I signed up for Mastodon to see what the big fuss was about: Nyasha’s journey to Mastodon

Mastodon sounds more like a punishment than a place to be social or, so Nyasha thought. Follow as she goes through setting up Mastodon.

Mastodon (or is it a Mammoth?)

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What is Mastodon?

Mastodon is an open source social media site that was founded in 2016 by Eugen Rochko.  It boasts itself as a Twitter microblogging site with different servers and is ad free. The different privately run servers remind me of discord while microblogging reminds me of a mix between Twitter and tumblr. More interesting facts about Mastodon include: the company is run by crowdfunding and volunteers so there is only one employee (the founder) and it is a Ruby on Rails application with a React.js front-end.

The beginning

I am stubborn. It took months for my friends to convince me to join Twitter and it became my favorite social media website of all time. Mastodon took less convincing but as the friendly neighborhood social media manager, I felt it was my duty to learn about all possible avenues for the MasterWP account.  So, I began my journey by first looking at a few Mastodon memes to get me in the spirit of joining. They did not disappoint. 

Let me clear: I am NOT going back to Mastodon when this site becomes unusable. I will start carrying around a dry-erase board and using it to make my terrible posts
A picture of Ben Afflect smoking a cigarette and looking over it.  Caption: Older Twitter users who have lived through geocities, web forums, live journal, myspace, Tumblr and twitter, finding out that it may be yet again time to change platforms.

After laughing for a while, I managed to make my way to the website. I was greeted by shade a heading that said, “Social networking that’s not for sale.”  This again refers to the fact that Mastodon is mostly volunteer and crowdfunded. Also, the adorable mastodon with binoculars was a great selling point for me because it was freaking adorable. 

The Mastodon logo Mastodon holding a pair of binoculars

Servers

To start your account, you must join one of the infamous communities/servers. Since Mastodon is not one site you connect to, finding a server is the key to using it. The sidebar allowed me to sort servers by region, and by topic. I was a little disappointed at first because none of the servers seem to speak to me in terms of interest. I thought, “Why so few servers to choose from?” But then I saw this message on the page:

Seems like there are currently no servers that fit your search criteria. Mind that we only display a curated set of servers that currently accept new sign-ups.

This made sense. New users may be overwhelmed by some servers so a curated list of easy-to-join ones is helpful. My only critique of this is that if new users aren’t interested in any of these beginner friendly servers, they may choose to go elsewhere. Not to be deterred, I chose one and kept the process going. 

Rules

The server had specific rules that I assume were chosen by the moderators. I was happy to see that discrimination and many -isims were not allowed. I agreed with the rules and internally that I would not break them and proceeded to apply to join. 

Some ground rules.  These are set and enforced by the urbanists.social moderators.  Please don't post anything that's illegal in the US or EU.
No racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, or any other form of discrimination.
Punch Nazis, trebuchet TERFs. Any posts or usage containing nazi symbolism or ideology, or which contains "gender critical" / "just asking questions" shit will get you banned immediately and without recourse.
No promotion of crypto or NFTs.
NSFW content must be behind a content warning / marked as sensitive. Your profile (avatar, header, display name, etc.) must be SFW.

The sign-up was pretty simple, there was even an SAT-type an essay due at the end that asked me to explain why I wanted to join the instance. Another thing that is out of place for a social media site in my opinion but not a deal breaker. 

Why do you want to join? *
This will help us review your application  I am interested in discussing and talking more about walkable cities and enjoying the outside life.  I have read and agree to the privacy policy *  Get on waitlist
I was caught off guard and like you know what?

After this, I had to confirm my account and wait for approval into the server. I was officially a Mastodon user! However, until I was accepted, there was nothing I could do.

Account settings  Your application is pending review by our staff. This may take some time. You will receive an e-mail if your application is approved.

This was… a con? Usually when you sign up for a social media site all it takes is a username, email, and photo, and you can start interacting! However here we were starting with a wait. This is another thing that may deter users, (under other circumstances it would me) but again I was determined to wait it out and see how long it would take for my application to be approved and for me to start talking about the joys of walkable cities!

One Eternity Later  Spongebob Meme

Success! Around 30 minutes later I was sent an email that my application was approved and that I was now a member of a server. I received my server handle and my instructions for the next steps. Which were to set up my profile and finally start posting!

A profile prompt box that asks for Display name (I put Ny), Bio (I put Software Developer, Editorial Director of MasterWP, BTS ARMY) and a photo of Nyasha Green with Ny, and @Ny_The_Creator@urbanists.social to the right.
@Ny_The_Creators profile on Mastodon, it has a space to write a post with placeholder text that says, "What's on your mind?" A publish button, an empty timeline and a side bar that says, Mastodon, Home, Notifications, Explore, Local, Federated, Direct messages, Favorites, and Bookmarks

My Verdict

This is…interesting.  I loved that it’s very personal and you can make your own servers a mini world vs having to see everything like with Twitter. I also like that you can set rules for your servers like Facebook and discord groups. Another thing I love is that it is set up like a Facebook feed/Twitter profile so it’s very familiar and I’m not anxious about posting and reading them. Now the cons.  The sign up and joining those little worlds/servers were a little bit more work than I would like to do to communicate via social media.  

While I didn’t have a long wait to join my first server in general, it was a little weird that as soon as my account was set up, I could not post or set up my profile until I was already a member. This also meant to me that the reach on this website is very limited. One would have to focus on marketing your server to a large audience so more people can join and make it worthwhile. How would you do that on Mastodon? (You have to do it on another social media site.) If that’s the case, why would I just not use another social media site, vs this one? Also, there was the possibility that I would get rejected as a member and still not have access to the site. Yes, if you have a community you want to join in mind this can work but…is the onus on this site on the user to make their own enjoyment?

I did not get into making my own server as by the time I was up and fully able to make my first post I already wanted to go do something else. In my honest opinion, I don’t know if this will be a site that appeals to broad groups of people like the giant’s Facebook, Twitter, and tumblr before it. But for its users maybe that’s a good thing. The good I see in Mastodon for those who enjoy it is the creation of true safe spaces and legitimate learning communities. Do good things truly come easy? I think Mastodon will give us an answer in a time or two.


Author Profile Image

Nyasha is the Editorial Director at MasterWP and a software developer at Howard Development & Consulting, the company behind WP Wallet.

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