Does it matter which Mastodon instance you choose? I've seen many people claim that it doesn't matter, and moreover that you can easily switch instances. I learned the hard way that this claim is unwarranted, a disservice to new Mastodon users. Your choice of instance is important, indeed crucial. Until yesterday I was on mstdn.plus, a Mastodon instance with well over 4000 active users according to its server stats. Yesterday morning I woke to a "frozen" timeline. At some point my home timeline stopped showing new posts. I stopped receiving new notifications too. My desolate experience was the same on the web site and in several third-party Mastodon client apps that I have installed on various devices. It turned out that my own experience was far from unique: looking at the federated timeline of mstdn.plus, at a certain point all posts from other Mastodon instances stopped, leaving only posts from local users. The last post from another instance was at 07:45 UTC on January 30, 2023. In the local
mstdn.plus posts that appeared afterward, I saw a number of users complaining about frozen home timelines and missing notifications. (It was difficult to have conversations with them, because we weren't getting notifications for each other's replies.) Clearly, the entire instance was now severely dysfunctional.
I sent a direct message to the instance administrator (before I realized that notifications were broken) and emails to two of his addresses. As of the publication of this blog post, the administrator still hasn't responded, nor has he posted any announcement on Mastodon. This person also administrates the instances mstdn.party and mastodon.neat.computer (which as far as I can tell continue to operate normally). More than 24 hours after
mstdn.plus broke, the administrator remains silent, unresponsive, absent.
mstdn.plus had become unusable, with no sign of a fix forthcoming, I decided that I needed to move to a different instance. The first problem was choosing a new instance, which was a choice I didn't want, forced upon me by the circumstances, made even more difficult by the miserable failure of my first choice. I had signed up for
mstdn.plus on December 3, 2022, because at the time the most popular instances mastodon.social and mastodon online administered by @Gargron were not open for new sign-ups. They weren't open yesterday either. Mastodon mostly leaves new users to their own devices in choosing an instance. Enter at your own risk, as it were. At first glance, to my inexperienced eyes,
mstdn.plus seemed decent, and the administrator is from Minnesota, which appealed to me as a fellow Midwesterner. I don't know how exactly one is supposed to choose an instance?
This time I wanted an administrator who I knew I could trust. Fortunately, I heard of a Mastodon instance for app.net refugees, and the administrator kindly granted me an invitation as a fellow former ADN user. App.net AKA ADN was a social network that operated from 2012 to 2017, in my opinion the best Twitter alternative ever made. I joined ADN and deleted my old Twitter account when Twitter discontinued RSS feed support. To this day it bothers me that we didn't take advantage of the existence of ADN while we had the chance. I consider Mastodon to be vastly inferior to ADN in almost every way. But so it goes. The best technology doesn't always win. Arguably, the best rarely wins.
When you move from one Mastodon instance to another, you can export your follows, lists, account mutes, account blocks, domain blocks, and bookmarks from your old instance and import them on the new instance. But you can't bring your posts with you! Your posts remain with your account on the old instance, which becomes inactive after you move, so you can no longer edit or delete those posts, though you can delete the account entirely. You also lose access to your direct messages: when your account becomes inactive, you can't even read your old DMs anymore. You can request an archive of your data from your server, which I did before moving instances. However, this process has not yet completed. The export still shows "Compiling your archive…" more than 18 hours later. I suspect that the general brokenness of
mstdn.plus has affected this too. If the export never completes, then I've permanently lost all of my posts and direct messages.
Other parts of your account cannot be migrated via export and import. You need to manually recreate your profile, including avatar, header, bio, and metadata. You need to reset your preferences. You need to recreate your filters! Believe it or not, there's no export and import for filters, so hopefully you don't have an extensive list of filters, otherwise you'll be cursing Mastodon.
What about your followers? Moving to a new Mastodon instance is supposed to transfer all of your followers. Again, however, I worry that the brokenness of
mstdn.plus is preventing this from happening. My old account has over 700 followers, many of whom arrived after the recent release of my Safari extension Homecoming for Mastodon. Meanwhile, my new account currently has only 60 followers, many of whom followed me after I imported my following list from my old instance—presumably because they saw a new follower notification—but before I actually initiated the instance redirection.
When I was investigating how to move to a new Mastodon instance, I found a blog post about the migration process:
Your instance will begin notifying the people who follow you of your new handle, and they will be automatically switched to follow your new account. If you have enough followers, it may batch these requests up, so you may see new followers appear on your new account regularly over the next 24 hours.
Thus, hope remains that I'll get back all of my former followers. Nonetheless, the transfer process started more than 12 hours ago, and less than 10% of my followers have moved. The "regularly" part of the batching certainly hasn't occurred, so I wonder whether this is actually batching or just the brokenness of my old instance.
Don't let anyone tell you that your choice of Mastodon instance doesn't matter, or that it's easy to switch. At best, that's survivorship bias. As bad as I feel about my own situation, I feel even worse for other
mstdn.plus users who aren't as technically sophisticated as I am. I read some posts yesterday from
mstdn.plus users new to Mastodon and totally confused about what to do now. This experience may cause them to quit Mastodon forever, and I wouldn't blame them for that.
In speaking with other former
mstdn.plus users, and polling my own followers, it appears that no followers were automatically transferred to their new Mastodon instance. So
mstdn.plus is hopelessly broken in most ways, and I've lost most of my followers. I'm not too happy with the "fediverse" right now.
See my follow-up.