your own server’s site, which will usually be the same as the server’s name. If you don’t know your server’s name, it’s in the last part of your account address.
  2. Make sure you are typing the password correctly. Passwords are case sensitive, so you need to make sure each letter’s case is correct.
  3. Underneath the login form there will be a link that says something like “Forgotten password?” or “Having trouble logging in?”. Click this link, then enter your email address and it will send you an email with a reset link in it. If the email hasn’t arrived after a few minutes, check your spam folder in case it’s there,
  4. If you’re still having trouble logging in on Mastodon, go to your server’s website and click on the Learn more link (if you’re on the desktop website) or ⋯ (if you’re on the mobile website). This will take you to your server’s info page. Your server admin’s public email address will be shown in the info page’s section marked “CONTACT:”, you can send them an email to ask for help with logging in even if you get locked out.

By the way, if you have a computer using Mastodon through the website is perhaps the best way to experience it. Fans of the multicolumn Tweetdeck may also want to try the advanced web interface.

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Which Mastodon apps can I use? Should I use the official app or a third party app?

Most people tend to start on Mastodon through the official app, which is simply called “Mastodon” and available on the Apple App Store, Google Play and F-Droid.

However, you don’t need to do this! In fact, you will probably enjoy Mastodon a lot more if you sign up on a server through JoinMastodon.org ⧉ or Fedi.Garden ⧉ and then sign into your account using one of the third party apps listed below, or if you prefer you can use your server’s web app or website.

Official Mastodon apps

Mastodon was originally launched in 2016 and all of its apps were third party. The official app (for Android and iPhone/iPad) was only introduced in 2022 as new people were expecting there to be an official app. However, it was intended just as a beginner’s app and was not meant to replace the third party apps. Third party apps tend to have more and better features than the official app, and most people who try them prefer them.

Because Mastodon uses open technical standards, all apps have equal access to all of Mastodon’s features. The official app has no special advantages or privileges compared to third party apps.

Third party Mastodon apps

There are lots and lots of Mastodon and Fediverse apps out there. The official Mastodon website has a very long list ⧉, but if you just want a few quick simple suggestions here they are:

ANDROIDTusky
Fedilab
Tooot ⧉
iPHONE/iPADToot!
Ice Cubes
Ivory ⧉

Mastodon websites and web apps

Mastodon’s official web interface is excellent and well-developed. You can use Mastodon entirely through your server’s website and you can also install your server’s website as a web app on your phone or tablet. The web app works very much like a normal app, including notifications.

The Mastodon web interface is excellent and generally gets the latest features first. It can be used on computer, tablet or phone, and automatically changes to a mobile layout when used on a small screen.

Third party web interfaces

There are also third party web interfaces you can use instead of your server’s official website. You can log in using the same details as you do on your server’s website, but it will work through a different interface.

One of the most popular third party web interfaces is called Elk, however it is still having a lot of bugs ironed out. You can try it at elk.zone ⧉ and if you’re a techy person you can find out more at Elk’s Github page ⧉.

Command line and TUI apps

If you’re a techy person, you can use Mastodon through a CLI or TUI if you prefer.

Retro computer apps

There are (amazingly!) Mastodon apps available for many home computers of the 1980s and 1990s.

What about safety? How safe are third party apps compared to official apps?

Obviously it’s a bad idea to ever install random unknown apps from sources you don’t trust. However, the apps listed on this page are all well-established and recommended on the official Mastodon website’s apps page ⧉ (scroll down past the official apps section).

Also, most of the apps listed are open source so their workings are visible to anyone in the outside world. Any shenanigans in what a widely-used open source app does would be noticed fairly soon by outside observers.

How do apps handle my account password? Do the apps find out what my password is?

The security of your Mastodon account works like this:

  • The sign-in process on all apps (including official, third party and web apps) happens through your server’s website, which the app opens in a built-in web browser window. That’s why the sign-in page on apps looks like your server’s website, because it is your server’s website.
  • None of the apps listed on this page ever find out your password, all they know is that your server confirmed the password is correct and the server gave the app a special access token so it could work with your account. (Tokens are just a special code that lets apps and servers talk to each other.) That’s why the sign-in process always includes asking you about permissions, it is your server asking if you want to give that app an access token.
  • If you don’t want an app to work with your account any more, you can cancel its access token by logging in on your server’s website and going to Preferences > Account > Authorised Apps, then click the Revoke button for the app you want to remove permission from. Revoking will stop that app having any access to your account. (On the mobile website, you may need to click the cog icon ⚙️ and then ☰ in the top right corner to get to the Account section.)
  • You can make your account even more secure by enabling two-factor authentication, an extra layer of security which means even if someone found out your password they would still be unable to log into your account.

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Don’t join a big server on Mastodon!

When new people sign up on Mastodon and the Fediverse, they often assume that they must join the biggest server to have the best experience.

This isn’t true at all, for a number of reasons:

  • Servers of all sizes talk to each other to form a single giant network, and people can follow each other regardless of which server they are on. You don’t need to be on a large server to get lots of follows and followers.
  • The experience of following an account is absolutely identical, whether you’re on the same server or not. You don’t need to be on the same server as people you follow.
  • Larger servers usually have a much lower staff-to-member ratio, which means the moderation will be worse than on a smaller server. Also, because there are fewer staff per member, if something breaks it will be a lot harder to get hold of anyone who can fix it.
  • Smaller servers usually have a friendlier community atmosphere on their Local timelines, while the Local timeline on large servers is an unreadable firehose.
  • Large servers are much easier for nasty billionaires to buy out, which puts the network as a whole at risk. By staying on medium and small servers, you are helping to protect the network from anyone taking it over.

Mastodon.social is not anything special

A lot of the media still thinks that the “default” server is mastodon.social, but this just isn’t true. Mastodon.social became a very big server mainly because it was the first Mastodon server, but it has no advantages or privileges over any other server. It would be like expecting the first station on a rail network to be somehow better than the other stations.

If you want your server to be busier

If a server is very new, it perhaps can’t see the rest of the Fediverse yet, and this may mean the server seems very quiet and empty. As more people sign up on your server, and as your server’s members follow accounts from other servers, it will gradually start noticing more of the Fediverse and start to feel busier.

However, if you want to speed up this process of discovery, there are ways of doing this:

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What if a server closes down? What happens to my account?

Servers do sometimes decide to close down. However, all of the servers listed at JoinMastodon.org ⧉ and Fedi.Garden ⧉ are required to give at least three months notice if this happens. This gives the server’s members time to transfer their accounts to other servers. The transfer process lets people keep their followers and follows.

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Which Mastodon server should I join? How do I find out more about a server?

If you’re totally new to Mastodon and the Fediverse, the safest and easiest way to join is probably to go to JoinMastodon.org ⧉ or Fedi.Garden ⧉ and pick one of the listed servers. After you’ve signed up, you can use your account on the server’s website, or use the same account on an app if you prefer, or use both web and app.

Many of the servers are themed or intended for particular kinds of people, but many of them are just general. If you can’t make up your mind, just pick one of the general servers from those lists.

The servers listed on those sites have all committed to specific standards of technical reliability and responsible content moderation ⧉. (There are also many other much longer server lists, but the longer lists don’t have the same requirements to be listed, so tend to be less safe to use.)

Is there a more direct, in-depth way to find out about a server?

If you know the server you want info about, go to its website and click on the Learn more or ⋯ links, which will take you to that server’s About page. A server’s website address is usually the same as its name, so for example the server laserdisc.party would be at the web address laserdisc.party ⧉

The About page will contain general information about the server, as well as a list of the server’s rules and a link to the server administrator’s page (along with their public email address). It may also show a list of other servers that the server has blocked, which can be a useful indicator of the server’s priorities and how responsibly it is run.

What are the differences between servers?

Each server is totally independent: it is owned by the person or group who maintains it, it makes its own rules of acceptable behaviour and is responsible for moderation, it chooses which other servers it blocks, and all these things together give it a general vibe or atmosphere. The sense of community is usually much stronger and friendlier on medium and smaller servers.

Because Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse is built on open technical standards, servers are free to offer features that aren’t available on standard Mastodon. For example, some servers allow you to write longer posts.

What’s to stop a server shutting down?

Any kind of internet site can disappear ⧉, but the Fediverse reduces this risk by letting you move your account to another server if the one you’re on is closing.

All of the servers listed on Fedi.Garden and the JoinMastodon.org sites have promised to give three months warning if they intend to shut down, so that users have time to move their accounts to a different server without losing their followers or follows.

Another way of mitigating the risks of shutdowns is to join a server that has been around for a long time. The Fedi.Garden website has a section which lists recommended servers sorted by the year they were founded ⧉. You can also check a server’s age by clicking on the administrator’s profile link on its About page. Because the admin is usually the one who founded the server, their joining date on their profile page usually tells you the server’s age too.

Do I need to join more than one server?

No. You don’t need to join more than one server, because the servers talk to each other seamlessly. If your friend is on another server you can still follow each other, and being on different servers doesn’t affect that at all. (It’s similar to friends being on different phone providers, they can still call each other.)

Should I join the biggest server?

No. Joining the largest server is a bad idea. Medium-sized and small servers are much better both for you and for the safety of the network as a whole. There are really important reasons why being spread out on lots of medium and small servers is the best option.

Medium and small servers also tend to have much better moderation. Their ratio of staff to users is much higher than on large servers, so if there are any problems it’s much easier to reach someone who can help.

Can I move my account if I change my mind about which server to join?

Yes! You can always transfer your account to a different server if you want to be somewhere else instead. The transfer process lets you keep your followers and follows, plus bookmarks, blocks, mutes and lists. Posts from the old account remain on your old server, but when people click on the profile name above old posts they will be redirected to your new account’s profile page.

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Are there any other guides to Mastodon and the Fediverse?

Yes, there are lots of places you can get more help:

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What’s that rainbow pentagon thing that everyone seems to use on the Fediverse?

You mean this?

The most commonly used Fediverse logo, a bright multicoloured pentagon with corners marked by dots and lines joining the corners across the middle of the shape.

It’s the Fediverse logo!

Well, sort of. There’s no central authority on the Fediverse to choose an official logo, but many community members published their own suggestions and one of them has become very widely used. This is probably the nearest the Fediverse will ever get to an official logo.

The creator of the logo released it into the Public Domain, so anyone can use it for any purpose. It’s effectively the flag of the Fediverse, and used to represent it in discussions, videos, apps and lots of other contexts.

The logo’s creator published high quality versions of the logo available to download on Wikimedia Commons ⧉.

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What other kinds of servers are on the Fediverse?

As well as Mastodon ⧉, there are lots of other server types on the Fediverse, for example:

BookWyrm ⧉ – A social reading platform, an alternative to Amazon’s GoodReads

Friendica ⧉ – A general social network with no character limits, sort of like Facebook used to be on its older interface

Funkwhale ⧉ – Music and podcast storage and sharing

Kbin ⧉ – Link aggregation and discussion, sort of like Reddit

Mobilizon ⧉ – Event organisation, the Fedi’s alternative to Facebook Events

OwnCast ⧉ – Video livestreaming with a chat window at the side, very much in the style of Twitch

PeerTube ⧉ – YouTube-style video sharing site which uses P2P technology to allow even small servers to have videos go viral, as the more people view a video the more bandwidth it gets

PixelFed ⧉ – Photo sharing site, similar in style to Instagram and Tumblr

WordPress – All WordPress blogs can optionally be followed from Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse

WriteFreely ⧉ – Minimalist blog where focus is on the text, like a calmer version of Medium

…and that’s just some of them! If you’re a techy person, you can see more comprehensive lists of server types at FediDB ⧉ and delightful fediverse apps ⧉.

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Does Mastodon or the Fediverse use ads or trackers or algorithms or blockchain or cryptocurrency or anything annoying like that?

No.

There are no ads, no trackers, the timeline shows all posts from everyone you follow in chronological order, and there is no blockchain/cryptocurrency/web3.

Fediverse servers connect to each other using traditional sustainable methods that email and websites have used for decades.

I thought “decentralised” meant blockchain/web3/cryptocurrency?

No.

The so-called “web3” is just marketing crap that con artists have used to promote blockchain-based get-rich-quick schemes ⧉. Part of the deceptive marketing around web3 scams includes trying to steal the term “decentralised”, but in reality blockchain and cryptocurrency schemes are just about trying to make money through dodgy investments, they don’t care about their users.

Honest, proven, sustainable decentralised networks are nothing to do with blockchain/web3/cryptocurrency.

So, what is a true decentralised social network?

True decentralised networks are where many independent service providers talk to each other in a process known as “federation”, so that even people on totally different providers can still communicate. The Fediverse takes its name from this: it’s a Federated Universe of independent social network servers.

Federated networks have been around for centuries, and all of us have used them all our lives. The entire world is built around federated communications networks.

The postal service is federated, different post offices around the world exchange letters and parcels. You don’t need to use the German post office to send a letter to Germany, you just use your local postal service and they pass it on to their German equivalent. The traditional telephone network is federated, and so is email. That’s why you can make a call or send an email to someone else even if you’re using a completely different provider, because the providers on a federated network talk to each other.

Federated networks have been the default for human communications from the earliest days, since before computers or the internet even existed. It’s this sensible, sustainable, common sense tradition that the Fediverse is trying to bring to the modern social media world.

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Why is the Fediverse on so many separate servers?

The Fediverse is decentralised for many reasons:

  • It stops anyone buying the Fediverse out. There is no central server, so there’s no single thing anyone could purchase in order to take over the network. Twitter-Musk scenarios aren’t possible on a network that is spread out on many servers.
  • It promotes higher quality moderation. Smaller servers tend to have higher quality moderation, because they have a much larger staff-to-member ratio. On massive servers, the number of staff per user is very low and the moderation quality tends to be much poorer.
  • It empowers the user. If the people running a server do something bad, users can move their accounts to a different server without losing their followers. This discourages server owners from doing anything bad in the first place, and gives users lots of options if the worst happens.
  • It lets anyone start their own server, even non-technical people (click here to find out how ⧉). The simplicity of a small server means it only costs about $8 per month from a managed hosting company which does all the technical stuff for you ⧉.
  • It means each server can make its own rules, so if there are any disagreements people can move to a different server with different rules, or even start their own server with rules they write themselves.
  • Servers that find themselves in extreme disagreements over acceptable behaviour can disconnect from each other without disconnecting from the rest of the network.
  • If one server goes down or has technical problems, other servers keep working fine. Problems on one server don’t bring down the whole network.
  • Servers don’t all have to use the same software. This diversity means if one kind of software doesn’t work properly, it doesn’t affect the whole network, and servers can switch to other software if they want. The diversity also allows servers to specialise in particular kinds of content for users who just want particular features, for example PeerTube specialises in video publishing, BookWyrm in book reviews etc.

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Who gets to start their own server on Mastodon and the Fediverse?

Anyone.

It’s now much cheaper and easier than most people realise, it starts from about 5 to 10 euros or dollars per month for a small server.

There are three main ways to start your own server on Mastodon and the Fediverse, depending on your technical skill level:

  • If you’re non-technical, you can use a managed hosting provider. The hosting company does all the technical stuff for you behind the scenes in return for a monthly fee, but the server belongs to you and you have total control over it through the web interface. You can find out more about managed hosting on my website Grow Your Own Services ⧉.
  • If you’re moderately technical, you might want to use Yunohost ⧉ which lets you install and manage a wide range of online services (including Fediverse servers) through a graphical interface. This option does require you to know how to install a server OS though.
  • If you’re very technical, all Fediverse platforms (including Mastodon) have manual installation instructions in their documentation which you can use.

Once your server is set up, you can follow people on other servers and they can follow you.

Should I set up my own server?

It’s much easier to join someone else’s server, but it’s really important that creating your own server is there as an option. Here’s an article on my other site about why someone might want to run their own server ⧉.

I’m interested, but I don’t know anything about this topic. Is there anywhere I can get advice?

Yes! I run a website at GrowYourOwn.Services ⧉ which is aimed at non-technical people who are interested in making their own online sites and services. This includes Mastodon and other kinds of Fediverse servers, and there’s an in-depth step-by-step guide to making your own Mastodon server ⧉. The site doesn’t have any connection to the providers mentioned, so it can give advice freely on what is possible.

There are also guides for Fediverse admins on Fedi.Tips, just go to the front page and scroll to the section marked Running your own server on Mastodon and the Fediverse at the bottom of the screen.

I set up my own server but it’s hard to pull content in! What can I do?

The content should come in more as you follow more accounts, and if you’re running a public server then your members will draw in more content as they follow more accounts too.

However, if you want more content right now you might want to read the guide to groups (which actively federate all their content to all their followers), and also see the guide to relays (especially the newer custom hashtag relays).

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Who sets the rules on the Fediverse? How do I find out what the rules are on my server?

Because the Fediverse is a network of totally independent servers, there is no central set of rules for them. Each server creates its own set of rules which its members must obey. Usually the owner of a server sets the rules for that server, although some servers may consult their members about what should be allowed.

How do I find out what the rules are on my server?

  1. Go to your server’s website, you don’t need to log in.
  2. If you’re on a computer, click the “Learn more” link. If you’re on a phone, click the ⋯ icon.
  3. You will be taken to that server’s info page, scroll down the page until you get to a section marked Server Rules and click this to open it. It’s worth reading the rules before joining a server, they’re usually relatively short and written in clear plain language.

What kind of rules are typical on servers?

Most servers will have rules against bigotry, abuse, threats etc, but it is totally up to a server’s owner to decide. That’s why it’s important to check a server’s rules before you sign up or transfer an account, as they are not all the same and it’s best to know the kind of place you are joining.

How are the rules enforced? What happens if an offender is on another server?

If the rule-breaker’s account is on an admin’s server, the admin can issue a warning, limit the account, suspend the account or even delete the account.

If the rule-breaker is on another server, admins can limit or totally block remote accounts from communicating with their server.

If a server is consistently full of problematic accounts and refuses to do anything about them, admins can defederate badly-run servers. Really badly run servers tend to end up isolated, because so many other servers defederate them.

What if I disagree with a rule? What if a rule is unclear?

You can ask the owner(s) of your server if you have any comments or questions about the server’s rules. Bear in mind though that the owners have the last word on what is allowed.

Is it possible to run a server jointly, owned by its members?

Yes, some servers are owned and run jointly by co-operatives, where the members vote on what should happen and what the rules should be. Real world ownership structures such as co-ops can be applied to servers too.

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Who owns the Fediverse? Is the Fediverse owned by a corporation or venture capital firm? Can it be bought out by Google/Facebook/Elon Musk?

No single person or company or organisation owns the Fediverse or Mastodon. Its ownership is spread throughout the thousands of independent servers that make up the network.

No one can buy out the Fediverse or Mastodon because there is no single thing that could be bought, it would be like trying to buy out the global phone network. The Fedi is made up of thousands of independently owned and run servers, which makes it extremely difficult or impossible for anyone to purchase it.

Most Fedi servers belong to unpaid volunteers, or non-profit community groups and co-ops. The running costs are covered by the server owners themselves and donations from their users. There are no investors, no venture capital firms, no ads, no trackers.

Companies can start their own Fedi server if they want to, anyone can, but all they would control is their own server. They would have no control over the thousands of other servers out there.

The Fediverse is built on free and open source software, made by many independent groups, and the software copyrights are licensed in such a way that no company or organisation could ever take control of them.

I thought Mastodon belonged to some guy called Gargron or Eugen or something?

The software which runs on most Mastodon servers is developed by a non-profit software organisation in Germany called Mastodon gGmbH, which is run by Eugen Rochko (also known as “Gargron”). The non-profit publishes this software under a free open source licence so anyone can use it, distribute it or modify it. Many of the contributions made to the software are from people outside the non-profit, so this open licence is of benefit to everyone.

Rochko’s non-profit also runs two Mastodon servers (mastodon.social and mastodon.online) and the JoinMastodon.org promotional website, but they do not own or have any control over any other servers. Also, many Fediverse servers run on totally different kinds of software which aren’t made by Rochko’s non-profit.

What about the apps? Who owns them?

The “official” apps for Mastodon are made by Rochko’s non-profit and are aimed at new users. However, the third party Mastodon apps have been around a lot longer than the official ones, and tend to be better designed with more features. You can use your Mastodon account (and many non-Mastodon Fediverse accounts) with any of these apps, you don’t have to use the official ones.

The “official” Mastodon apps have no technical advantages over third party apps, they all have equal access to Mastodon’s features.

I thought apps and social networks were the same thing?

In recent years companies like Meta/Facebook and Twitter have attempted to drive people onto their official apps in order to control their experience more tightly. This has happened to such an extent that many people now refer to social networks as “apps”.

There used to be many third party Facebook and Twitter apps you could use, but the corporations who own Facebook and Twitter didn’t like this lack of control so they gradually started to block all other apps from their services except their own. Because Facebook and Twitter are built on closed standards and based on single servers, there was nothing the third party app makers could do about it.

Mastodon and the Fediverse are different, they are built entirely on open standards and spread across thousands of independent servers. That means no one can force you to use a particular app, you can choose from many different apps and they will all work with your account. Any company or programmer can make a new Mastodon/Fediverse app if they want to, and there are no restrictions on the features they can provide.

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Do I need multiple accounts? Do I need to join lots of servers?

You only need one account on one server to follow and interact with people from across the Fediverse. Think of it like your telephone: you only need one phone with one SIM card to call anyone in the world.

You don’t need phones for every phone network, because the world’s phone networks talk to each other.

You don’t need an account for every Fediverse server, because the world’s Fediverse servers talk to each other.

But some people do have multiple accounts? Why?

There are specific situations where having multiple accounts is very useful, see the guide here for more on this topic.

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What is Mastodon? What is the Fediverse?

Simplified diagram of the Fediverse, showing many kinds of social media servers connected together

If you call someone on an ordinary phone, your phone provider will connect to the phone provider of the person you’re calling. You don’t need to be on the same provider to call someone. This works worldwide and seamlessly, because all the hundreds of phone providers in the world talk to each other. From the user’s point of view, it’s as if all phones in the world are on the same network.

The Fediverse (or “Fedi”) is basically the same idea, but for social media. The Fediverse is a collection of thousands of independent social media servers that talk to each other seamlessly. This means that the millions of users on these servers can interact with each other as if they were on a single social network.

The most popular type of Fedi server is called Mastodon (or “Masto”) and works a bit like a calmer, more friendly version of Twitter. Click here for a cute animated video about Mastodon ⧉ that explains the basic principles of a federated social network, or click here for an even simpler explanation video ⧉. You might also want to watch this short video about the Fediverse ⧉ that emphasises the importance of common technical standards.

There are many kinds of Fediverse servers, often with a specific purpose such as photo sharing, video sharing, livestreaming, book clubs etc. Although the various types of servers work very differently, they talk to each other with a common technical standard called ActivityPub. The common standard means people on totally different kinds of servers can follow and interact with each other seamlessly.

In fact, the process of interacting with other servers is so seamless, most people don’t even notice that they are communicating with other servers!

Could you give some examples of this in action? How do different kinds of servers interact?

Let’s suppose someone has an account on a Mastodon server, which means they have a Twitter-style timeline and features. They can create short posts, follow other people, reply to posts, share posts, like posts etc. That person can follow and interact with accounts from other Mastodon servers, but they can also follow accounts from completely different kinds of Fediverse servers too.

For example, if they follow a video account from PeerTube, videos from the PeerTube account will appear in their Mastodon timeline just like Mastodon posts do. If they reply to one of these video posts in their timeline on Mastodon, that reply will also appear as a comment below that video on PeerTube.

There are many other kinds of server on the Fediverse, such as Pixelfed for photos, BookWyrm for reviewing books, WordPress for writing blogs etc. All of them can be followed and interacted with from Mastodon accounts.

I thought the Fediverse and Mastodon were the same thing? Where does the word “Fediverse” come from?

Mastodon is currently the most popular kind of Fediverse server, but it’s just one kind. There are many other kinds, communicating through a common standard to form a single network. The collective term for this network of compatible servers is “The Fediverse”, which is short for “Federated Universe”. There’s a short video about the Fediverse ⧉ which sums up its nature.

Who owns Mastodon? Who owns the Fediverse?

No single individual or organisation owns Mastodon or the Fediverse. Ownership is spread across thousands of independent server owners.

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