The social network says it now has more than 655,000 users, with more than 230,000 joining in the past week.
On the surface, Mastodon is like Twitter – account users write posts (called “toots”) that can be replied to, liked, reposted and followed by each other.
Under the hood, however, things work differently.
This is one of the reasons it attracts new users, but it has caused confusion with new people signing up.
The platform is six years old, but the current business is unprecedented and struggles under the weight of new entrants.
Here is a quick guide to finding your way.
What are all these servers?
The first thing to do when you sign up is to choose a server. There are a lot of them, they are themed – many by country, city or interest – like the UK, social, tech, games and so on.
It doesn’t really matter which one you’re on because you can still follow users on everyone else, but it gives you a fledgling community that is more likely to post things that interest you.
Some of the popular ones, like social media and the UK, are going very slowly at the moment due to demand.
Ryan Wild, who runs the MastodonApp.UK server through his company Superior Networks said he had over 6,000 new members in 24 hours and had to suspend registration. “I wanted to see what the hype was all about,” he said.
“I set up the server at 10 pm on Friday night and woke up the next morning with 1,000 people I didn’t know would show up.”
How do you find people?
The server you choose becomes part of your username
If you’re on the same server, you can just search for the person’s name, but if they’re on another server, you’ll need their full address.
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon doesn’t suggest followers you might be interested in.
You can also search for hashtags.
Why are the servers there?
Ok, it’s complicated, but I’ll try to make it very simple.
Mastodon is not a platform. It is not a “thing” and does not belong to any person or company. All of these different servers are connected and form a collective network, but they are owned by different people and organizations.
It’s called decentralized, and fans of decentralized platforms love them for exactly that reason – they can’t be managed, bought or sold at the whim of a single entity.
The downside, however, is that you’re pretty much at the mercy of the person or organization running your server – if they decide to drop it, you’ll lose your account. Mastodon asks server owners to give their users three months’ notice if they decide to shut it down.
Incidentally, original Twitter founder Jack Dorsey is working on a new network called BlueSky – and he said he wanted that to be decentralized too.
How is Mastodon moderated?
This is a real hot potato. At the moment, all servers have their own moderation rules and some don’t. Some servers choose not to connect to others that are full of bots or that appear to have a large amount of hateful content – this means that they are not visible to those on the servers where they are blocked. Messages can also be reported to the server owners.
If it’s hate speech or illegal content, owners can remove it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean everywhere. It will be a big deal if this platform continues to grow.
There have already been reports of people being targeted by hateful content, and the BBC has seen examples of homophobic abuse.
Are there any ads?
no There are no advertisements, although nothing prevents you from writing an article promoting your company or your product either.
Mastodon also doesn’t offer a curated experience like Twitter when it comes to how you view posts – you generally see what your followers say as they say it.
Is it free to use?
It depends on which server you are on – some are asking for donations, as they don’t get paid, but it is largely free.