Post illustration created by Dall-e. The orientation of the book is off, but I like this illustration very much!
I am not on many social media, and the only one that I have used consistently is Twitter. With the recent events happening over there, I did what many did: I opened an account on Mastodon.
I’ve been using it for ten days now, and I am really loving the experience there. I’ve put together some of the features that I particularly love, and how I am using Mastodon, but as I am very new to it still, feel free to correct me if I am mistaken. Also, it looks like the app does not work well and does not give access to all the features. I am using the browser directly (Safari).
When I opened an account on Mastodon, it felt very lonely at first. I felt like I was the only one learning Japanese and that no one would be interested in hearing about Japanese or Korean novels. I joined a small server of 100 people (mindly.social), but I did not dare posting at first because I was afraid to pollute their local timeline with my niche content, haha. But with more and more people coming from Twitter, the 100 people on our server became 10,000 (!) and things became suddenly more lively, with a growing community of language learners finding themselves through #langtoot and #languagelearning.
The best thing on Mastodon is that there is no algorithm deciding what to show you. No content is pushed to you in order to make you spend more time on the platform and generate profit. You can favourite a post (like), but it is only a way to tell the person that you liked what they wrote, it will not increase the popularity of a post, or how far it can travel. The only way to help a post reach further, is to boost (retweet) it, so that it can reach more persons.
Similarly, you have to use hashtags to allow new people to find your posts.
On the timeline, you cannot see how many stars (the likes, similar to the heart icon on Twitter), or how many boosts a post had. I really like it, because it makes you appreciate a post for its content, not for its popularity. You can see the number of likes and boosts if you click on the post, but they are not prominent, and it is not what matters at all. What matters is just whether you found the content of the post interesting or not.
There are three timelines on Mastodon:
Home: posts from people I follow.
Local Timeline: posts from people on my server.
Federated Timeline: A lot of posts from a lot of people… I’m not sure to be honest, I never use it.
Ideally, you join a server restricted to a topic that interest you. For example, let’s imagine that there is a server devoted to language learning. This means that all, or at least most, of the posts in your local timeline will be about language learning or posted by people who are into language learning.
In parallel, you are perfectly free to follow people that are not on your server. For example, I am also interested in fountain pens and ink, literature, cats, etc. I can follow people who post about these topics and see their posts on my Home.
Unfortunately, there is no server devoted to language learning yet. So what I did is join a general server (not restricted to a topic), and I manually follow people who are into language learning or anything related to Japan/Japanese. This means that my local timeline is a bit more random, with people with all sorts of interests, whereas my Home is only about topics that I am interested in.
There are some features on Mastodon that also improve your experience and allow you to connect more easily with people who share similar interests.
- You can follow hashtags! This is a fantastic feature that allows you to easily find new people to follow, or simply see single posts related to this topic but from people whom you might not necessarily want to follow. I personally follow #langtoot, #languagelearning, #Japanese, #Korean and a couple more.
- You can add feature hashtags on your account. I personally added #Japanese, #Korean, #Chinese and #Books. When people arrive on your account, they will see your posts and the ones you boosted. But let’s say that someone only wants to see what I posted about Japanese, and they are not interested in my posts about Korean or Chinese. They can choose the option #Japanese and will only see my posts with this hashtag. They can also see how many posts I published with this hashtag, so they know if this is a topic I discuss often or not. (This only seems to appear when I am on ipad, not on my phone though.)
- You can create lists. If you follow a lot of people and don’t always have the time to scroll through your Home, you can create lists of people by topics for example, or a list of people whose posts you don’t want to miss. I follow a lot of language learners because I am interested in language learning in general, even if I am not myself learning these languages. But obviously, I am even more interested in posts about learning Japanese, Korean and Chinese. So I created a list for these three languages and added the people who learn them.
- In any timeline, you can choose whether or not you want to see posts that have been boosted. Boosting is great, because it is the only way to increase the visibility of a post, but your Home can sometimes feel overwhelming if people are boosting a lot. If you need to, you can toggle the boosts off, and you will only see the posts effectively posted by people you follow.
- You can decide who can see your reply to posts, from anyone to the person you’re replying to only.
- You can add a note to people’s profile that only you can see. I haven’t used it yet, but it could be useful to write something like “the person who recommended this book to me”, so you can go back to them if you read the book.
As a result, I have many ways to spend time on Mastodon.
- I have a lot of time and just want to spend time on social media: I can scroll through the local timeline and see posts from people who share the values of the server like “sharing knowledge”, “positivity”, and “bettering each other”.
- Most of the time, I only read posts on my Home with the boosts toggled on. This way, I see posts from people I follow and the posts they boosted, as well as posts with the hashtags that I follow.
- Let’s say I have less time, or I haven’t been online for some time and there’s a lot to catch up on. I toggle off the boosts and have much less posts to go through. I often do this in the morning, because due to time zone, there’s always a lot happening while I sleep and it can feel daunting to catch up.
- If I really don’t have much time, but want to check out what people who learn Japanese are up to, I only go through my list. Here again, I can choose whether I want to see the boosts or not.
For someone like me, who does not spend much time on social media as a baseline, but who still wants to stay in touch with people who share common hobbies, Mastodon is the perfect place.
It is a lot of work to find people to connect with, but the experience is also very rewarding, because the number of likes and followers does not feel as important as interacting with people, sharing knowledge and experiences. For language learners in particular, people are very active at the moment to re-create the #langtwt community on Mastodon (#langtoot). If you are new, write an #introduction post with hashtags, and people will find you.
I am still on Twitter, because a lot of people I follow and whose content I really love are not on Mastodon (yet), but if they were, I could see myself changing completely 🙂