Live: 300+ Best Black Friday Deals Live: Black Friday TV Deals BF Deals Under $25 BF Deals Under $50 5 BF Splurges 8 BF Must-Haves 15 Weird Amazon BF Deals BF Cheat Sheet
Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
No, thank you
Accept

Twitter in Turmoil: Here's How to Join the Mastodon Social Network

A few steps will get you posting on Mastodon, which is seeing a spike in new users as people flee Twitter.

A phone with the Mastodon home page on its screen that is held above a computer keyboard
Starting a Mastodon account isn't as simple as joining a single website.
SOPA Images/Getty Images

With some on Twitter looking around for a safe haven, with the recent confusion around Elon Musk's social site, the decentralized social media network Mastodon is seeing its user numbers growing in leaps and bounds. The tracking service Mastodon Users, which scrapes instances.social for data, reported Mastodon has over 7 million users now, gaining over half a million users in the last week.

One of the biggest obstacles to mass adoption for Mastodon is its slightly confusing registration process. Once you get past the initial learning curve, however, the sign-up process isn't more difficult than starting a new email account.

Be patient, however. The independently run Mastodon servers are all managing traffic loads that have increased greatly. Your new server might have more downtime than major products like TikTok or Instagram, it could pause or stop new registrations, or the admin might turn off the server for scheduled maintenance periods.

Also be considerate. Some industrious people -- like Adam Davidson at journa.host -- are starting their own new servers, but most of the Mastodon instances are communities that have existed for several years as tight groups and are now facing a deluge of new members. Take time to learn the rules and etiquette of a Mastodon instance before joining, and adhere to them after.

Here's the step-by-step process for creating a Mastodon account and getting started on the growing social network. For more about social media, here's how to download your Twitter archive.

How do I start using Mastodon?

Unlike Twitter, Mastodon is not a single website: It's a decentralized network made up of thousands of websites talking to each other. To start posting on Mastodon and following other people, you'll need to create an account on a specific Mastodon server or "instance."

To start following people and posting messages on the Mastodon social service, you begin by joining one specific instance. Each server (if open for registration) has its own sign-up process, but the majority only require a username, email address and password.

Once you've joined a Mastodon instance, however, you're not limited to just following people and posts on that server. You can follow, favorite, reblog or reply to any Mastodon account that's connected to the larger Fediverse.

How do I choose a Mastodon server to join?

The Mastodon organization provides a partial list of servers -- about 100 -- on its joinmastodon.org site. You can filter the servers by geographic region, language, topic registration process and whether or not they're hosted by individuals or organizations. All servers on the official Mastodon site have agreed to follow the best practices of the Mastodon Server Covenant.

If you're just testing Mastodon out, you might consider one of the official server instances run by the Mastodon organization. While the first and biggest -- mastodon.social -- has temporarily paused registration, a newer mastodon.online server is still open and picking up the slack. 

If you want a bigger list of Mastodon servers to review, your best bet right now is instances.social, which offers a sortable list of about 4,000 Mastodon servers, as well as a wizard-style app that helps you choose a server that fits your requirements.

The site provides useful data about each Mastodon instance, including number of users, number of "statuses" (posts), server uptime percentage and which versions of the Mastodon software it is running. It also lets you filter servers by language; minimum/maximum number of users; and prohibited/allowed content such as nudity, pornography, advertisements or entertainment spoilers. You can also click any instance name -- fosstodon.org, for example, a server devoted to open-source software -- to read a brief description of the community.

Once you're actually on a Mastodon site, you can learn about the instance from its "about" page, browse community users on its "explore" page or view recent posts on its "public" page. 

You should read the server rules for each Mastodon instance to make sure it's a good fit, but don't worry too much about which server you join. You can follow users on other servers and join and leave as many Mastodon servers as you'd like. If you do move around, Mastodon allows you to migrate all of your followers and lists with you.

How do I join a Mastodon server?

A screenshot of the Mastodon sign-up form

Joining a Mastodon server only requires a few personal details.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

Each Mastodon instance will have its own sign-up process, but the vast majority are the same. You provide a username, email address and password, check the box agreeing to the terms of service and server rules, and click "Sign Up." 

You'll then see a notification asking you to check your email for a verification message. Click the "Verify email address" in that email message, and you're done. You can now start posting on your Mastodon server and follow anyone in the Fediverse.

Because of the increased traffic to Mastodon servers since Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter, some of those registration emails are taking a long time to show up or never arriving at all. 

When I registered for the mas.to server last week, I got a confirmation email in about 15 minutes. I'm still waiting for a verification email from sfba.social for a registration attempt three days ago. Be patient, and try a new server if you can't complete the registration for another.

After you verify your email address, your Mastodon account should be up and running. You can start posting or following people, though it will take a while to build up your feed. Web tools like Debirdify and FediFinder can jump-start the process by helping you find your Twitter contacts on Mastodon.

While most Mastodon servers offer the quick registration process described above, other, more private instances will ask that you apply for an invitation to the instance, which requires a manual review and longer registration time.

If you do decide to register on a Mastodon server and make it through the process, come visit me @peterbutler@mas.to to say hi.

For more stories about social media, see how Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter has resulted in the return of Qanon believers to the site.