I've been on Mastodon for a few years now, but didn't delete twitter (herein referred to as birdsite) until recently. Some people are worried about moving to Mastodon because it seems more complicated than birdsite. The learning curve isn't that steep IMO. The main challenge is that you have to shift your mental model about how this specific kind of "social media" or "microblogging" works differently from birdsite.
Things that I found helpful to know about Mastodon (from a layperson POV):
Decentralized! No monopoly!
Unlike Birdsite, Mastodon is decentralized. This means that individuals and organizations can take the Mastodon software code and host it on their own server. The different servers can still communicate with each other. The analogy I like to use is that it's like how someone who has a hotmail account (on the hotmail server), can still send email to someone who has a gmail account (on the gmail server) because they run a similar email-software.
In Mastodon land, they tend to call servers "instances". I'm on mastodon.social, but I can still follow and talk to people on mastodon.art and numerous other instances! There are some exceptions to this, e.g., instance X may ban communication to instance Z to protect their communities (likely due to clashing interests). The smaller instances I've seen are often very personable and moderated by real human beings with a vested interest in keeping their community safe.
Birdsite is not decentralized because only people on the twitter server can talk to each other. If Birdsite were to be bought out, or change their policies in ways that you disagree with, you're more or less stuck on their server if you want to talk to any of your buddies/followers on birdsite. I personally disagreed with a lot of their moderation (or lack of?), policies, data usage/selling (market profiling), garbage timeline/ads/etc. The analogy here is that Birdsite could have a monopoly over this type of social media, they could do terrible things because they have market control, and users could feel trapped on it because there are no reasonable alternatives (ps: Mastodon is an alternative!!).
Unique instance rules and policies
Every server / instance has its own rules of conduct and policies, so you should review those before you join a server. Some of them are open to join, some of them need an invite to join, and some are closed for sign-ups. Some of them are themed (e.g., art, photography, games, queer, languages, etc.) and some are general. Some allow you to post NSFW without content warning, some require that you use content warning, and some don't allow it at all. Lots of things to consider! https://joinmastodon.org/#getting-started or https://instances.social have tools to help people choose a server.
I'm on mastodon.social right now because it's the instance run by the creator of Mastodon and I felt that it would be the more reliable in the long run. He recommends that people join other instances (even made mastodon.online so mastodon.social was less overloaded) so that there is proper decentralization and less reliance on a sole server (amongst other things).
Don't worry you can move instances!
If you're finding it hard to commit to or choose an instance, don't worry! If you join one instance, and decide you want to move to a different one, Mastodon has features to ease the transition and redirect! So don't be afraid to get your feet wet. Just make that account on a decent server and try it out. If you're an artist, there's a guide to get started here. Deleting your account is also quite simple.
Timeline displays in order, without all the distractions you didn't sign up for
Unless the server you chose implemented weird stuff, most servers I've seen do not have paid ads, appear in chronological order (no weird algorithms), and don't embed your follow list's activity (e.g., their likes) onto your feed. You can also choose whether you want to see your follow list's boost (RT equivalent) and replies on your timeline.
Has many features that birdsite doesn't have (AFAIK)
- you can delete as much of your old history as you want (Birdsite only lets you delete your latest 3000 or so posts or likes, unless you pay...?). Though I will say that there's no easy way to mass select or purge multiple posts on either site.
- there are spoiler/content warning functions (where you have to click to expand and see content)
- the character limits can be increased (depends on the server)
- you can choose a CENTRAL FOCAL AREA for image posts (so it doesn't crop TOO weird)
Can switch to 1-column view
If you're coming from birdsite, you might be used to the 1-column view. If you were into tweetdeck, you'd be used to the multi-column view. Good news is that Mastodon has both! For general birdsite users, it's possible to switch to single column layout for ease of transition. To do that, you go to your preferences -- appearance -- and uncheck "advanced interface"
Staying on mastodon
There have been many birdsite exoduses and sudden flurry of mastodon account sign ups. At least 25-50% of the people I follow have already abandoned birdsite (or just cross-post). It's likely due to the fact that their existing friends/followers are not yet on Mastodon, so it feels like there's nothing to do on the site or no audience. Mastodon (depending on your instance) definitely feels smaller as a community and quieter than birdsite, so don't expect the same level of engagement you might get on birdsite (unless you convince your friends/followers to switch to masto too).
I took a hard look at what I wanted my relationship with social media to be. It boiled down to just having a place for myself, to look back at things I've done, informal interactions I've had with people, etc. It wasn't about staying relevant, nor was it about trying to become popular/building an audience. I didn't want my social media to solely be a marketing channel. I wanted it to be a place that I had some degree of control over what I saw on my timeline (e.g., I can opt-in and out of following people, but I can't opt out of seeing ads on birdsite).
Moving and staying on Masto feels like I left a circle of birdsite friends behind and now I'm trying to make forge new relationships. I have to consciously work harder to stay in touch with the people who aren't on Masto; this means more text messages, emails, and snail letters (which isn't the worst thing, tbh). I've met some extremely friendly people on masto that I don't think I'd ever be able to meet on birdsite, so I don't regret! By no means is Mastodon all sunshine and rainbows (really depends on your server and who you end up interacting it), but there is a calmness to the place that I appreciate.
You can follow me at https://mastodon.social/@dirchansky
There is also a nice de-centralized instagram alternative called pixelfed! You can install your own or pick an instance and start posting/following others on different servers. By default, no ads, no tracking, and your timeline is in chronological order.
Today's music post: You Don't Have to Cry by Adina Howard ft. Michael Speaks. What a duet...amazing 90s R&B...Michael Speaks really went all in. ICONIC.