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How to get started on Mastodon

February 2, 2023
5 min read

I signed up for Mastodon this year, at the same time when most tech personalities decided to leave the bird site. Migration was quick and simple. I used a web app that looked up my Twitter follows and connected me with their Mastodon handles. I originally signed up with server dedicated to data visual artists, but was able to easily transfer to a general host, mas.to, about a week later.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Piggyback someone you follow
  2. Tell everyone you’re on Mastodon
  3. Find your people
  4. Pick an app
  5. Support your host

1. Piggyback someone you follow

The easiest way to get started is to join a public server of someone you already follow. Most Mastodon users have shared their Mastodon id on Twitter and other social networks. Look in their profile description for something like this:


It looks like an email address, except it starts with an at-sign. The first part is the user id, and the second part is the server. In my case, my user id is “radley” and mas.to is my host.

When you're ready, you can go to mas.to and sign up for a new account. If you don't want to use mas.to, there are hundreds of servers to choose from with many that cater to specific interests. Many people use open hosts such as mastodon.social. Others have created and use their own custom domains.

A few things to note:

  • You can change hosts whenever you want. Don’t worry about which host you start with. Mastodon is an open platform with built-in tools for changing hosts. You can even set up a forwarding alias if needed.
  • Some servers might be closed to signups due to capacity limits. You can wait for one to open up again later or try another host.
  • Be sure to check the participation rules. Some may have strict rules about discussion topics, self-promotion, crypto, NSFW content, etc.

2. Tell everyone you’re on Mastodon

The next step is to let people know you’re on Mastodon. Add your Mastodon id in your Twitter profile and other social media accounts to help your followers find you when it's their turn to migrate.

If you're serious about moving to Mastodon, consider appending your Mastodon id to your Twitter name. For example: my "Radley" name is now “Radley (@radley@mas.to)”.

3. Find your people

Twitter is starting to block apps that help users export their connections. I used Movetodon until it got blocked. Debirdify and Fedifinder are still working. You can also try retro-themed Mastodon Flock.

The process is pretty simple:

  1. Visit one of the migration apps in your browser
  2. Authorize the service to connect to your Twitter account
  3. Select the lists you wish to migrate (ex. follows)
  4. Export them as a CSV file
  5. Navigate to your Mastodon server in a browser
  6. Open your Account Settings -> Import
  7. Import the CSV file
  8. Wait 10-15 minutes for everything to update

You won't be able to migrate everyone. Only a small percentage of users have moved to Mastodon so far, so you'll probably want to run this service periodically to stay up to date.

If migration apps are unavailable, you may have to add your follows manually using copy/paste. Think of it as a chance for a clean slate. It will get easier as your Mastodon list starts to grows.

If you have to do it manually:

  • Most Mastodon users share their Mastodon id in their Twitter profile.
  • Start with people, not brands. People are migrating. Brands will take longer.
  • If you have a lot of follows, try adding only dozen of them per day. It is enough to get started and you'll probably start finding the others while using Mastodon.

4. Pick an app

Although Mastodon has been around for years, it didn’t have the attention it has now. Most of the early apps were basic developer projects. Starting in 2023, there are new apps arriving that have the quality we expect from paid apps.

The app sign-up process usually goes like this:

  • Enter your Server name (ex. “mas.to”)
  • Enter your username & password
  • Give permissions for the app to access you account

I recommend Ivory for iOS & iPad, but I also like Elk and Ice Cubes. Wooly and Tusker are in beta and should be coming out soon.

MacOS is currently stuck with only Catalyst-based apps for now. I’m using Mastoot and Elk Ice Cubes. Elk was the best looking Mac app, but it is designed to jump to the top when you get new posts. I prefer to read posts starting from the bottom, so I used Mastoot. Now I use Ice Cubes; it's the best of both apps.

[Updated Feb 7: I'm using Ice Cubes now.]

I can't speak for Android nor Windows, sorry!

5. Support your host

I strongly recommend supporting your host with a subscription. Most use Patreon or a similar service. It can be $1 / month or whatever you want. I pay £3 / month to support mas.to.

Final notes

You don’t have to quit Twitter. I still follow major brands (including personal brands) and tech designers on Twitter. I expect many of them to trickle down over the next year or two.

Mastodon has replies, boosts, favorites, and bookmarks. It doesn't have quotes and I don’t know how to block (ah, it was an app-specific limitation, not platform). There's already some weird stuff on mas.to, so I avoid sever and federated lists for now.

It’s still early for Mastodon. There are few other opportunities like Mastodon for fun and innovation, so I'm expecting a lot of exciting ideas and updates.

Tagged: MastodonTwitter

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