Why is it so hard to get on Mastodon?
Although I still have a Twitter account and check in occasionally, I have not been a daily user since 2016 because ohhhhh you can guess why.
After a different very stable genius purchased Twitter last year, I started hearing a lot about Mastodon, a Twitter-like thing built on an open protocol with many distributed instances. The idea being if the network is a swarm of independently operated servers, a single rich knucklehead can’t come around and ruin it. It was started in 2016, so, prescient!
But actually getting onto Mastodon was… weirdly hard?
If you want to create an account, the first thing you have to is pick a server where you want your account to live. You can see the posts of anyone on any server, but your chosen server should, in theory, best align with your interests.
Most servers are—on the face of it at least—dedicated to one interest. Or at least they’re categorized on Join Mastodon along broad interests like technology or food or art or… furries (?) [double checks] yup OK furries. (Side note my only extended contact with the Furry community was crossing paths with folks during Pittsburgh’s annual convention and everyone seemed very nice and it was a delight to cross over the Allegheny River on the way to work with a gaggle of raccoons.) The topic-focus on a given server is probably great if you were looking for a place to find like-minded folks.
But I like a lot of different things! And those things mutate and change over time! Twitter has many, many, many flaws, but one thing I liked was how people would post random nonsense and it was totally fine—good, even!—to do so. You’d be following someone you found through the commenting section of a college sports website and they’d start talking about cooking or movies or video games or crosswords or Jeopardy! or comfortable socks and others would join in and it was loose and vibrant and fun. I didn’t love when people were exclusively talking about the same thing; it smacked too much of Online Brand™ work. On Mastodon, would it be OK to post quote-unquote off-topic stuff in my chosen server?
Anyway, this all kept me from signing up because the choice of server felt too important. Or I just couldn’t get into one at all.
I gather at one point that you could go to
mastodon.social, the biggest, de facto central-ish Mastodon instance (it’s run by the guy who created Mastodon), and just make an account, but that’s no longer the case. And by December 2022 when I was looking in earnest, most of the servers dedicated to things like web development or photography or whatever else I could think of were either closed to new members or required someone to review your application.
And I get it! To run one of these, you’ve gotta pay for the hosting and handle moderation and possibly deal with copyright claims, so you’re probably not in a hurry to allow hoards of randos in.
So, yeah, weirdly hard.
If you’re also in this boat, I found this guide to getting started with Mastodon by Paul Stamatiou particularly helpful to at least understand why Mastodon is the way that it is and how to navigate it, particularly if you’re more used to Twitter.
Thankfully, last week I found
omg.lol, a delightful little service. For $20 per year you get a growing bucket of random internet services like a little LinkTree-like tiny profile page and a personal URL shortener and a simple blogging service and an
@omg.lol email address—worth it just for that. They also run a small Mastodon instance social.lol which they advertise as a “lighthearted social hangout.” Perfect.
(Should you happen to also sign up there, I’ll get bonus time at
omg.lol if you sign up through this link.)
So I solved my problem with a little money and I’ve got a Mastodon account now. You can find me at @email@example.com.
tooted posted twice, and I don’t expect to be super active. But I did use Movetodon to find some Twitter folks on Mastodon, and it’s… kinda fun? I had forgotten the luxury of seeing an in-order timeline of posts from accounts that you follow and nothing else—no ads, no popular posts that an algorithm thinks you should see, no suggested followers, no auto-playing videos blowing up your headphones. It’s nice.
I wish it had been easier to get on there earlier.