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How To Get Started With Mastodon – Educator Edition

So you’ve decided it’s time to get started with Mastodon but don’t know where to begin? That was me a few weeks ago. I was worried about leaving behind my Twitter followers and losing a network that had been of real value to me over the preceding 15 years.
A few weeks later, I haven’t looked back. Mastodon is amongst other things: friendly; supportive; engaging; whimsical and advertising free. If that sounds like a nice change then read on…

1. Don’t worry too much about choosing a server

This put me off from the start. But your server isn’t hugely important. You can still follow anyone from any server, and you can move in the future if you want to. A small selection of the servers are listed here: https://joinmastodon.org/servers, Miguel Guhlin has a list of education friendly ones here.

There are a couple of considerations with servers. Larger servers mean more people are ‘federated’ to your server. This means that things like following hashtags will be more effective for you in the first instance as your server has more connections to other servers. But, it also means your ‘local’ timeline (which shows all the posts from everyone on your server) will be a busy stream of little use. If you choose a smaller, specialist server then you will find this local community view much more useful. You can always change at a later date though, so don’t think too hard about this for now.

Pop over to a server and click the ‘Learn more’ button to find out about that server’s rules and ethos. If you find one that looks like it suits you, and has account creation open, then head on in and create an account.

2. Introduce yourself properly

Add a profile picture. Fill out your bio.

Then write an introduction post. Best practice is for your introduction post to include a series of hashtags of things you’re interested in. Include #introduction on it too. This will help new people find you, you’ll probably find people kindly boost (akin to retweet) this post too, to help you gain some reach at the start. Here’s mine:

3. Find your old network contacts

There are various tools to look for your old Twitter contacts on Mastodon. The best one I’ve found is https://www.movetodon.org. Sign in to both accounts and it will search through your Twitter contacts looking for anyone who has put a Mastodon account in their profile or username. And will give you a follow button for each. Maybe put your Mastodon account in your Twitter profile so others can find you too (at least while we’re still allowed to!).

Following users can be a little confusing if you end up on their account page on a server other than your own. In this case copy their username (e.g. @danielstucke) and paste it back into search on your home server, then click follow from there.

4. Follow some hashtags

A great feature of Mastodon is the ability to follow a hashtag in your feed, just like you’d follow a user. Simply click on, or search for a username in Mastodon and then click the little follow button.

If you’ve come over from teacher/education twitter then I’d recommend following #education & #edutooter for starters, you should quickly start spotting other educators that you may want to follow.

Why not try some other ones too. If you fancy some Mastodon quirkiness then I’d recommend #mosstodon #lichensubscribe, #thicktrunktuesday or the topical #frostodon!

5. Post and boost

There is no algorithm on Mastodon. You will see all the posts of people that you follow in chronological order. You can like messages but these have no effect other than telling the publisher you appreciated their post. To share things more widely you can boost a post. This is equivalent to an old fashioned retweet and shares that post with your network. Because of the decentralised nature of Mastodon this is how things spread from one server to another.

Finally you should get posting. You’ll be surprised at how much more engagement you may get in comparison to Twitter, even with a fraction of your old audience.

6. Enjoy

Have fun! In due course find out about sharing photos (with text descriptions please), using content warnings and using filters to block out things you don’t want to see in your feed. And if you get stuck, just ask, some kind soul will help you out sooner rather than later.

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