I’m so glad you asked! 😀
So, of all the Twitter clones–let’s not get into Twitter, shall we?–the current top three are Mastodon, Bluesky, and Threads. I don’t have a Threads account so I can’t speak to whether it’s any good or not. Moving right along.
Bluesky: I’m on Bluesky and I like it! but it is also invite-only, which is a bummer. Unless you know someone who has invite codes, you can’t use it. Moving right along.
Mastodon: I hear a lot about how Mastodon is hard and confusing and difficult to use, usually when evangelizing it to my friends. 😉 Actually using it is fine, IMHO. It’s the initial setup that bugs people.
So, picking a server is the usual first hurdle. Mastodon is decentralized, which is good because if a billionaire buys your Mastodon instance and changes all the rules you can just switch and carry on. Switching is so easy that I almost said the instance you pick doesn’t matter, but… you want one that has up-to-date software, moderation rules you agree with, and it’s nice if it’s in your language and centered around a topic you’re interested in so you have a lively local timeline. That said, if you don’t like your server it’s SO EASY to just go migrate to another that this isn’t THAT big a deal. Just pick one and sign up.
You can follow people who are on different servers, so you can always follow your friends even if their server is closed to new subs because of the latest Twitter drama. How do you find them? Well, I did things like search for Neil Gaiman, search for John Scalzi, etc. I looked at who the friends I did find were following. If your server software is up to date and your client supports it (or you’re on desktop) you can also follow tags, like #catsofmastodon. But generally, I looked for the people I was already following elsewhere.
So, if Mastodon isn’t owned by a billionaire, how does it work? Well, your server is run by a volunteer who is probably accepting donations, or sponsored by some tech-related non-profit–but probably the first. It’s an attempt to get around what Cory Doctorow calls “Enshittification” by breaking the link between advertising and profits and your social life. In other words, I think it’s worth supporting.
If you want to get started and know people on Mastodon, maybe start by joining their server. If not, go here and see if any of these tickle your fancy, then follow some people and cat photos. If you decided you don’t like it, you can pack up your followers and go elsewhere. This is built-in functionality, and I think it’s stupidly easy but perhaps I’m not the best judge–but it’s built-in functionality and they try to make it simple. Mastodon is intended to NOT be a walled garden that keeps you in and traps you.