Hi all, you might have found this post because you were looking for ways to find more people to interact with (or some people at all), and are someone who’s recently joined Mastodon. I’m signed up to FOSStodon.org which is an instance focused on Free and Open Source Software, hence the FOSS. This is one of many instances in the fediverse, a decentralized social media network, which consists of a wide variety of softwares and people.
This post is written with the goal in mind of both introducing someone to Mastodon but also how to find other people in an appropriate manner.
Before we get into finding other folks, there are a few terms I’d like to explain. If you’re already familiar with Mastodon and the concept, feel free to skip to the following section.
Instance - An instance is an installation of a Mastodon server application that runs on someone’s server machine. Each instance is located at a specific domain/website url.
Federate - Each instance is federated with each other by communicating over a communication standard called ActivityPub. Federation allows users from once instance to communicate with another. There are ways admins can restrict this communication but it is more common that this is not the case for you.
Fediverse - The ActivityPub standard is not only used by Mastodon but also numerous other server applications like Pleroma, GNU Social, and more. The greater network that all of these servers federated together create is called the Fediverse.
Decentralize - This federation model is seen as decentralized when compared to the model where a single organization controls every server and aspect of the platform that the likes of Twitter and Facebook adhere to. To read about why this matters, click here.
Toot - A toot is an individual status message you post on Mastodon. Toots are limited to 500 characters and links will be cut down to take up 20 characters in your post, if they exceed that limit. Mentioning users will only take up the number of characters that their username is, not including the instance URL they’re located at.
This is probably where you want to start. As like on Facebook and Twitter, you can use hashtags and the specific one mentioned here is most commonly used to identify a toot introducing yourself to the fediverse.
Remember, on Mastodon, characters are not limited to the measly 280 that Twitter limits you to. In your introduction, feel free to mention things like why you joined Mastodon, your hobbies and interests, and even the field of work that you’re in. It allows us to know whether you have similar interests to any user reading the toot, and allow them something to discuss with you about. If there’s anything interesting or unique about you, feel free to mention that as well!
Something not useful to do in your introduction is to shame others or point out individual people in a negative fashion as the reason to have left a given platform to migrate to Mastodon. It’s not that folks wouldn’t be interested, it’s just better to leave that for another time than the first toot that people will ever read from you. You could be initially perceived as an instigator of drama and someone to not interact with.
There’s so many more things that you could talk about but try to keep it all in one toot. You don’t have to share your life story right away, just a little bit of an elevator-pitch style introduction of yourself will suffice. If you only ever toot once on the first few days of using Mastodon, make it this type of toot. Otherwise folks might just think you’re a bot.
If you don’t toot at all and follow a bunch of folks, many will think you’re a bot. Because that’s typical bot behaviour.
The Local Timeline
The local timeline is where you’ll find users that are on the same instance as you. If you’re on a large instance like FOSStodon.org or Mastodon.social, you’ll find that this timeline moves relatively quickly compared to your Home timeline. Focusing on this timeline allows for an intimate experience, the kind that you might find on a forum.
You’re highly encouraged to interact with folks on this timeline. If you joined up on Mastodon using the joinmastodon.org instance chooser, these people are likely similar in interests and hobbies, and maybe even worldview. On an instance like masthead.social, you’re likely to find folks interested in journalism. On an instance like snouts.online, then you’re likely to find folks interested in the furriverse. Each instance has their own focus, and some don’t.
Also, you don’t have to just be on a single instance. You can have accounts on multiple instances and sign them all in on your phone in a single app. Many of the Mastodon apps allow for this versatility and convenience.
The Federated Timeline
The local timeline is just one way to interact with others in the fediverse. This is where things get a little fuzzy. The federated timeline features people not from your instance. The exact specification for this is ‘all users your instance are following’. To stretch that specification a little, it means that anyone you or or someone else on your instance is following will show up on the federated timeline.
This means that if anyone on your instance is following someone not on your instance, you will see their statuses show up in your federated timeline. This happens whether the person being followed is using Mastodon or some other ActivityPub-compatible social media implementation. It’s not obvious as to whether someone is using Mastodon or not when you look at their profile, but there are technical differences that do exist.
Folks on this timeline might not share similar interests with you, might have never seen your toots, and probably don’t know you exist (yet). If you interact with them, be mindful of this lack of context they may have. They’re likely to have had a completely different experience from you and may not possess the same truths you do.
That being said, don’t hesitate to reply to someone whose post shows up there. A status showing up there is an indication that the user wants to be heard. Let them know you’re reading and that you’re interested if you are! It’s a nice way to make new friends who’s worldview lies outside your own. Also be mindful, however, that some people are simply sharing their thoughts openly and don’t want a response. It’s up to you to figure that out, but don’t be surprised if you reply to someone and they don’t respond back.
As on Twitter, hashtags are used, though not as often. Mastodon offers a limited search functionaly that allows you to search by hashtag. My favourite is #screenshotsunday, which is one where, on Sunday, folks share screenshots of either the latest computer setup they’re running, or some project that they’re currently working on. For this post, I posted this screenshot!
You can also help yourself be discovered by using hashtags in your own post, like the #introduction hashtag I mentioned earlier. By using hashtags, your statuses will also show up when said hashtags are used in toots. Try, however, not to overload your toots with hashtags as you will inevitably signal to other folks that you’re just looking for attention and not actually looking to interact with others.
I try to follow a “within a sentence and less than (or equal to) 4” rule. If you can include the hashtag, naturally, within a sentence, then by all means use it as long as you have no more than 4 hashtags in the toot.
One of the lesser known ways to find people of similar interests is to look through the conversations of people you follow are having with other folks. More often than not I find someone I follow having a conversation and then following the person they were having a conversation with.
This is perfectly fine! It’s not entirely impossible for a conversation to scroll by your Home timeline and your interest to be piqued by someone you follow’s conversation. If you’re going to people’s profiles and jumping into those conversations, however, that’s bad etiquette and you could be perceived as something called a reply guy.
This one’s a little more hit and miss as not all instances have this feature activated. Each instance has a directory that you can browse, if it’s enabled, that lists all users on the instance by order of their most recent activity. This directory is located at instance.domain/explore. Replace instance.domain with the domain you want to view the directory of. If the directory feature isn’t turned on for a given instance, you’ll get a page saying that the page you’re looking for doesn’t exist.
Another, newer, way to access the directory of users is directly through your Mastodon web interface. This interface is accessible through instance.domain/web/directory. This gives you access to the directory of users that your instance has seen at any point in time. You can order by most recent activity and by newest sign ups. This way you can connect with people outside your instance even if your instance only has a handful of users.
This covers most of the ways you can discover new folks on the Fediverse but there are many other ways. Some that are appropriate, some that are not and considered stalking. While going through the fediverse, be mindful that there will be people you don’t like that you encounter. There will be opinions held by folks you see that you don’t agree with.
What’s important to understand is that we’re all here to connect with other people or to have ourselves heard. Have fun, and go discover new people and new ideas!