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What is Mastodon

Mastodon, in its simplest form, is a social media platform. Much like the others we are all used to -- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram....

What's different is that it is not owned by one person or corporation. It's a community of thousands of servers (called Instances in Mastodon speak). These Instances are run by people just like you; they have an interest in helping run a community. All Instances run the same software (Mastodon) and all talk to each other. The software used is also community developed, which means it is well maintained by thousands of technical people.

Most of all, Mastodon is free. There are: No paid adverts; No data is sold; No Trackers. Your timeline is shown in order, with no promoted posts.

It takes hard-earned money to run the Instances on the internet. Most Instances have a facility to donate a small amount of money to help keep the cogs running. You do not have to pay, and will never have to in order to use the service, but it's a nice gesture if you enjoy using Mastodon.

Joining Mastodon

Much like any other service, you need a username. There's an added step which can confuse people: you need to select a server (Instance) for your account. It doesn't really matter which server you create an account on, as they all talk to each other, but people often select an Instance with a theme. Perhaps, one in the country they live; or a theme (like Genealogy!), or a generic Instance.

Think of it like email. You sign up on gmail.com, but you can still communicate with the whole world. Mastodon is the same.

Picking a themed server will probably have other 'local' users on the that Instance who are interested in the same theme as you, so it's a great place to start.

You can easily move to another Instance in the future -- keeping all your posts and followers.

Have a look here for a good list of Instances: https://joinmastodon.org/servers

Check out the Instance rules -- some allow/deny specific post types. Make sure it fits within your own use of social media.

Your username on Mastodon

You can choose part of your username, and the Instance you are on adds the secondary part. For example, here on the genealysis.social Instance I picked 'david', so my username across the whole of the Mastodon universe is @david@genealysis.social

Anyone can now follow me using that unique username.

You can only login to Mastodon using the Instance you created the username on.

Mastodon Apps

Mastodon on the web is very good, and always up-to-date with features. It also works well on mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones.

Goto your Instance name in a web browser. Example: genealysis.social

There are official 'Apps' in the Apple and Google stores for mobile devices. There are also others, such as 'Tusk'. The Apps tend to lag a little behind in new features, but do catch up. For example: at the moment (November 2022), you can edit posts on the web. This is not currently available on the apps. It will come in time.

Some terminology

Mastodon has its own vocabulary, just like other social media sites.

In Twitter speak: Toot = Tweet; Boost = Retweet

In Facebook: Toot = Post; Boost = Share

Unlike other social networks, there is no 'algorithm' distorting your timeline and showing you popular posts first. You see everything in order. Favouriting a post is an acknowledgement to the poster that you like their Toot. It does nothing else. Others will not be told on their timeline that you have favourited a post. If you want your followers to know about a great post, Boost it.

There is no 'Share and Comment' on Mastodon. If you want to add a comment, reply to the Toot you are Boosting.

Content Warning (CW)

When preparing a Toot, there is a CW button for Content Warning. This hides your main Toot content behind a blank 'window'. It will display a brief description (which you write) in the user's Timelines, and they can optionally click to read the full post.

Very useful if your are posting something which others may find distressing to read, or perhaps a spoiler for a TV show or book.


We see hashtags everywhere -- on social media, and even on TV adverts and shows. It's a simple way of grouping posts together. No one curates hash tags, you just start using one and hope others do too.

For example: #Genealogy is a hashtag. I can include that in a Toot and others can look for other Toots with the same hashtag by clicking on it.

Use hashtags often -- Mastodon relies heavily on them for searching. There is no full word search in Mastodon. Instead, you search for a hashtag. If I am interest in recipes I could search for #recipes and see what comes up. You will become familiar with hashtags.

TIP: If using multiple words in a hashtag, capitalise each word. This really helps screen readers for visually impaired users. Example: #WorldCup2022

TIP: Use hashtags in your profile description to help other liked-minded people find you.

TIP: You can also follow hashtags. Search for a hashtag and the use the follow button at the top. Toots using this hashtag will start to appear in your timeline. Read more About Using Hashtags.

How do I find people?


You can bookmark posts you like. As the name suggests, Mastodon will remember you are interested in the post. It does not let the author know; it simply appears in your 'Bookmarks' folder. It's a great feature for you to come back to a Toot at a later date.

How do you get followers

Toot visibility

When writing a Toot, there are three options (using the globe icon).

There we have it, a quick summary.

Happy tooting -- if I can be of help, find me on @david@genealysis.social

Current as at 15 November 2022