What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a Twitter alternative that allows anyone to run their own Server that can host users. People make an account on any Server that someone else has set-up. From there, you can “Follow” another user by going to their Profile Page, even if it’s located on another Server. Because all these
machines are running their own version of Mastodon (Called an ‘Instance’).
Their posts, called Toots, will appear in your Home-feed and your Servers Federated timeline.
Fediverse: Derived from the word “Federated” (Smaller entities, united within an alliance), this describes a Network of computers that implement (To put into effect) the ‘ActivityPub’ standard. This is an open-source distribution of Software updates that allows internet servers to interlope with one another. Hence, the word ‘Federated’. However, different programs or ‘Networks’ such as PixelFed (An alternative to Instagram) do not allow you to ‘follow’ their users from the Mastodon Network, even though they use the same protocol.
Internet Protocol: Rules for processing data in a format that can be transmitted between computers.
So content from other networks cannot be viewed without leaving the Mastodon platform. One minor exception to this is when a URL of a PeerTube video is tooted, it will appear directly in your feeds as an mp4 file, instead of just a link. But this is simply not the case with other programs, such as PixelFed.
While it’s possible for external content to be conveyed across different Networks, it is not made clear which Networks can share what information with Mastodon.
Note: Strangely enough, ‘SoundCloud’ music tracks can also be posted to the feed. Complete with the same waveform graphic that you’d find on the main website, instead of a buffer-bar. Perhaps future improvements will allow it’s users to post from outside the Mastodon Network and have it appear in their feeds, but it’s obvious they have a long way to go before that happens.
How to use Mastodon
There isn't a clear guide on how to use its features and what you can or can’t do. After some experimenting, I've put what I found into a condensed list:
(1) The initial Mastodon UI resembles the app called “Tweet-deck” for Twitter users. Here, Several rows of columns display different categories of information simultaneously. This User-interface (UI) is known as the ‘Front-end’ of a server and there are other Front-ends or flavours of Mastodon made for both Desktops and Phones. joinmastodon.org
Notable examples are:
i. Halcyon (Made to resemble Twitter) halcyon.social
ii. Whalebird (Has an appearance very similar to Discord) whalebird.org
iii. Thedesk (Enhanced version of the default UI that runs on the Desktop) thedesk.top