Mastodon is a part of the Fediverse, or federated universe, a group of federated platforms that share communication protocols.
Unlike Twitter, Mastodon presents posts in a chronological order, rather than based on an algorithm. It also has no ads; Mastodon is largely crowdfunded. Most servers are funded by the people who use them. The servers that Mastodon oversees — Mastodon Social and Mastodon Online — are funded through Patreon, a membership and subscription service platform often used by content creators.
Although Mastodon visually resembles Twitter, its user experience is more akin to that of Discord, a talking and texting app where people also join servers that have their own cultures and rules.
Unlike Twitter and Discord, Mastodon does not have the ability to make its users, or the people who create servers, do anything. That includes establishing content moderation, or rules for what posts to keep up and what to take down.
But servers can dictate how they interact with one another — or whether they interact at all in a shared stream of posts. For example, when Gab used Mastodon’s code, Mastodon Social and other independent servers blocked Gab’s server, so posts from Gab did not appear on the feeds of people using those servers.
How do you join Mastodon?
To join Mastodon, you sign up for an account on a server. This website will be home to your account, profile and feeds. Some websites allow immediate registration, while others require an approval or an invitation. There are at least 4,000 independent servers, according to estimates by fediverse.party. Many servers are topical, ranging from one for “all the ravers in the universe” to one for Britain.
Like an email account, your username includes the name of the server itself. For example, a possible username on Mastodon Social would be firstname.lastname@example.org. Regardless of which server you sign up with, you can interact with people who use other Mastodon servers, or you can switch to another one. Once you sign up for an account, you can post “toots,” which are Mastodon’s version of tweets. You can also boost other people’s toots, the equivalent of a retweet.