Mastodon instances, and the ones I recommendDzuk
Hi, I'm Dzuk, I'm a Mastodon moderator.
I think more people should be using Mastodon because it's fun and less toxic and cyberpunk as fuck, but it seems like the concept of instances trips a lot of people up. People either just sign up for mastodon.social (which I personally think is a really bad idea) or are too overwhelmed by the choice on the official list, which in my opinion, isn't very useful.
This is important because instances are a really important. They are a significant chunk of the Mastodon experience, and if you want to get the most out of Mastodon, they are really worth knowing.
So, let me kill two birds with one stone - we're going to take a tour through the guts of an instance, and at the end, I'll give you a curated list of instances.
Because this is just about instances, you still need to understand the basics of Mastodon. If you don't know what they are, I'd recommend checking out Creatrix Tiara's excellent intro to Mastodon.
I'm also assuming you are a part of the Ultra-Gay Anarchist Cyber Feminist Threat to the Free World. If you aren't in this category, you would be advised to stop reading, because then I will give you all of my secrets and you will be able to infiltrate our secret Cultural Marxist base.
The many kinds of Mastodon, the Mastodon we’re looking for
Mastodon instances are the server that you receive and send messages on, but they are not all made equal. Different people run them in different ways and for different communities, which means they aren't all the SJW Feminazi Restricted Speech Safe Spaces you might be hoping for.
There are instances that are basically like 4chan, so when I say 'Mastodon' here, I’m basically talking about the Millennial Bolshevik Cabals Aiming To Destroy Western Civilisation because we’re all tolerant weirdos and that’s what I’m into and what people reading this would probably be into.
(Basically what I mean is somewhere that doesn’t accept Nazis or assholes. Some places are basically the equivalent of 4chan, while others are for so-called Free Thinkers™ who haven’t worked out what the Paradox of Tolerance is.)
If you’re techy enough to run your own personal Mastodon instance, I don’t recommend it unless you have a really specific reason. Part of the fun and community of Mastodon is your Local Timeline, which will only have your toots in it if you’re making a server for yourself.
The meat of an instance
The big thing about an instance is that they define whose company you have and the feel of your tooting experience. This comes from what they focus on, what their rules are, and any sort of functional or visual tweaks they might have.
Some instances are more general, whereas quite a few, especially ones I’m gonna list, are more queer and/or furry oriented. While i say that, most people who go to Mastodon usually aren’t coming looking for a totally normal place where the journalists and corporations can come play too (speaking of which, most of these Mastodon instances don’t allow ads or companies to have Mastodon accounts). You’re always going to get some weird and queer on any of these spaces, it’s just a matter of how much or what kind of weird and queer.
Despite the fact that people come to the Degenerate White-Hating Sexual Deviant Socialism Parties for generally similar reasons, the place you join is still important because it will shape your social experiences there, it will decide who you first meet on the service and who you see on your timelines (will get into that more later). Your instance is kind of like a school house or a weird club. You can talk to people outside of Ravenclaw, but you and your fellow snooty intellectually-hard-ass people have a shared home base (which is your Local Timeline), so you're probably going to talk to each other more often.
While the Mastodon instances I’m talking about have similar rules, some are more explicit about it than others, like some list specific types of content that have to be hidden in a Content Warning.
Instances have wildly varying amounts of users - some have a hundred or so while others have tens or hundreds of thousands, so this affects how much stuff will be on your local timeline. If you’re like me want a more tightly-knit space, go for a few hundred users. While that may sound a lot, the inactive:active user ratio on many Mastodon instances is really high so ~200 users only amounts to about 15-20 active users.
An instance owner can also change the look of their web pages and alter the functionality a little, like cybre.space has a cyberpunk theme, or witches.town has a 666 character limit instead of a 500 character limit. My instance, a.weirder.earth, changed words so that ‘groks’ are likes, and awoo.space calls toots ‘awoos’ instead. These aren’t totally important, but can flavour your experience (and will probably throw you off if you’re totally new to this).
Mastodon instances ‘federate’ (interconnect) with each other to let you see statuses from other people in other instances. Mastodon instances divide timelines between what is on your instance (Local) and what is on your instance plus everything everyone on your instance is following (Federated). This doesn’t mean you can’t access anyone who isn’t on the Local or Federated timeline, you just have to use the search bar to find them instead and you can still mention them.
So the instances I’m talking about and recommend have similar rules, and have a commitment to showing assholes the door, but here’s the interesting part about federation. The instance you choose doesn’t just affect who you passively have access to and who you will bump into, it will also affect the safety of your instance.
The safety of your instance isn’t just determined by who is allowed in your instance, but also what other instances your instance federates with. Without this, an asshole in another instance could still harass you or post Nazi propaganda in the Federated Timeline.
So a responsible Mastodon instance admin takes action against a lame instance to prevent this shit by silencing it (statuses from that instance will not appear on the Federated Timeline) or suspending it (complete de-federation) depending on what the situation calls for. An admin can also media block, which means that images and video from another instance will not be federated to your instance.
All of the instances I list seem to do a good job of dealing with these bad instances, but some have a more restrictive approach than others, so you might want to take that into account. There’s no right answer to this, it just depends on what you’re comfortable with.
How can I decide which instance is right for me?
Read each instance’s About page to get the details of what their focus is (if any), how they operate, and how many people are using it. IT IS YOUR BEST TOOL FOR DECIDING.
Some recommended/cool-looking spaces
This is by no means all of them, just what I know (and a few more) and what I think would be Nice Cool Places and of particular interest to my followers.
The list of them used to be here but I've moved it to the link below because it's just way easier for me to update it there. I hope that doesn't make me look cheap 🙃.
(...and keep reading afterwards when you're done taking a look, I'm not done with you yet)
If you want more ideas, check out instances.social, which has LOTS, LOTS MORE. Keep in mind though that it also has the places which aren't for Furry Misandrous Greenpeace Terrorists, and the wizard isn't very good, so I'd just recommend running through some of them in the list and seeing what their about pages are like.
Remember that for some people, hosting isn’t necessarily cheap for them so if you really like an instance and can help, consider contributing to their Patreon or donating if these options are available.
What if I don’t like the instance I’ve chosen?
If you’re personally just not having much fun on your instance, feel free to move to another one. You can also have accounts on different instances, so if you like where you are but want to try another one, just make an account there. Don’t feel like you have to be restricted to one. These kinds of things are things that people actively encourage; do what suits you and don't feel like you are being an asshole by experimenting with what instances work for you. It took me one instance move to find a place I really enjoy.
If you're not cool with something that an admin ends up doing in your instance, feel free to have a civil discussion about it, but don’t expect that just because you have a voice that means the admin has to listen to you. Remember that the creators of each instance define their instance's boundaries, and if you have disagreements that can't be worked out, complaining at the admin isn’t really productive. Admins are generally running the servers out of their own good will, so at least respect that even if they are actually wrong in the choices they make. The beauty of Mastodon is that you can basically always move to somewhere else that suits you better.
I hope all this helps! Now go out there and participate in the Leftist Snowflake Mind Prison Revolution!
(And when you do, you can follow me at @firstname.lastname@example.org ;).)