This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, the BuzzFeed News newsletter about influencers and internet culture. You can sign up here. In our new column, Social Media Made Me Do It, we try a new trend, product, or tip from the feed.
Instagram and TikTok would be obvious, but they’re also unappealing to a certain slice of Twitter users who, let's put it kindly, have a face for tweets. (I count myself in this group.) Tumblr? Maybe. Substack? Sounds like a lot of work. What we need is a low-effort, quick way to fire off some fleeting thoughts, skim some links, read a few jokes. The loud hum of an answer over and over has been “Mastodon.”
What is Mastodon? How do you sign up? This is not an article that answers those questions. Sorry. I can’t quite figure it out, either, even though I diligently tried to read several articles that DID claim to answer those questions.
Eventually I decided to give it a go. A few colleagues here at BuzzFeed News had signed up, I was seeing lots of other people put their “instances” or usernames or whatever in their Twitter handles. How hard could it be? I’m a tech reporter, I generally understand how to use things on a computer.
First, I downloaded the Mastodon app from the Apple App Store. I have since learned (maybe?) there’s more than one app, or something? The appeal is that it’s decentralized, so having more than one app client makes sense, OK, I get that.
Upon browsing the signup page, it seems like there are a few servers you must choose from. This part I understood — it’s a series of individual servers, like communities, and you’re in one but can switch to another later if you decide.
I selected a server “Tilde.zone” which seemed to be related to a webring called “Tilde.club” I was once part of (which is too boring to get into here). I figure this would be a good starting point, since most other servers seemed aimed at either location, gaming, or coding. (Or furries. Furries are always early adopters.)
I created a username and password, and went to confirm it over email to get access. I tried confirming through the link in my email and…nothing. I kept getting sent back to a page where I could create a new password. I tried making a new password. Nothing again.
Like I said, I’m a fairly capable user of internet services and apps. I’m no genius, but like, I usually can handle this — and I had literally already read two to three articles about how to register for an account. Yet here I was, stuck in some weird signup hell.
Determined, I tried again with a different email and a different server. Same thing. My colleague Brandon said he was in this server, so clearly it functions, but I just couldn’t figure it out.
I started claiming to Brandon and other coworkers that I was sure I was shadowbanned from Mastodon. That at least made me seem cool and edgy as opposed to your boomer aunt who has 30 different popup blockers running on her Dell when she asks you to help with her email. I felt shame and despair. I questioned everything I knew about myself.
Days passed. Finally, a different work Brandon sent me a link to BuzzFeed News’ profile on the server Mastodon.social. From this link — not joinmastodon.org like I had been trying before — I was finally able to create an account and log in.
Now personally, whenever I’m joining a new site or something, I like to use a throwaway username to check things out before using my real name. So I signed up as “peepeepoopoop.” (Will I ever be able to change that? Who knows!)
Mastodon calls its version of tweets, “toots.” I tooted. But…that was that. I followed the BuzzFeed News account (which hasn’t tooted since 2018), but there was nothing else. I checked out the “Explore” tab, which was full of a bunch of Thought Leader types like Jeff Jarvis (no thanks).
I’m not the first to notice that Mastodon is sort of a weird sad office birthday party with four people sitting around eating sheet cake with all the lights on compared to Twitter being like Studio 54.
I dunno. I did it. I was influenced. I’m tootin’. Do I like it? No. Do I recommend it? Eh, no. But if Twitter completely implodes does it feel like I have at least some form of backup? Ehhhhhh, maybe.