How to try out the fediverse and actually keep using it

Posted: 2020-02-11 19:03:56 |
Last update: 2022-05-05 21:08:49

The Fediverse is not twitter.

People who try it out because they are fed up with the bad moderation on twitter will mostly think this is a bad thing, however once you get used to it, you will see how it might actually be better for you.

One of the main differences is that on fedi, the percentage of users with a "locked" account is way higher. This is because you still get to write public posts with a hidden account -in addition to private ones to the followers you allowed. An incredibly useful feature. It also means that you will probably not be able to follow everyone you want out of the box. Try to write an introduction post, add a bio (with pronouns) and profile picture (can be whatever, just don't leave it as the default) and you will see that more people will accept your request and start following back. -Follow back "culture" is a lot more common on fedi than on twitter so you will gain a small amount of followers pretty quickly.

Generally, the "culture" on most instances is a lot more welcoming and friendly than on twitter.
There is still discourse, and that can and does get painful.
There sadly is also still a lot of racism, both internalised and open. If you choose a good instance, you're probably not going to be seeing people posting racial slurs, but that does not mean racism is not an issue on fedi.
It is something we as a community and every white community member as an individual have to work on.

A very positive aspect of the "culture" on fedi is that people care a lot more about image descriptions and general accessibility than they do on twitter.
Image descriptions are used by screenreaders to tell their users what an image contains. Most fedi clients will show these descriptions to everyone and they are a great tool to explain what you're trying to say with an image as that is not always obvious.
Many people, me included, will never boost an image that has no description attached to it because we don't want to subject our (potentially disabled) followers to posts that they will not be able to understand.
If you want to reach people with your posts, writing image descriptions is going to help you do so, in more ways than one.

How do I chose an instance?

Do not go to mastodon.social.
Yes, it is the flagship instance and usually has open registrations but that does not mean it is a good choice.
The local timeline, which shows all public posts from people on your instance, is a great way to find new interesting people to follow and build a community.
It does not have that effect when many tens of thousands of people with completely different interests and ideals are using the same instance.
In addition to that, you will want an instance that is well moderated, which mastodon.social is not.
Moderators have been posting screenshots of sincere reports of misbehaviour to make fun of the reporters and even if that had never happened, it would still be impossible for a project as small as mastodon to find enough competent moderators to moderate an instance as big as mastodon.social.
Many good instances have actually muted or even suspended mastodon.social to protect their users, so it's not a great choice if you want to meet people from all over the decentralised network.

Many good instances will require you to either write an introductory text or even an invite from an existing user before you can join.
This is not a bad thing as these instances are much less likely to be overrun by spam bots or trolls.
If you want to join an instance like this, ask around if you know anyone on there and definitely read the rules before applying for an account.

How do I chose a client?

For most intents and purposes, the web app is going to work decently well, so you do not need to install an app to start using fedi.
If you do chose to go with an app, there are a couple of good ones that I can recommend.

I don't use android anymore. Back when I did, I used Twidere, which is an app that can do both Mastodon and Twitter. It is still in early development and was not very stable back then.
Instead, I would recommend you check out Tusky . I've heard many good things about this client and it seems to be the most popular one.

On iOS most apps cost money because developers have to cover the pretty high Apple Developer fee.
I therefore haven't used many free clients and cannot recommend any but I can definitely recommend Toot!. It costs 3,99€ at the moment and is very much worth that "investment".
If you want a client that has some more features (like a media tab and watchOS support), you can also try out Mast: for Mastodon which is currently 2,99€ but sadly a lot less stable than Toot!.

Do not use the official Mastodon app.
There is an official app by the Mastodon developers that is available free of charge and looks pretty polished.
However, this app cuts out the local and federated timelines and therefore many of the interesting community features that make fedi better than twitter.
It also does not allow posting as "unlisted", which some people have interpreted as an attack on these timelines as they will be flooded by people who don't even know unlisted posting is a thing.
I don't want to assume malice but I still think leaving out this feature is really bad for the app and for the network in general.

But how do I even find people to follow?

This one thing is, in my opinion, the thing most new users fail at and abandon the platform. You don't get some popup telling you to select your interests and follow random people that talk about them, hashtags aren't used as much and the trending feature on Mastodon.. exists... barely.
The thing I would like to tell new users is that they should probably get an instance with like-minded people and hang around the federated and local timelines a lot. The federated timeline will display public posts by people others on your instance follow and you can quickly find great new accounts.
As soon as you follow a couple (hundred) people, fedi will no longer feel "empty" in comparison to your twitter timeline. -You are still more likely to see everything the timeline has to show you, which is because it is not written in a way that makes you feel like you're missing out every minute you're not spending on social media; something I certainly believe is a good thing.

But I miss my old friends.

This was the most painful thing about leaving twitter. I still miss many of my former mutuals and I am always incredibly happy when I see one has made an account on a fediverse instance.
But you don't have to do it as I did. There is absolutely no shame in using both fedi and twitter. There are a lot of tools that will actually help you manage your social medias in a way that doesn't force you to spend twice as much time on them:

Crossposting guide

I am not a fan of twitter crossposting. But hear me out. A nice person cross posting their twitter posts to fedi still makes me happier than a nice person I cannot read from at all. I just wish everyone followed a few "guidelines" in their crossposting endeavours. These are

  1. Please do not cross post retweets. It is just not a great experience following someone who mostly posts those.
    • That also includes quote retweets. We don't need to see your take on the latest twitter discourse on fedi. You can leave it on twitter.
  2. Please do not cross posts mentions and replies.
  3. Maybe consider a regex that just drops all posts that contain the word "twitter". Most meta posting will not matter to people on fedi.
  4. Use a cross poster that supports content warnings and use them. CNs are one of the best features of fedi and your usage of them will make your account more accessible
  5. Install a fedi client and look at the notifications from time to time. It's not nice talking to a wall and maybe you'll realise that your mentions on fedi are a lot nicer than the ones you get on twitter and make new friends. (As long as you don't post about tech)

If you do not want to use twitter anymore but still want to follow people who have not made the move (yet), you can also try to follow them through a birdsiteLive Instance.
This is a tool that uses the twitter API to bridge posts over to the fediverse.

I heard instance admins can read my DMs!

There is no feature to allow instance admins to peek into other people's DMs.
Yes, direct messages are not end to end encrypted and anyone with database access could theoretically read them but this is not any different from the way twitter does this.
Other than twitter, however, most fedi instances do not cooperate with law enforcement to rat out their users unless it's legally necessary.

If you want to discuss very private things, political activism, or breaking the law, you would probably be much safer if you did so in person in a room that does not have any microphones in it and is well sound isolated.
If you have to talk about risky things on the internet, use a messenger with strong end to end encryption instead of a social network.

However everyone you include by writing @theirUsername@their.instance within a DM will be able to read it, so maybe don't @ people to talk trash about them or discuss moderation issues.

Closing remarks

Just as almost every blogpost, this is just one person giving their opinion on a topic nobody asked them about. I just wish more people could give the fediverse a chance and maybe actually end up leaving the proprietary data silos that pay for billionaire's yachts with the content anticapitalists write for them for free.

Maybe this will inspire you to give the fediverse (another) try and hopefully stick around.

If you've got any questions, you can always reach me on the contact email provided.