A guest post for Tech Tips in the Writers of Non-Fiction Facebook group

As Twitter disintegrates, many people are moving to Mastodon. The buzz about Mastodon is that it’s hard to join and to learn if you aren’t a tech genius. I just joined without any trouble, so here’s my take:

Mastodon differs from other major social media platforms in that it is decentralized and open source, meaning that there’s no single company or billionaire at the top. Instead it is a community of independent servers, called “instances,” that all run the same code and talk to each other.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, no problem. For regular users, what matters is this: there’s no single authority at the top that can, say, make senseless choices that abruptly crash the company. It also means that at present there’s no one collecting and selling your data.

When you join Mastodon (at https://joinmastodon.org/), you have to select a server (aka instance) to join. People freak out over this, but all you have to do is choose one. Know that you can change servers later if you want, without having to reconnect with all your followers, so this is a low-risk choice. Mastodon has an option to see a feed that’s only posts from your server, so if you join one with a lot of like-minded people, you might enjoy that option. However, a different option allows you to see a feed of only people you follow or a feed of everyone on Mastodon. Read over the rules for the server before you request to join it – these essentially boil down to “be a good citizen,” but as always, you should make sure you are OK with those rules before joining (just like with FB groups). Choosing a server is a bit like deciding which neighborhood you want to live in. No matter which one you choose, you are still part of the city, and you can still be friends with anyone you choose (and ignore the neighbors if you want).

Your Mastodon handle will be @[your choice of username]@[server]. For example, mine is:

@docdieterlen@urbanists.social

Doc Dieterlen is the username I chose; urbanists.social is the server I joined. (Note: Urbanists are planners, architects (like me), and activists who advocate for cities built around people, not cars.) Like on Twitter, you also choose a display name, like “Susan” or “BBQ Fan” or whatever, that appears in your comments and posts along with your handle.

The rest of making a Mastodon account is pretty straightforward. You just follow the steps and click the buttons. People are joining in droves as they leave Twitter, so various confirmation emails and responses may take a little while to arrive, due to high volume. It’s free to make an account. It does cost something to run each server, so once you join one there may be periodic pleas for donations. At the moment *there are no ads.*

I created my account on my computer rather than my phone, which allowed me to get the account set up and working before deciding which phone app to use. Unlike other social media, Mastodon is usually accessed through one of several third-party phone apps, rather than a single standard app owned by the company. I’m using Tusky on my Android phone, mostly because Tusky is popular and relatively well-established. I’m reasonably satisfied with it, although currently it does not have a DM function.

I used this list of apps to choose from and then browsed in the Google Play store: https://www.androidauthority.com/best-mastodon-apps-android-1210889/

This looks similar for iPhones, although it’s a short list: https://screenrant.com/best-mastodon-app-ios-which/