With the "mass exodus" from Twitter that is "happening", a lot of people are curious about what exactly Mastodon is and what qualities it has that are better than Twitter. Join me, as I write an article that goes over the major differences it has to Twitter on both the user side and the server side. After I'm done talking about that, I'll prose about real-world application of this protocol and how it might not be as worth it to jump ship from Twitter if you already use it.
Well, look up what the word Federation means:
Federation: "a federated body formed by a number of nations, states, societies, unions, etc., each retaining control of its own internal affairs."
Based on this definition, it can be concluded that what it means for a service or protocol to be federated means that it works inbetween web sites. A decent example of a federated protocol is email (not exactly, but it gets the point across). If you have an email adress, you can probably email any other email address. As is with a federated protocol like Mastodon, if you have an account with an instance (or you run your own instance) you can probably message/reply to another account on another instance.
Mastodon varies greatly instance-to-instance, so I'll just go over what most instances do.
For a start, "tweets" in this context are called "toots". I know, hilarious. In addition to that, character limits for these toots are much larger than Twitter's by default. 500 Characters vs. Twitter's 280. How your instance is themed is usually up to the admin, but sometimes admins will have customization options for accent colors etcetera. Users on Mastodon follow a pretty simple "@" structure, users on your instance will have what you are probably used to, @user, @user1.... Users on other instances will have @firstname.lastname@example.org, @email@example.com....
Other than the differences listed above, Mastodon will be pretty much the same as Twitter for you.
Server-side administration is a little different from your traditional centralized services. Because Mastodon is federated, when you get started using Mastodon on your server, you will have to do some extra configuration after getting the web interface working. First of all, you need to connect to other instances' indexes so you can get a list of instances to connect to. This can be done in the configuration panel, make sure to do this step or it will only be you pissing in the wind with your toots.
After this, if you see a lot of toots from an instance that you don't like, you can just block the instance and you won't get any more toots from there. Moderation with Mastodon is quite easy, as I would imagine it would be for Twitter mods. Ban certain accounts, ban certain toots, the whole 9 yards.
If you are already in the social media gulag, god help you. As you probably know, these "services" actively make your mental health worse, advertise to you, and generally treat you poorly. This is no different on Mastodon. Social media itself is flawed, and if you can you should jump ship from using it entirely. Awful takes and dogpiles are as common if not more common on Mastodon as on Twitter. The sole reason you should be using a platform like Twitter or a Mastodon instance is for business, it is simply not worth the time, effort, and mental abuse to use it as an individual.
So why is Mastodon not a better alternative to Twitter exactly, other than this sperging about social media as a concept? Alright, I'll bite. My thesis here can be split into two issues with using Mastodon:
Mastodon has had and is still having an issue with adoption. Frankly, not a lot of people are on these instances, and if they are they are probably shunned from mainstream circles. They are likely shunned for bad faith reasons, but nonetheless they are slighted by the mainstream. This leads to instances being very toxic and having poor reception to mainstream political takes (mostly seems to be right-wing people on these sites, or at least socially conservative types). In turn, when people sign up for Mastodon on an instance they are likely to find a community that does not welcome them, especially if they are jumping ship from Twitter over concerns with Elon's leadership, doubly especially due to people who have this concern are often left-leaning. People who find that a community does not welcome them are not often recorded to stay within those communities, doubly so in this case because it is not a real-world community, so there are no economic barriers to leaving.
Moderation on Mastodon varies greatly from instance to instance. Think of it as how Reddit forums are moderated. The less popular ones get less moderation, leading to more and more radicalization. In addition, the people setting up these instances might be working in bad faith, advertising that they are a free speech platform while having hard policies on certain types of speech or talking about particular people. Truth Social, for example. (When it first debuted it appeared to be using Mastodon on the backend, I still believe this to be the case)
If anything, you should not be jumping ship from Twitter, you should be jumping ship from all social media. Just because an alternative protocol is open, does not mean it will still have the issues of the platforms it is imitating.