DEV Community

Garrett / G66
Garrett / G66

Posted on • Updated on

How (and Why) to Switch from Twitter to Mastodon

There has been a mighty exodus from Twitter, and you may have seen some people and even major news sites like CNN talking about Mastodon.

But you looked at it and you have no idea what's going on.

It's kind of tough to explain so to get some inspiration, I went on Mastodon and I asked:

"If you had one elevator ride to explain to my mom (non-techie; uses an iPad and doesn't own a computer) what Mastodon is and how it works, how would you do it? Assume she knows what Twitter is and has used it once or twice, but is mostly a Facebook user." source

You can click on that and see all of the public answers.

But I also wrote this far more in-depth post:

So, what is Mastodon?

The technical answer is:

Mastodon is a decentralized Twitter alternative built on a communications protocol called ActivityPub.

I know that's a lot, so I'll break it down:

By decentralized, what we mean is that the servers are distributed and self-hosted by volunteers rather than "silo'd" and owned by one entity.

With Twitter, there are servers all over the world, but Twitter owns them all. They are used to run the Twitter platform. If a server goes down, another one picks up the slack until it's sorted out.

But when a single Twitter server goes down, most people won't notice anything because there are so many servers running the Twitter platform.

If the Twitter platform itself goes down, no servers are working. Everyone notices because they can't access it at all.

So, if a Twitter server goes down, you can still use Twitter, but if Twitter itself goes down, you can not.

With decentralization, it's the opposite.

Mastodon as a platform can not go down, ever, as long as one server is still running somewhere.

While Twitter can choose to shut itself down, Mastodon will never go away as long as one person somewhere in the world is using it.

But individual servers can go down and may affect your use (more on that later).

It's actually more like email than anything else you've probably used.

With Twitter, you can only communicate with other Twitter users via the same platform: Twitter.

But with email, you can have a Gmail and I can have a Hotmail and they are different companies, each running their own servers, but we can still communicate to each other.

For the sake of simplicity, we can say Mastodon servers operate in essentially the same way as email servers. The only difference is the communication protocol -- Mastodon uses ActivityPub and email uses SMTP (and you don't need to know any of that to use them).

Another way to think of Mastodon servers is that each server is a town.

In fact, many servers call themselves towns.

You can choose what town (server) you live in.

But you can still use the Internet to communicate with people in different towns.

And you can move to another town if you decide you don't like the one you're in.

What makes decentralized social media better than centralized (or silo'd) social media?

To be a part of the ActivityPub ecosystem, you don't have to be on Mastodon. You can be on any platform that connects to ActivityPub. This is what we call "Fedi," which is short for "The Fediverse," which is short for "The Federated Universe."

Federated apps are like this: imagine you love Twitter, but your friend loves Facebook. Right now, if you want to follow someone on Facebook you have to be on Facebook, or if your friend wants to follow you on Twitter, they have to be on Twitter.

ActivityPub doesn't operate this way.

There are tons of options of apps you can use to access the ActivityPub ecosystem. There's a great list here:

Let's say you and your friend decide to move to the Fediverse but want apps similar to your current preferences.

One of the more popular ActivityPub/Fediverse apps close to Facebook is Friendica. One of the more popular apps close to Twitter is Mastodon.

So, your friend joins Friendica and you join Mastodon, and you can still follow each other and talk.

Even though they're wildly different apps.

Now lets throw three more friends into the mix: a musician, a videographer, and a photographer.

Your musician friend can join Funkwhale (instead of SoundCloud), and you can follow them from Mastodon and hear their new music.

Your videographer friend can join PeerTube (instead of YouTube), and you can follow them from Mastodon and watch their new videos.

Your photographer friend can join Pixelfed (instead of Instagram), and you can follow them from Mastodon and still view their new photos.

So, if you really want to know why decentralized social media like ActivityPub is better than the big silo'd giants:

It's because you could use Twitter and still follow your favorite Facebooks, YouTubes, SoundClouds, Instagrams, even Twitches (OwnCast) all from your one account. And they wouldn't have to have to manage a bunch of accounts everywhere, either.

You don't have to run your own server.

Most people don't run their own servers.

There are tons of servers you can join for free.

Those servers are run entirely by volunteers.

Most of them operate on a per-donation basis.

They might just ask for you to send them via Paypal or something.

Or some of them run Patreons and Ko-Fi's.

My home server, Hackers.Town, does limited-run merchandise and the profits go towards running and upgrading server hardware.

Some smaller servers don't ask for anything and just pay out of pocket.

How to find a server.

My advice for finding a server is to start on one of the biggest ones. is run by the guy (Eugen) who created Mastodon. I generally recommend starting there, but since the Twitter Exodus he's had to close registrations for a bit while servers get upgraded (this is a downside to ActivityPub, yes, but it's actually pretty rare to have such sudden large spurts of user growth).

My second favorite is which is run by a dude named Stux.

First and foremost, I recommend getting an account on one of these. You probably won't stay, but it's good to keep a backup account (more on that later) on one of these anyway.

An alternative option is to go here: and pick one from a category or theme you like. Categories include stuff like Academia and Journalism to Anime and Furries.

Either way, pop up an account somewhere either big or that appeals to you categorically.

It doesn't actually matter because:

  1. You'll probably find a sever within the next couple months that suits you better, and
  2. It's VERY easy to export your data and import it onto a new server, which means you move and you don't lose your friends.

Whatever you choose, make sure you read their About and TOS (which are usually found at [name.domain]/about, for example,

What to do when you find a server you like more than the one you first chose.

The good news is, it's relatively painless to move servers.

Go to your User Preferences, and then scroll down to the Import and export tab.

Export each CSV on the list and then Request Your Archive.

You'll see you can only export CSVs of Follows/Following (not Followers), Lists, Blocks, Mutes, Domain Blocks, and Bookmarks.

Requesting your archive gives you your posts and any media you uploaded.

When you Import on the server you are moving to, you can only import Follows/Following, Blocks, Mutes, Domain Blocks, and Bookmarks.

So, you don't get to import everything, but this is still significantly better than what you get from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc, which is that they don't let you export and import anything at all if you decide to move accounts.

I do recommend leaving an account on a second server as a backup.

Update 2022-11-07: How to migrate from one Mastodon server to another without losing followers (via Eugen himself ):

  1. Sign up on new server
  2. On NEW server: Go to Account -> Moving FROM another account
  3. Enter old account's handle
  4. On OLD server: Go to Account -> Moving TO another account
  5. Enter new account's handle and submit

Why have a "backup" account.

A downside to decentralized social media is that sometimes a server goes down and doesn't have a backup running to replace it immediately (like in big silo'd social media).

Usually, servers don't just mysteriously disappear. They're only down for a short while, sometimes a day at most.

During that time, you can hop on your backup account and still communicate with folks.

This is still a bigger benefit than Twitter, if you remember back in the first couple YEARS of Twitter, where it would go down for hours at a time and you had no alternative, because ALL accounts were down for hours at a time.

This went on for the first few YEARS (not months) of Twitter.

3 years in and we were still experiencing Twitter being down for entire days sometimes.

With decentralized social media, that's not a problem. Just hop on to another server for a little bit until your main comes back on.

BONUS: Many artists are making more money on Mastodon/Fediverse/ActivityPub than they have elsewhere.

I am one of them.

I used to put my music online for the suggested price of $7 per album and $1 per song (on Bandcamp and never got any sales.

I have a decade and a half of experience internet marketing. I've used the internet to make A LOT of money for my clients.

I know what I'm doing, but selling music online is difficult with so many musicians putting their music online now.

When I switched to Mastodon, I also set my music to Pay-What-You-Want, Creative Commons, and posted links on my account.

I've had people voluntarily pay as much as $50 for an album I used to (unsuccessfully) sell for $7.

At this point in time, all of my sales have come from Mastodon (or elsewhere on the Fediverse, following me on Mastodon), if not from someone I know in meatspace (thanks Mom).

BONUS: Suggested use for corporations:

Every corporation should self host a Mastodon (or other Fediverse app) server for their employees to work from when representing the organization.

Especially journalists.

I recommend setting them up as a subdomain and having your employees use their accounts there whenever representing your establishment publicly on the internet.

Example: Installed at and the employees would be

Top comments (6)

janedzumerko profile image
Јане Џумеркоски

Great post. In my opinion it's better to be on smaller instance, and personally I believe the starting server should be about something we care about. I am personally on server for web technologies and web performance.

garrett profile image
Garrett / G66

Ultimately, I think everyone would benefit more from being on smaller servers built around a common idea.

The idea could be a hobby, a vocation, maybe just an interest.

But after talking to several people who were moving from Twitter, they all had the common issue of figuring out where to start.

That's why I recommend starting on a big server and then moving.

akaak profile image
AK Adapa

@garrett - thanks for this easy-to-read informative post.
I understand that you could move one's profile from one server to the other. So, it is NOT advisable to have two different profiles on two different servers. Correct?

As mentioned by @janedzumerko in the responses, I am thinking that being on a smaller server that is actively managed or cared for might be a good idea.

garrett profile image
Garrett / G66 • Edited

Ultimately, I think everyone would benefit more from being on smaller servers built around a common idea.

The idea could be a hobby, a vocation, maybe just an interest.

But after talking to several people who were moving from Twitter, they all had the common issue of figuring out where to start.

That's why I recommend starting on a big server and then moving.

Having multiple accounts on different servers is cool, too! I have several.

tonnerkiller profile image

If you are into backup accounts, try Hubzilla. They do not only implement ActivityPub to talk to Mastodon and other services, they also implement the zot protocol which allows for nomadic identities. You can clone your channel to another Server and log in from there.
You can do this with a hand full of servers all around the globe and have ever more certainty that you will be able to log in somewhere.
This helped me a lot when I still had to figure out how to set up my own instance to deal with the higher load when connecting to a number of new Mastodon users.
While I coud not access my instance's web frontend due to timrouts, I logged in through another server where I had cloned my channel and I could ask for help on the platform.

garrett profile image
Garrett / G66

Thanks for the reminder; it's on my list of things to check out!