Your Guide to Mastodon: What Is It, and How Is It Different to Twitter?

Twitter has been pretty chaotic since Elon Musk took over as CEO — roughly half the staff was laid off At the end of October, new features such as gray checkmarks for reliable sources were released only later pulled from the site the same day. Musk has too sparred with founder Jack Dorsey and threatens companies that run ads from Twitter with a “thermonuclear name and shame“.

Since Musk official purchase of Twitter closed on October 28 for $ 44 billion, many users decided to leave the site. Bot Sentinel, an organization that tracks Twitter account behavior, estimates that nearly 900,000 Twitter accounts were deactivated between October 27 and November 1, per MIT Technology Review.

Some of those leaving Twitter are switching to Mastodon, a decentralized social network built on open-source software. Mastodon’s “federated network” has seen a remarkable uptick – on November 6, Eugen Rochko, Mastodon’s creator, said that the service has received 489,003 new users since October 27 and now has over a million active users. That is still only a small part of Twitter’s 238 million.

Read on to see how Mastodon works, how to sign up, and how it compares to Twitter. For more, see how to delete your twitter accountand get the latest Twitter’s verification badge plans.

What is Mastodon and how is it different from Twitter?

Mastodon is a free social media service that works like Twitter. You can post “toots” (instead of tweets), follow other people and organizations, and favorite (like) and boost (retweet) other people’s posts.

Mastodon was created and originally released in October 2016 by Eugen Rochko, the CEO and sole employee of the nonprofit organization Mastodon gGmbH. In May, Rochko announced the service’s oddly named replacement for “Tweet.” He says that the original button was called “publish”, but a dedicated supporter promised lifetime support from the Mastodon Patreon account if he would change it to “toot”. (On the iOS and Android apps, it says “publish.”)

In an interview with Time Magazine, Rochko said that he started developing Mastodon when he realized that “expressing myself online with my friends through short messages is actually very important to me, important even to the world, and that it maybe shouldn’t be in the hands of a single company that can just do whatever they want with it.”

Read more: Mastodon is not a Twitter replacement

Instead of a city square for everyone, however, Mastodon is made up of thousands of social networks, all running on different servers, or “instances,” that can communicate with each other through a system called Fediverse. The Fediverse also includes other social networks such as PeerTube for videos, Funkwhale for music, PixelFed for photos and NextCloud for files.

Mastodon servers are not required to be connected to Fediverse, in fact the most famous is the Mastodon instance Truth Socialthe social network of former US President Donald Trump.

How do I go with Mastodon?

The hardest part of Mastodon is starting. Since there is no common Mastodon area for everyone – like with Twitter – you have to register on a specific Mastodon server.

Servers can be based on a geographic location, topic interest, professional background or literally anything an administrator can think of. For example, the people at only allows the letter “E” to be posted while the literary buffs are on prohibited of ever using the letter “E” (in honor of OuLiPo writer Georges Perec’s lipogram “La Disparition”).

Two of the largest Mastodon servers, alias instances, are – the official server of the Mastodon project – and, although both registrations have temporarily stopped. Another great general server I recently joined is Other popular Mastodon instances include for journalists and for open-source software.

Don’t worry about which server you choose – you can join as many as you want and leave or switch servers at any time. And you can follow people across servers, so choosing one doesn’t stop you from communicating with those on other instances.

A good place to find a server to join is the official Mastodon website at The site currently lists 106 servers that have committed to the Mastodon Server Covenant, an agreement to enforce moderation, make backups of the site and give at least three months’ warning before shutting down an instance.

Each server “about” page will tell a little about the Mastodon instance and list the server’s rules. If you don’t find a server you like on, you can try other Mastodon directories, such as, which offers a wizard to choose a server and also a sortable list of 3,910 instances.

A screenshot of the Mastodon registration form

Registering on a Mastodon server requires only a few personal details.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Most Mastodon servers with open registration only ask for your email address and a password to get started. Once you have responded to a verification email, you are ready to use Mastodon. Other, more private Mastodon servers may ask you to make a request to join and then wait for an invite.

How do I use Mastodon?

Like Twitter, Mastodon lets you post short messages to the world or select people, but instead of Tweets, Mastodon posts are called toots. And many of Mastodon’s other functions are much like Twitter, too, with slight differences. Each post is limited to 500 characters (instead of 280), and you can include links, images (JPG, GIF or PNG, up to 8MB), audio files (MP3, OGG, WAV, FLAC, OPUS, AAC, M4A and 3GP) up to to 40MB) and videos (MP4, M4V, MOV, WebM up to 40MB).

A screenshot of the Mastodon post interface with options for visibility displayed

Mastodon offers four levels of visibility for all your teeth.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Your posts on Mastodon can be set to public, only for your followers or completely unlisted from any timeline. You can create polls for your followers and use all your favorite custom emojis, plus custom emojis created for specific servers.

Each post can be marked with a “content warning” statement that requires a click before viewing, and Mastodon users take advantage of the feature frequently.

You can even edit posts on Mastodon. Each version of your toot remains available for review, and people who reblog your post will be notified after it’s changed.

Just like Twitter, Mastodon uses hashtags that start with the “#” symbol, such as #Gaming, #Anthropology or #Veganism. Since there is no algorithm to suggest your posts to nonfollowers, using hashtags to categorize your posts for people who might be interested is even more important than on Twitter.

You can follow any account on Mastodon, whether it’s on your own server instance or not, and the account’s posts will be added to your home feed in chronological order. Be aware that for some accounts you need to request permission to follow them.

Free web apps like Debirdify, Fedifinder and Twitodon can help you find accounts you followed on Twitter that have migrated to Mastodon.

If you don’t want a certain account to follow you, you can block them like on Twitter, or you can choose to block an entire server.

Mastodon lets you “favorite” posts, but favorites don’t appear on timelines – if you want to promote another post, you have to “boost” or reblog it. Unlike Twitter, there are no “quote toots” on Mastodon, a deliberate choice to discourage “dunking” on other people’s posts. A separate “bookmark” feature lets you save toots to Mastodon without informing the account that posted it.

Mastodon has a feature called Direct Messages, but the name is a bit misleading. Rather than delivering person-to-person messages, the Mastodon feature limits a post’s visibility to only the people mentioned in it. In other words, they are toots that only certain people can see, rather than actual instant messages.

How do the Mastodon timelines work?

Where Twitter has just one timeline (sorted chronologically or by “Top Stories”), Mastodon has three: your Home Timeline shows all posts and reblogs from everyone you follow, your Local Timeline shows everything from your own server instance, and your Federated Timeline shows all posts from all Mastodon servers you follow someone on.

Using a web browser, you can set Mastodon to look like Twitter, showing one feed at a time, or you can view multiple feeds and notifications at once (like Tweet cover) by selecting “Advanced View” from your Preferences.

A screenshot of Mastodon's advanced view interface

Mastodon’s advanced view lets you view notifications and multiple timelines simultaneously.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Are there mobile apps for Mastodon?

you bet Due to the open-source nature of Mastodon, you have many choices for apps on iPhone and Android.

Your first and easiest option is the official app from Mastodon gGmbH (for iOS or Android), but there are other solid third-party apps. The two most popular alternative Mastodon apps right now are Metatext for iPhone and Tusky for Android.

Mastodon Apps for iPhone:

Mastodon Apps for Android:

If you’re getting started with Mastodon, be sure to follow me @[email protected] (And say hello!)

For more on social media and Twitter, follow a Timeline of the Elon Musk purchase and read about the big changes that could be for Twitter.

Correction, Nov. 7: An earlier version of this story misstated the Mastodon’s features. Mastodon added the ability to edit posts in March 2022.


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