How to Use Mastodon, as an Unreal Engine Dev

I created my main Mastodon account back in 2020, but I didn't really use it until the last few months. I've typically shared things I made on Twitter and learned so much there, but as Twitter has become less and less stable I've been looking around for somewhere else to make connections.

I think that Mastodon has a lot of potential for building an online Unreal Engine community. So far I've found it a really different vibe to Twitter, a lot more small and cozy. A lot of fellow devs have expressed interest but found Mastodon hard to get into, so hopefully this will help anyone interested in trying it out.

The Basics

Mastodon is often mis-characterized as "Twitter but there are lots of different servers", and that's not quite accurate:

  • Mastodon is software that you install on a server, like Wordpress.
  • Mastodon is not a monolithic service like Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook.
  • Copies of Mastodon installed on different servers, known as Instances, can talk to each other.

Instances

So an instance is just a copy of Mastodon installed on a server. What's the deal with that?

  • Having an account on an instance lets you more easily see its Local Timeline which can be kind of nice to get the feeling of community and make new friends.
  • You can still talk to and see the messages of anyone on any instance. Just like being able to send email to someone that uses a different email provider.
  • You can have accounts on multiple instances, if you want to, but it's not really necessary.
  • You can move instances at any time, bringing who you're following and followers. Note that your messages are not moved.
  • Instance administrators deal with content moderation and can choose to block messages from specific instances. For example there is a ban list of servers associated with far-right and hateful content that are banned by some servers.

How to choose an Instance

For me, it was a pretty easy decision to join mastodon.gamedev.place. It has a large number of active users and is moderated by Aras of Unity fame.

At the time of writing this, there are also peoplemaking.games and gamedev.lgbt that are major gamedev-related instances.

mastodon.gamedev.place's mascot and emoji

One of the kind of weird things about Mastodon is that you are associated with a particular instance, but you can talk to anyone. There are a few factors to consider when choosing an instance:

  • Does the Local Timeline interest you? It may not be a factor but some people like the feeling of community that comes with a friendly, lively Local Timeline.
  • Does the administrators' stance on moderation align with your own? Do you want something more or less heavily moderated?
  • Is the instance over-subscribed? Things can get slow if an instance has a sudden influx of new users.
  • Does it have a cool URL?
  • Do they have cool emojis?

Etiquette and Culture

Mastodon has existed since since 2016 and has built up its own culture. Here are some of the things I've learned that differ from Twitter.

Avoid Uploading Videos to the Instance

Try to avoid uploading videos as message attachments. Most instances are relatively small and short on funding and videos can take up a big chunk of storage. Upload longer videos to a separate video host and link them if you can.

Use Content Warnings

It seems to be OK to use the Content Warning (CW) preview feature not just for things that might negatively affect people, but for filtering out off-topic discussions. For instance I usually talk about Unreal Engine but I've used the CW header/body formatting to show that a post is about something outside what I usually talk about.

Set your messages to Unlisted by default

Mastodon has four different privacy settings for posts:

  • Public: These will show up on the instance's Local Timeline. It's great to post things here that will have broad appeal within your instance. For example tutorials or showing.
  • Unlisted: Anything you post will not show up in the local timeline, even if you add hashtags to it. I use this for anything more "noisy" or only relevant to people that follow me. It's kind of considered bad manners to flood the Local Timeline.
  • Followers Only: Followers can see posts but cannot re-share them.
  • Mentioned people only: Mentioned people can see posts but cannot re-share them.

Technically there is the concept of a "Direct Message" but as previously documented server admins can see the message content and if you mention someone in a Direct Message, they can see the message. So I wouldn't use DMs much to be honest.

User Tips

Only Hashtags Are Searchable

It is not possible to search for public messages just by using plain-text search. Only hashtags are searchable. So if you want your posts to be discovered, make sure to add a few hashtags to them.

Create a Column with All the Unreal Hashtags

I used this to set up a single column in the Mastodon web client that shows all messages with any of the many Unreal-related hashtags that people use.

  1. First make sure that you have the Tweetdeck-like column interface enabled. Go to your Preferences, then under Appearance make sure that Enabled advanced web interface is checked.
  2. Save changes.
  3. At the top-left of the screen, Search for "#UnrealEngine" and click on the #UnrealEngine entry that pops out.
  4. A new tab should appear, showing all the messages containing #UnrealEngine.
  5. Click the settings button in the top-right of the column, and choose "+ Pin"
  6. The settings should now show more options, including a "Include additional tags for this column" toggle.
  7. Then add all the other tags, like #UE5, #UE5Tips, #Unreal and anything else you can think of.

Profiles in Mastodon let you show multiple links that you are associated with. There is also the concept of verification where you can prove that you are the owner of the linked website. It doesn't even cost $8!

Just add a link back to your Mastodon page rel="me" somewhere on your site, and you will get a green check next the link. The snippet is shown on the Profile Settings page.

<a rel="me" href="https://mastodon.gamedev.place/@_benui">Mastodon</a>

What Next?

I really like the Local Timeline at mastodon.gamedev.place. There's always interesting projects that people are sharing and everyone is super friendly. I can see myself continuing to use Twitter but I'm glad that there is an alternative for if or when it goes down.

Come join and say hi @_benui@mastodon.gamedev.place!

Update: I moved to my own instance because I'm weird like that.

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