More Advanced Mastodon Tips

Also check out the official user guide.

What Mastodon Looks Like

When you get started on the web, only Home and Notifications are open by default. You can toggle between Local, Federated, and Favorites as a third column. You don’t have to have a third column open. You can also open more columns and pin them! I mostly leave open Home and Notifications, sometimes opening Local, but if I followed more people I could use Lists and pin those open too.

Home, Local, Federated

These images are linked to larger versions. They include alt text description which tries to convey what they’re doing. There are five possible default columns (up-to-three are laid out side-by-side in the “classic” web view or one-at-a-time in phone apps. You can now choose to enable or disable the Advanced Web Interface in /settings/preferences/appearance, which controls allows you to open more. Drawings below show possible 3-column views.

A sheet of paper divided into three columns. The lefthand column is headed Home. Underneath is written Private or Unlisted or Public posts of people you follow. Also DMs by people you you follow. The middle column is headed Local. Underneath is written Public posts of everyone on this instance. The right column is headed Federated. Underneath is written Public posts of everyone followed by anyone on this instance

All DMs to you will show up in your Mentions column. Anyone you haven’t blocked (pretty much) can DM you. It’s just like @ing you while making the post completely private to people tagged in it.

This is what that would translate to on or or, some GLAM-related instances:

A sheet of paper divided into three columns. The lefthand column is headed Home. Underneath is written People whose posts I don’t want to miss; people with whom I want to have more personal convos. The middle column is headed Local. Underneath is written Allllllllll the library workers. The right column is headed Federated. Underneath is written All the folks all of us think are interesting

So now that we’ve established terms and what it looks like, the above is why I found the idea exciting to begin with. There are a LOT of glam-adjacent folks I don’t actually want to follow-follow. There are just tons of y’all and many of you are quite interesting. I would love to see your Public posts in Local. If I wanted to, I could mute you, of course!

Then my Home stream would allow me to see all the posts of the people I follow, including Followers-Only & Unlisted. Some will be glam-adjacent and some will just be friends who happen to use Mastodon on other instances. Maybe I never want to miss a post of yours or see the stuff you don’t think would be of as wide interest to the broader community. Maybe we’re close. Maybe I just think you’re interesting. I could follow 2 people or 200 or 2000 if I were mastodonchistic (I’m sorry).

Then there’s the Federated column, which would be full of people from other instances who anyone on our instance happens to follow. Honestly, I almost never use this column. I mostly use Home, Notifications, and maybe turn on Local half the time. However we COULD choose to see all kinds of people whom others are following. And again block or mute people we don’t like…

Notifications, Faves, Profiles, Lists

Notifications has all your…wait for it..Notifications: DMs by anyone, )including people you follow), @s, Favorites, Follows, and Boosts. You can open the column’s slider menu and change what actually shows up here.

Faves, Profiles, Lists, etc., can be opened as new columns and pinned if you want to keep them open.

What’s This I Heard About No Nazis?

(this was a common discussion point in 2017, but still kind of holds)

This is long already so I don’t want to get too far into it. The basics are that, first, user removal is handled at an instance level, kind of like old-school bulletin boards. This can be great if you have a responsive admin (TIP YOUR ADMINS) who actually follows through on Reports of abuse.

Second is that Instances of Mastodon may silence or suspend traffic (or just images) from an entire Instance. Suspending is the big one, it means that if one instance becomes a proverbial hub of scum and villainy, your admin can say “ok nope, we’re not letting that hub’s posts onto our feed and we’re not letting their users follow ours.” There’s a variety of ways they can do this, though, including allowing mutual follows but not putting posts in Federated (maybe if they don’t trust the other site’s admin to deal with trolls but the site isn’t actively harmful).

It’s important for admins to be transparent about who they’re blocking and how, partly so you know they’re taking harassment seriously and partly so you know why you can’t follow a person (if that person were unwise enough but not ill-intentioned and signed up on a sketch server).

What’s Wrong With Mastodon?

It’s still too white and needs to prove instances can be safe, decent places for POC–which has not happened in a meaningful way. Some places moderate better than others and sometimes admins get into arguments over things that seem petty. There’s disagreement about which technical features should be prioritized. There’ve even been codebase splits to enable things like “instance-only” local posting (goes to your followers and to your instance’s Local, but not to other people’s Federated). Some of these servers aren’t technically Mastodon, even though they interact with Mastodon severs. It’s a herd.

Ruth Kitchin Tillman
Sally W. Kalin Early Career Librarian for Technological Innovations

Card-carrying quilter. Mennonite. Writer. Worker.