Mastodon Instances explainer

Continuing the discussion from Mona, Mastodon apps and a screenshot Easter Egg :nerd_face::

(My understanding)

Instances are Mastodon servers that people have set up. Some are their own personal instances, some allow others to join. Servers store posts, send them to other servers, and receive posts from other servers. It’s not like Twitter, Facebook, et al. where there is one central place for everything.

Since instances are run by people, groups, or companies, they can cater to people with common interests, or just general interests. For example, one of the instances I have an account on is, which caters to scientists. I’m also on, which caters to people interested in free and open source software, SDF that supplies computing services and caters to artists. A couple of others are, and Since servers cost money to run, some servers limit the number of users. For example, has about 150k accounts, and no longer accepts new accounts.

Whomever is running the instance sets the rules. You can go to their website, create an account, and see their rules. Some sites allow literally anything. Some allow only on-topic posts for whatever their interest is, and there are thousands in between.

Now. Instances are federated, meaning they can send and receive posts from other instances. So in your feed, you’ll see Local which are things people have posted on the instance where you have an account. You’ll also see Federated, which are posts that come from other instances.

Recall that some instances allow anything, therefore, the instance you are on might choose to ban instances that do things they don’t agree with. For example, if you have an account on the First On Race Day instance for people that love Ford vehicles, they might choose to ban the instance Fix Or Repair Daily. That means you won’t see any posts from that instance.

Mastodon is part of the Fediverse, a group of servers that exchange information (hence, the names like fediscience). The Fediverse also encompasses services like Friendica that allows sharing open source software, and PeerTube for sharing videos.

As I said, I have accounts on multiple instances. If you develop a following on an instance, and then want to move everything to another instance, from what I understand, that is possible, so you needn’t fear that you’re making the wrong choice.

Also, the culture on Mastodon is different from other social platforms, and is generally more inclusive. One example is that when people post images, it is expected that they will add Alt text to describe what is in the image for people who have low vision or are Blind.

There are several websites that say they will help you find an instance that caters to your interests or criteria. Probably a Google search is the best place to start.

Google search for mastodon instances


So can you see all the instances you are part of from one place. To simplify my puzzlement? I get the feeling some of these apps are there to help you do that. Thanks for the detailed reply too

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Yes, most apps (the ones I’ve seen), expect that people will have multiple accounts, and allow easily switching between those.

This is Toot!.


Yes, a great reply! I would add to that, think a good way to think of an instance and an account is to compare to email. Just as you can have a gmail and/or an iCloud or any other account and email to anyone else, it’s similar in the Fediverse. Mastodon instances allow users to communicate with one another via ActivityPub which also allows Mastodon users to also communicate to other Fediverse instances like Pixelfed or I’m sticking with just one account on one instance, Early on I did set-up 2 other accounts but don’t use them and will eventually delete them. I think it’s easier to just do everything from one account. If there are users from other instances that have a particular interest I can just follow them.

Another nice thing about Mastodon is that, like Twitter, it’s possible to set up lists and follow tags. I currently have lists of users in certain topic areas such as Apple/Tech, Climate Change, Astronomy, etc. In addition I follow #tags for things I’m interested in.

The first thing to do after setting up your account is to add a profile photo and write a description of yourself as it’s fairly important if you want folks to interact with you. And it’s helpful to add #tags of your interests in profile description as well. When you make a post add # to it if you want folks to be able to find it. And if you want to find folks or topics use the search bar on the website or in the app as most apps have search built in. To find a user it’s best to have their full username and instance but it’s possible to find folks with just the first portion though you’ll have to wade through more users and instances to find the right one.


I have been wondering whether a Mac Power Users instance would make sense…


Perfect analogy!

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Leo Laporte set up an instance for TWIT, the Network of podcasts that he runs. It’s open to users that are also subscribers or followers of their programming but they do limit it as it costs a lot to support a big server. MacStories has also set up a server, but it’s only for MacStories staff. Apparently running a Mastodon instance is fairly intensive in terms of data processing and storage. Generally, it’s considered important to donate to any instance you join up with to support server costs, as well as potentially administration if it’s a large enough instance. The instance I use is fairly small, but I donate every other month. In fact, my instance requires donations, which I was happy to do and really, I think every instance out there should require some sort of donation or payment otherwise Mastodon and the Fediverse will not be sustainable.

Yet another possibility for instances is for local clubs to set up their own for small membership groups. A nice way to have more control over one’s social media and a service for local club members as well. As mentioned above, the local timeline, especially of a small instance, allows for easy to follow conversation amongst club members.

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The whole instance thing is needlessly intimidating. Once you sign up, you don’t even have to think about what an instance is (if you don’t want to — see above for reasons you might want to) if you’re using most third-party Mastodon apps. In all the apps I’ve used, a search spans instances and is invisible to the end user. Search for users and follow them. They show up in your timeline. I couldn’t begin to tell you which instance most people I follow are on.


Best explanation of Mastodon that most people can understand – I like this!

Also, I am similar to you – I have a couple accounts created, but only intend on using one. I’m not sure the advantage of multiple accounts unless someone is really worried an instance is going to shut down, which I think can be avoided with a tiny bit of research.

I think it’s down to instances that cater to different interests. So your local feed on one instance is, say, science-rated, whereas on your other instance it’s tractors.


And someone on this forum complained about having to curate Twitter lists! Now we have to curate Mastodon instances?

I think it might, I do note the David is already on there, Give him a follow I would, like me I don’t think he posts a lot.

That is all very well and good, but I don’t really understand that! only kiddin;, well partly, it is like telling somebody that “Gwyn” means “Blanc” if they know only English! I have seen that analogy several times now and I have to say, I don’t get it at all!!
For one thing, taling on email back and fore to people is horribly slow really and opaque. Come to think of it… I don’t undertand the analogy I have to say. I think I see roughly what people are driving at. You can access instances from an instance you are on and feed them into your own profile as it were?

Thanks that was just what I needed, a lot of stuff I see online doesn’t somehow help me. That did, maybe I phrased my questino right for once! I will bookmark it and work throught it. Do you blog in your own right if I may ask? I am assuming you can edit profiles and so on as you go along. I was very cautious and wary with mine.
I am a strange bird, I am a power user I would say. BUT I stopped learning pretty much when I reached what I needed if that makes sense. I am danger of falling behind though now.
I got off Twitter and FB over 4 years ago. I have to say I found FB way worse though. I had serious problems arising from mis and dis information from a group there, not unusual in my region in fact.

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I have two blogs. My personal blog is hosted at and another tech/Apple oriented blog, which I host on my own server at WordPress. My blog at is set to cross post to Mastodon. Another cool thing about is that Manton, the owner and creator of, has added ActivityPub support to the service which means that all posting shows up on Mastodon if somebody wants to follow from there. I won’t go into that too much though because it can get fairly confusing if you’re not familiar with the different layers of connection that are possible.

My two blogs:

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Speaking of Mastodon apps, are some of them “URL-friendly” (term from @MacSparky ) (aka “link-friendly”), meaning have automation for linking per the Manifesto for Ubiquitous Linking, which he co-originated? I’ve been using a web browser.

Me too ( I can’t imagine managing multiple handles. This might mean I will use that account more for cognitive science stuff – I will have to see how the culture develops. However, I’m liking the communications a lot more than Twitter. It’s already been useful to me for discovery of papers-- and haven’t been on it long.

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Imagine anyone could run their own Twitter, and those Twitters could get content from each other, and you could have accounts on many of those Twitters. Some of the Twitters have rules about what can be posted, others don’t.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

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I got it now, all of a sudden. I see the analogy with email too. It didn’t help me initially though since I missed the point that one can have mulltiple email accounts and many do. I haven’t for some time now. I have to keep gmail for signing in purposes with Apple. I had a lot aquired over the years, I keep an outlook one open for some reason I forget but don’t ever use it. I closed a few over the years too.
I really don’t understand the need for a gmail for apple either :thinking::neutral_face:
Thanks for the effort to explain this. I did get it in the end. I will go to fediscience at some point then.