In 1985 or so, I logged on to my first online community, dialing into a local BBS (Bulletin Board System) using a 300-baud modem. Eventually I got on Compuserve, USENET, Brown University mailing lists, and AOL. Leaving dial-up behind, I joined LiveJournal, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. I have accounts for the last five, though I rarely ever use them. I still have a friend who I first met on the Compuserve marketing SIG.

Online communities are often ephemeral, though for me Twitter had the longest heyday, as I used it from 2008 until 2022 – fourteen years! When I first joined Twitter, it would text you every time someone you followed tweeted. I remember being at a wedding, when—just after the ceremony—half the audience’s phones chirped at once! Someone had tweeted congratulations!

I’ve switched to Mastodon, which hopes to become the email of social media: a protocol where you can use any social media site and follow accounts on the others. As a result, where you create your account is important, but not permanent. It’s a federation of sites, so you will have to pick a server, though you can change it later.

Your local server is important for many reasons, including because you can immediately follow its timeline and see interesting posts. From

There are four timelines on Mastodon:

HOME – Posts from people & hashtags you follow, in chronological order.

EXPLORE – Trending posts, tags, links (on the official apps click the magnifying glass and leave search empty to see Explore).

LOCAL – All public posts from your server (on official apps click the magnifying glass  then scroll to Community tab). This works much better on small-medium size servers.

FEDERATED – All public posts your server can see. Not available on official apps.

Early on, your home feed will be empty. The fastest way to fill it is to follow the hashtags of the things you’re interested in: #RPG, #PbtA, #StarTrek, #InteractiveFiction, etc. Go to the Explore page (# icon) and enter a hashtag to search for. Then “follow” that hashtag. For certain topics, you might want to check out a few related hashtags to see which has the type of content you will want to read. Then, start following the people using those hashtags, too.

For posting, when starting out, you will want to tag your posts; otherwise almost no one outside your local server will see them. For instance, when I posted about “Impulse Drive” I tagged it as #RPG (about 500 posts a week), and I also tagged it as #ImpulseDrive (0 posts a week, but have to start somewhere).

Mastodon’s goals aren’t to amass information on you or sell you stuff or get you to use the platform constantly. Mastodon doesn’t promote popular posts to other people’s feeds; you have to click  #Explore to see what’s popular on your server, which for small servers may be few posts or even no posts at all.

David Amador pointed out, “In case you are concerned picking a server will restrict you to a certain place, it won’t. A couple months ago I did a poll asking people from where they were seeing my post, and of around 6.5k votes 96% were from outside the instance I’m at, gamedev.”

That said, Fediverse servers can elect not to share information with other servers. For instance, blocks the following servers [scroll down], as sources of hate speech, harassment, spam, bots, etc. Another reason your local server matters.

While there are a lot of servers to choose from, you want to start with one whose content will interest you:

Oh, and if you like all of the above, you can follow me:

Photo by Battenhall on Unsplash.