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.