Mastodon is the open-source, decentralized social media platform everyone is talking about — especially since Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover.
If you want to join Mastodon and see what all the fuss is about, you might get tangled up in the registration process. Why? Because beyond brainstorming a username and supplying an email address, you also have to pick a server.
What Are Mastodon Servers?
Mastodon is an open-source, decentralized social media platform. Anyone can use Mastodon code to create a server for free.
Mastodon servers, also called "instances," are individual communities, each with its own rules and culture. A server can be owned by a person, a group or a professional organization, and the server owner is the one who dictates the community’s guidelines.
People who join one server can still interact with users on another server. However, the server you choose will impact your overall experience.
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How to Pick a Mastodon Server
Mastodon has more than 7,500 servers, so picking one might seem challenging. However, if you don’t like the first server you join, you can always switch to another.
Here are some tips on how to pick a Mastodon server:
Write a List of Server Requirements
Before you wade into a sea of Mastodon servers, make a list of your wants and needs. Think about:
- The moderation policy: What types of content are allowed, what rules exist for content tags (not safe for work, spoilers), rules around harassment and hate speech, etc. You can look at a server’s about page to find this out.
- The server age: If the server is brand new, it might disappear, go inactive or fail to find many members. An older, more established server might already have a sizable community and offer stability.
- How quickly you want to use Mastodon: Some server sign-ups are instant, while others require a manual review process (or an invitation) before you can join.
- What other servers you want to interact with: You can interact with and follow people from other servers. However, servers can block other servers (for differing political views, vastly different moderation policies, etc.), which is something to keep in mind when choosing which to join.
Consider the Posts You Want to See
Mastodon can be as general or as niche as you want — it all comes down to personal preference.
Think about the experience you want. Do you want a tight-knit community of digital illustrators who share their projects, constructive criticism, tips and inspiration? You likely won’t get that from joining a general megaserver like mastodon.social.
Most current users recommend a middle-of-the-road approach: Look for a midsized community that focuses on a broad interest. A topic wide enough to spark diverse conversations while still maintaining your interests. Think “technology” as opposed to “HP computer repair.”
Why does the community you join matter if you can still see content and follow people from other servers? Because your home server will be the best place to discover new people and content outside of your circle.
Here’s a breakdown of the three feeds you will see:
- Home feed: Shows content from the people you follow — whether part of your server or not.
- Local feed: Shows content from the people on your server.
- Federated feed: Shows content from people followed by those on your server.
Peruse Mastodon's Server List
Mastodon offers a partial list of servers to browse through.
You can filter this list by geographic region, language, registration process (instant or application) and host type (individual or organization). You can also sort by topic, including technology, activism, gaming, journalism, food and more.
All servers on this list have agreed to follow the best practices of the Mastodon Server Covenant, which include:
- Active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia
- Daily backups to prevent the erasure of data
- At least one person (besides the admin) with emergency access to the server infrastructure
- Commitment to a three-month notice to users in the case of the server shutting down
Use Mastodon’s Server Search Tool
Mastodon offers a server search tool where you can go a tad more in-depth than the list above.
With this tool, you can search by the language most used on the server or look for words included in the server’s description. You can also filter results by number of total users, active users and characters per "toot" (what Mastodon calls a post).
The results will offer a breakdown of each server fitting the search criteria, including:
- The server name
- The primary language
- Number of users
- Most used hashtags in the past week
- The administrator’s name and email
- The server creation date
- The server description
- Statistics on the server activity (number of posts, logins, registrations, etc.)
Take a Server Quiz
Want to find a Mastodon server that speaks to you? You can take a simple quiz to get matched with server options — and you don’t have to supply any personal information.
The quiz will ask:
- What languages you speak
- Your preference for number of users
- Which moderation rules you care about
It then generates a list of servers that match your criteria. The list includes the server name, description, number of users and total number of posts.
Look for People You Follow on Twitter
Do you follow people on Twitter you want to keep up with? See if they’ve joined Mastodon and what server they use.
Look at the profiles of people you follow on Twitter and see if they’ve included a Mastodon username. If you don’t want to go the manual route of looking through profiles, you can use an automated tool.
You might find several popular server options among the people you follow or a great niche server you’ve never heard of. You can also use these collected Mastodon usernames to follow people on Mastodon and customize your feed.
Ask Your Friends
Ask your friends — both in real life and online — what servers they’re using and what the experience is like.
You might ask:
- What type of content do they normally see?
- What kind of moderation rules are in place?
- Do people typically use not safe for work (NSFW) and spoiler tags?
- Is the community relaxed, strict, open-minded, niche-focused?
- Is the server run by an individual, a group or an organization?
Join a Random Server
Pick a random server and get a feel for the community yourself. You might want to avoid obvious mismatches (say a cat-focused community for those who prefer dogs). Otherwise, this is the best way to get a genuine feel for what a server is like.
You can still follow people from other servers to customize your experience. And if you’re unhappy or want to discover different types of content, you can switch at any time. There are no consequences to choosing the “wrong” server.
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Found a Server? Get Started on Mastodon
You’ve decided on a server — now it’s time to finish signing up. Try to be patient when waiting for your verification email. Some might arrive in minutes, while others might take a few days.
Once your email is verified, you can start using Mastodon. Look for people to follow, create new posts and get to know your new community.