Notes on Running Mastodon
After over a week of running a Mastodon instance there’s a couple things I’ve noticed that I think are good to know for anyone considering launching their own.
Federation is the major thing to learn here. From the start a new instance will be completely empty, and not just because nobody’s posted on it yet. The new instance doesn’t yet know about any other instances, and other instances don’t know about it.
This changes as soon as any user on the new instance starts creating a network by following or getting followed by other users. Once your instance learns about other users on other instances, those users will start showing up in places like your instance’s federated feed.
This leads to a chicken and egg problem if you’re a new user on a low population instance. You’ll be looking for people to follow but you’ll only be able to see users that your instance knows about, which might not be very many.
Thankfully there’s several ways around this.
The brute force solution
If you know someone’s full handle and which instance they’re on, you can search them on your instance and follow them even if your instance doesn’t already know about them. If you already follow people on other social media sites or have some blogs you read, it’s worth checking to see if those people have a Mastodon profile listed anywhere.
Boosts are really useful for finding new people to follow but they’re also great for federation. When a post is boosted it gets sent out to the followers of the person giving the boost, so it’s a good opportunity for instances to learn about each other.
Right now this seems to me the best way to get federation on a new instance going. If you already have an account somewhere else with a decent sized network, you can migrate that network to the new instance and completely bypass having to find people.
Instance admins can subscribe to relays, which help their instance discover new content.
I haven’t subscribed to any relays so far mostly because I haven’t felt the need to since I migrated my account. I plan on considering this more heavily if more people join, but there’s a few things to be aware of when using a relay.
One is storage space and other server resources, depending on the size of the relay. My other concern is that it could end up like drinking from a fire hose with a lot of content that nobody on the instance is that interested in.
If you have any experiences with federation relays, I’d be curious to hear about them.
Further reading about relays on fedi.tips
Storage space can easily become a concern running Mastodon if you’re not careful. I’m following about 200 people and my media storage usage is almost 5 GB.
Mastodon has ways of handling this, like only caching media for a certain period of time then loading on demand after. My hosting provider, masto.host, does this automatically.
Here comes everyone’s favorite part.
I found a somewhat minimal instance block list that I added to my instance to get slightly ahead of things. I found one questionable block included which I removed. There may be more, but for the most part I believe the list was a decent starting point.
I won’t link it here since I think if you’re going to import a block list you should do your own research on it, but block lists are easy enough to find with some searching.
These are the biggest things I’ve noticed so far. If you’re your own sysadmin (not using managed hosting) there’s probably several things I missed, but the things I did talk about should be universal.
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