Thursday, February 16, 2023

Choosing and Switching Mastodon Instances

Jeff Johnson:

Does it matter which Mastodon instance you choose? I’ve seen many people claim that it doesn’t matter, and moreover that you can easily switch instances. I learned the hard way that this claim is unwarranted, a disservice to new Mastodon users. Your choice of instance is important, indeed crucial. Until yesterday I was on, a Mastodon instance with well over 4000 active users according to its server stats. Yesterday morning I woke to a “frozen” timeline. […] It turned out that my own experience was far from unique: looking at the federated timeline of, at a certain point all posts from other Mastodon instances stopped, leaving only posts from local users.


When you move from one Mastodon instance to another, you can export your follows, lists, account mutes, account blocks, domain blocks, and bookmarks from your old instance and import them on the new instance. But you can’t bring your posts with you! Your posts remain with your account on the old instance, which becomes inactive after you move, so you can no longer edit or delete those posts, though you can delete the account entirely. You also lose access to your direct messages: when your account becomes inactive, you can’t even read your old DMs anymore. You can request an archive of your data from your server, which I did before moving instances. However, this process has not yet completed.


Other parts of your account cannot be migrated via export and import. You need to manually recreate your profile, including avatar, header, bio, and metadata. You need to reset your preferences. You need to recreate your filters!

Jeff Johnson (Mastodon):

After 6 days of breakage, and 6 days of no word from the instance administrator, an automated email arrived yesterday from stating that my archive was ready for download. […] Moreover, later that day my followers finally transferred automatically to my new instance, a process that, again, was initiated 6 days prior.


According to the Mastodon Server Covenant, “All Mastodon servers we link to from our server picker commit to the following… At least one other person with emergency access to the server infrastructure”. Nonetheless, Join Mastodon is actually where I found back in December, when the covenant had the exact same language, and there’s no sign that or has an emergency backup admin, otherwise the outage wouldn’t have lasted for 6 days. Thus, it appears Mastodon doesn’t follow its own server covenant. Caveat emptor!


I remain on Mastodon now, despite the dismaying experience of the past week, not because I’m committed, not because Mastodon is great, but because the people I know happen to be on Mastodon. The same reason I was on Twitter. It’s too bad that both services turned out to be disasters.

Dr. Drang:

I switched Mastodon instances recently. I started on back in 2018 and moved to for a couple of reasons:

  1. I’d been hearing negative things (mainly from Anil Dash, who left a month or so ago) about the people who took over the instance. […]
  2. is using an older version of the server software which didn’t allow editing of posts. […]


Mastodon has a set of instructions for migrating servers, but I found this guide at Nerds Chalk to be more useful.


Update (2023-04-05): Jeff Johnson:

It looks like the Mastodon instance went down permanently a number of weeks ago with no notice.

7 Comments RSS · Twitter · Mastodon

Also worth noting: with 17K users will shut down in 3 months and with 6.5K users was going to shut down in 3 months until someone else stepped in to take over for now

Kevin Schumacher

"Server instances run by unrelated people do not operate consistently--film at 11!" is not listed on Join Mastodon anymore. I don't know when it was removed. But there's only so much that Join Mastodon can do, given the context of how the system operates and that every instance is independently run.

> Thus, it appears Mastodon doesn’t follow its own server covenant.

Thus, you are confusing correlation with causation. Do you know for a fact that there was never an emergency server admin? Does Join Mastodon state they email them every morning to make sure they are in, fact, alive and still in the position an emergency server admin? (And does this email threaten to murder the person's family if they are lying?)

Short of literally holding guns to people's heads and/or spending money Join Mastodon likely does not have suing another entity that likely does not have much, if any, money either for breach of what does not appear to be a contract, what would you like them to do?

> It’s too bad that both services turned out to be disasters.

"It's too bad that Twitter and this privately-run instance I joined both turned out to be disasters."


Calling Mastodon a disaster on the scale of Elon Musk's Twitter is ridiculous, unfounded, and patently offensive. Is moving servers easy? No. Should it transfer more stuff? Probably, and there are forums to go about suggesting those changes. Is it the protocol's or Join Mastodon's fault that people run out of money, die, get sick, suddenly lose interest, whatever that causes them to stop being able to or wanting to maintain an independently-run server and drop it with no notice? Not even a little bit.

People who think mastodon will achieve critical mass, as Gruber amusingly declared earlier today, are simply lying to themselves. It probably feels alive if you already had a following and/or are part of the tech influencer bubble, but there’s no avenue for growth or interesting discovery if you aren’t. Every popular post I see in the discovery tabs is either talking about twitter(!) or lecturing a roomful of people who already agree about current events.

And we’re just getting started with the kind of issues detailed above, to say nothing of instances blocking instances and other issues at the mercy of innumerable server moderator whims. People who say it’s “just like email” are not being honest. Twitter is a bummer but this still is somehow worse.

"It probably feels alive if you already had a following and/or are part of the tech influencer bubble, but there’s no avenue for growth or interesting discovery if you aren’t"

To a lot of people, that's a feature, not a bug. Twitter used to be a pretty nice place, until it became popular, and all the celebrities and influencers joined.

Twitter used to be a pretty nice place because it was just a place where people talked with friends, made jokes and posted little life updates. Mastodon has now skipped that step and is nothing but paragraphs tailor made for doomscrollers. Combining that with the issues of early-day Twitter make it the worst of all worlds.

This is just the same as picking your email provider?

@Sander There are some important differences. Mastodon is better at migrating contacts but worse at migrating data. With e-mail, you can buy a domain and take it to a variety of providers, whereas with Mastodon you can only use your own domain if you run your own server. With e-mail, you don’t have a worse user experience if you’re the only account on your domain.

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