Setting up my own Mastodon instance

A skeleton of a Mastodon in a museum setting

I decided to set up my own Mastodon instance (❓what is Mastodon?). I was pretty happy being on the mastodon.social instance. It was my first instance that I joined back in 2016 and it was my first introduction to this terrific service. As the broader Mastodon network has grown, public instances have had to adapt to an influx of new users, many of which have decided to either try Mastodon out or switch completely from Twitter.

Creating my own space in the Fediverse

While the more popular instances are pretty well run, and their admins are working valiantly to upgrade their servers to accommodate all the new (and welcome) users, people who can create their own instances are encouraged to do it as a way to help support the broader network, and take a little of the load off the larger instances.

I decided that I’d like to have my own instance for a couple reasons. One reason is to have my own social space that acts as an extension of my digital identity, and also connects me to a broader discourse. This, of course, is one of the wonderful things about Mastodon being a federated network.

Another reason is to take my small part of the load on mastodon.social off this popular instance, and shoulder the responsibility for my contributions to this part of the Fediverse.

How to create your own instance

There are a number of guides to creating a Mastodon instance. The main resource is the official documentation, here: https://docs.joinmastodon.org/admin/

Other guides that I came across include the following:

I was initially thinking about using relatively cheap shared hosting over at Hetzner for my instance, but wasn’t looking forward to working through the official documentation to do this. My son ran through the documentation and found that it worked reasonably well, although it proved to be a bit tricky when it came to configuring a SMTP gateway to send our the server emails for some reason.

I came across a video on the Linode YouTube channel that explained how to configure a Mastodon instance pretty easily using a package manager called Cloudron. Linode’s shared hosting plans are a bit more expensive so I spent a little time debating what to do. I decided to subscribe to a shared hosting plan with 4GB of RAM, 2 processors, 80TB of storage, and 4TB of data transfer a month for about $20 per month.

This is probably overkill for an instance for just me, and perhaps a couple family members and friends, but the instance is pretty responsive when I use it so I’m happy. Plus I have space for other projects I may want to launch using this sharing hosting space.

Anyway, when it comes to the process for setting this all up, I first watched the How to Install Cloudron on Linode with LanaLux video that takes you through signing up, connecting a domain, and setting up a Cloudron account to install Mastodon:

Watch out for a link in the show notes for a free credit on Linode before you sign up. I totally missed it so I’m paying from day one.

I then watched this helpful follow-up that explores installing Mastodon through Cloudron, updating your Mastodon role to an Admin user, and getting started with your shiny new instance:

One thing to bear in mind is that it can take some time for your domain to start pointing to Linode’s servers once you configure it with Linode’s name servers. We often tell our customers that this can take up to 72 hours although domains using the popular TLDs such as .com, .net, .org and so on typically start working within a couple hours.

In my case, my domain started working within about 30 minutes or so. This meant I had my new instance up and running pretty quickly.

If you’re still wondering what this Mastodon thing is 👇

If you’re not quite sure what I am taking about when I refer to Mastodon and what all the fuss is about, here are a couple articles to fill in the gaps:

If you’re curious, you don’t have to quit Twitter/Facebook/whatever else you’re using. You can sign up with an instance that appeals to you, and poke around for free.

Think about an instance as just being an individual Mastodon server in a network of Mastodon servers that can connect to each other. It’s a bit like email in the sense that you can send an email from Gmail to Microsoft Outlook, and any other email service because they all use common protocols.

Here are two helpful starting points for Mastodon:

  • Mastodon instances – A quiz-style site that guides you to an instance to start with;
  • Servers – Mastodon – The “official” site with lists of servers based on location, language, topics of interest, and so on.

I enjoy using Mastodon. The conversations feel more substantial, there are no annoying ads (besides now paying for my own instance, I donate to the Mastodon Patreon that funds Mastodon development), and I can block other users or instances that are offensive.

If you happen to join a Mastodon instance, you can find me here: @paul@digitalstuntfactory.com

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