How to use Mastodon: create your account, join servers, and more

The drama unfolding on Twitter, both from a business perspective and from a user experience perspective, is truly unique. Elon Musk is making changes that not all users will appreciate, and his cavalier attitude toward content isn’t winning him many fans of free speech and absolutism like him. Of course, many Twitter users are looking for alternatives, and one option that has grown in popularity recently is Mastodon.

Mastodon is decentralized, which means that the platform is not limited to a single server controlled by one large corporation, like Twitter or Facebook. Instead, each person can create their own Mastodon server, which is generally known as an instance, complete with its own set of rules. This means that you are setting guidelines for the Mastodon server and that no ads or data collection are displayed here.

The best part about Mastodon is that you can follow users in other Mastodon instances, even if you are not a member of that instance. Think of it as being able to talk to a person in a Facebook group or WhatsApp group chat without having to join that group. The rest is a known thing. You can write posts up to 500 characters long, share photos and videos, repost other people’s content and more.

How to join Mastodon

However, the biggest pain on Mastodon is finding the right server. You might want to join a community of Los Angles Lakers fans, environmental activists, or just regular people who like to talk about cats. Depending on the server you choose, you will be given an appropriate username.

For example, if I joined a hypothetical Mastodon server called “sandwichstans” that only deals in sandwiches, my username would be something like @nadeem@sandwichstans. This is identical to how you get an email address when you sign up for services like Gmail or Outlook. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll start with the official Mastodon app available on the App Store for iPhone, but the sign-up process is similar for the Android version.

Step 1: When you launch the app, you will see two options: sign up and Apply. If this is your first tango with Mastodon, tap sign up button.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Step 2: After pressing the login button, you will be taken to a page where you will see options to select a server. Here, the open servers are arranged by categories like music, regional, technology, games and food, among others.

Choice of servers on Mastodon.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

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Step 3: Select a server from any genre you are interested in. If you don’t see anything interesting, try researching using relevant keywords using the search box in the box. Let’s start from the “” server in the music section for good vibes. Tap the checkbox, then press Following button at the bottom.

Mastodon server download.

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Step 4: On the next page you will see a set of rules written in simple language that is easy to digest. Once you’ve gone through the basic rules, press Following button.

Mastodon rules

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Step 5: You will now land on the login page, where you can choose your display name as well as your username. You must also provide an email address to link your account to, as this will be used for recovery if you lose access to your account or forget your password.

Downloading a username on Mastodon

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Step 6: After choosing a username and password for your Mastodon account, tap Following button. Mastodon will now send a confirmation message to the email address you entered in the previous step. The email content should look something like the attached image:

Mastodon email confirmation.

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Step 7: After confirming your account creation in the email, return to the Mastodon app and you will be automatically redirected to the app’s main feed where you can start posting your information. Yes, Mastodon’s version of tweets is called toots.

Mastodon home page

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Step 8: This is what your main social page looks like in the Mastodon mobile app. The design is familiar, and aside from the different terminology, Mastodon’s core social media system is pretty easy for users to understand.

Mastodon's main food.

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How to find and follow other users on Mastodon

When you first set up your Mastodon account, you’ll have a blank profile board. Now is the time to build a network. The easiest way to do this is to follow people in your community or those in another community whose posts might be relevant. To do so, tap the search icon at the bottom to open your server summary.

You can just search for the person’s name in the search field, and if they have a Mastodon account, you will see a profile suggestion below. For example, I was doing a search for James Gunn and that’s how I discovered the acclaimed director’s Mastodon account.

On Explore the site, you’ll see the content neatly organized into five sections. The Posts section is essentially an algorithmic source of information that is trending or from an influential account. Like a particular tool and want to follow Mastodon’s creator activity? Just tap on the profile picture and press to follow button. It doesn’t matter if the person is from the same community — @ravenation in my case — or another community. Once you follow them, their posts will appear in your feed.

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Want to connect only with people on your server? Slide to Community carousel at the top of the screen to see the sounds of only people in your community. Of course, you can also comment, repost or share information – just like you would on Twitter or Facebook.

If you prefer to follow social media chatter using hashtags, feel free to explore the hashtags section as well. The News feed is, well, a feed of news that might interest you.

Finally, there is For you page, where you’ll see recommendations for influential accounts worth following, both inside and outside of your server. A quick way to discover cool accounts worth following is to scroll through Tracking list of the first influencer you followed.

Finding James Gunn on Mastodon.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

How to find your Twitter contacts on Mastodon

The most likely reason you’re reading this article is because you want to get out of Twitter. However, if you’re worried about losing touch with your Twitter contacts when you switch to Mastodon, there are a few ways to find your Twitter family here — assuming they’ve jumped ship, too.

Step 1: Let’s start with the easiest, most reliable, but somewhat exhaustive method. Open your list of followers or followers on Twitter and see if any of your contacts have put their Mastodon server URL or mentioned their username on their Twitter profile page.

Step 2: A faster hack is to search for the word “Mastodon” in the Twitter search tool. You can narrow the results by tapping the filter icon to the right of the search box and selecting People you follow checkbox.

Finding Mastodon contacts on Twitter.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Step 3: This will display a list of tweets in which people you follow have mentioned Mastodon. Chances are you’ll find at least a few tweets that mention the Mastodon username or link to the profile of people you follow in their tweets.

How to use Debirdify to find Twitter users on Mastodon

If you want to pull a list of your entire Twitter circle that has switched to Mastodon in one go, there are also a few third-party solutions. The most suitable, in my experience, is Debirdify.

Step 1: All you need to do is visit the Debirdify website, enter your Twitter username and then authorize it to access your Twitter account’s follow statistics.

Debirdify tool to switch to Mastodon.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Step 2: Once you allow access, Debirdify will compile a list of accounts in your next portfolio that have added a Mastodon account to their profile description.

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Step 3: Separate Account Lists In the following list, muted accounts and blocked accounts that have a Mastodon presence will also appear.

Finding Twitter Mastodon Converts Using Debirdify.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Step 4: You can now copy the Mastodon usernames (and server names, too) from the Debirdify list and paste them into the Mastodon app to connect to those personalities.

Finding Mastodon servers using Debirdify.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Step 5: A faster option is to download the list as a CSV file and add it to your Mastodon watchlist in one go.

To do this, press the purple one Download CSV export on the Debirdify page, then follow this path on Mastodon: Settings > Import & Export > Import. On the contact list import page, make sure you check Unite option.

Import Twitter contacts with Debirdify.

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How to import Twitter contacts into Mastodon

Another option I’ve tried is Twitodon, which pulls the aforementioned list in one go and easily allows you to import those contacts into your own Mastodon profile. Here’s a step-by-step guide to using Twitodon on mobile:

Step 1: On your phone or laptop, launch the web browser of your choice and open the Twitodon website.

Using Twitodon to find Mastodon converts.

Nadeem Sarwar / DigitalTrends

Step 2: When you reach the Twitodon website, tap on the hyperlink Sign up via Twitter option.

Step 3: You will now land on a website where you need to grant Twitodon access to your Twitter account. Enter your Twitter account login credentials to get started. In case you’re worried, Twitodon doesn’t collect information like your Twitter account password. Additionally, you can also choose to revoke access to Twitodon after you’re done.

Authorizing Twitodon to access Twitter

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Step 4: After completing the Twitter authorization step, you will automatically be redirected back to the Twitodon website.

Step 5: Now you need to do the same for your Mastodon account. Just enter your Mastodon username in the field provided in step 2 and press Apply button.

Step 6: On the next page, enter your Mastodon account login credentials. Once you’re done, Twitodon will scan your Twitter contacts and compile a list of users who have linked to Mastodon on their Twitter profile. Go ahead and download the CSV file named new_mastodon_follows.csv on your phone.

Step 7: Now open the Mastodon app on your phone and go to the settings section by following this path: Settings > Import & Export > Import. On the import page, make sure you have selected Unite System.

Mastodon has a lot of meaningful advantages over Twitter, but the user interface isn’t as polished as its far richer rival, and the features aren’t as rewarding. However, the service has quickly gained a ton of followers since Twitter’s new CEO and owner began making controversial changes to the platform. There’s definitely learning the basics of Mastodon, but once you’ve set up your own community there, you’ll feel right at home with a high degree of control in your hands.

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