HowTo: Migrating your microblogging from Twitter to Mastodon

A few days ago we just got yet another reason to leave centralized, a-social networks behind. You probably do not want crazy billionaires serial innovators to reinnovate your virtual neighborhood without mercy. Aside of that there are the secret timeline algorithms, of which is little known beside that they primarily amplify hatred and biased, extremist opinions for the sake of maximizing impressions, users’ interactions, and platform revenue. At the same time one’s own personal timeline is being polluted and tampered with all kinds of paid advertisement whilst the underlying personal data of each and every user is generously sold in all directions.

But wasn’t this all suppose to be just about “… connecting with friends and the world around you”?

Exactly. But for that we have the Fediverse and when it comes to microblogging there is Mastodon. As you probably have already heard about those, let’s directly dive into organizing your Twitter exodus step by step.

Step 1 – Backup your Twitter data

It might come as a surprise, but although it is your content and whatever you wrote might mean something to you, you are not in control of it. It is purely handled by Twitter, Inc. and they can do (and are doing) whatever they want with it. According to Twitter’s terms of service “.. the Services may change from time to time, at our discretion. We may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services or any features within the Services to you or to users generally. We also retain the right to create limits on use and storage at our sole discretion at any time. We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you.”

Thanks to the EU GDPR, you have the right to export all of your valuable data. Twitter’s help center has a detailed description on “How to download your Twitter archive”.

In addition, what is especially useful is a list of all the handles that you are following on Twitter. Why? We will come to that in a minute. You can either extract that somehow from your Twitter archive or use services like twtData to generate such a list within seconds. It is even free if you do not follow too many accounts.

Step 2 – Find your new home

As it is all about federation, there is no single point of contact to go to for opening your new account. Probably that is the biggest challenge to find the right place to feel at home. The good thing is that you can move on anytime, take your data with you, and choose another instance based on your preferences.

An instance – a server running Mastodon and being interconnected to the Fediverse – typically brings together individuals of same interest, location, language, or any other factor that poses a common denominator for them.

To find the right instance, there are multiple overviews to choose from:

  • The official directory by the developers of Mastodon, nicely structured by categories. The list is far from complete, as you need to actively register your server and fulfill some requirements.
  • There is a more straight listing which you can filter for languages, allowed/prohibited content, and number of users.
  • Or if you prefer graphical representation of the whole fediverse, enriched with a lot of metadata. For example: neighbors of an instance can be revealed in form of a ranking of other instances based on their mention ratio on the same.

To be clear, normally one account at your preferred Mastodon instance is sufficient to follow, connect, and interact across the entire Fediverse. In rare occasions, e.g. if the server is non-public or somehow blocked (filtered), you might need to have a dedicated account on that instance so that you are still able to access it and participate in its protected conversations.

Step 3 – Find friends, fill your timeline

When you start fresh, your timeline will be empty. A first attempt to find exciting posts and like-minded people is always to check out the “Local Timeline” (everything that is happening on your instance). After that, have a look at what is currently happening on the “Federated Timeline” (everything that is happening on the Fediverse and is received – not blocked – by your instance). In addition every instance has a profile directory to discover other members of your community.

What is great is that you can also visit just another instance and sneak in ongoing conversations on its local timeline and connect to its inhabitants. You want to hang out today with the art or photography community? If access is not restricted, you find the corresponding links at the main page of the corresponding instance at the bottom left: “Discover users” (usually linking to an URL like https://<servername>/explore) and “See what’s happening” (usually linking to an URL like https://<servername>/public).

A recent addition is a people directory which let’s you search for accounts across the Fediverse that are tagged with specific interests. Or “Trunk” that maintains lists of people assorted by a multitude of topics.

The probably most useful functionality are sophisticated search options that will query the whole Fediverse for whatever you are looking for. In addition the “# Explore” section with trending hash tags and tailored posts complete the picture of content discovery.

Still missing your idols and friends over at Twitter? Do you want to check if they have also found their place somewhere within the Fediverse? For that the previously created list of all the Twitter aliases that you are or had been following could be useful. There are services like “Bulk Find Mastodon Users” that try to re-discover those accounts based on such a listing. Naturally the search will only be successful in case they have registered under their same alias.

Step 4 – Support your instance

Isn’t it just amazing what is possible and offered especially by the instance of your choice? Still somebody must maintain it and pay for the underlying server hardware. As costs are not compensated by selling your personal data or ads, make sure to take a look at the “About” section of your instance. There you can find coordinates on where to send a few bucks to support your admins, keep them warm, and your server up and running. Usually at the same place also the code of conduct and rules are laid down. Make sure to adhere to it.

Step 5 – On the go (Mastodon clients)

If you want to toot on the go or from a dedicated desktop app, you can pick from a wide variety of clients. For iOS apps I especially liked the overview “The State of Mastodon iOS Apps” by David Blue.

Step 6 – Building bridges, connecting both worlds

Last but not least. I can imagine that some of you might feel sorry for Elon, who has invested that much money for a social network, which is now drying out after you left. Or you do not want to loose contact to your friends that haven’t completed the move yet. Either way, the best option – as always – is to build bridges. Popular approaches are:

Happy tooting!

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