Setting up a Mastodon Server for Photography
In this post, I’m going to describe the process of setting up a Mastodon server for photography. Now, Mastodon is not a photography app as such, but I’m sticking my neck out here and saying that it will become as important in the photography world as Twitter.
If you’re as tired of the algorithmically challenged Musk/Zuckerberg axis as I am, you may be interested in my post The Best Alternative to Twitter for Photographers?
Table of Contents
What is Mastodon?
Mastodon is a federated messaging application that is rapidly gaining traction as disgruntled users flee Elon Musk’s Twitter.
Why Use Mastodon?
I have over 5000 followers on Twitter, it has been by a long way my most successful social channel, so why change?
Back in the day, before Elon Musk stuck his oar in, my average Tweet got around 500 impressions, half a dozen likes and a few retweets. Nothing spectacular, but a steady building of interest.
After Elon Musk took over, my feed became overrun with american right wing politics and posts by Elon Musk himself. I objected, and overnight my impressions dropped to around 30 impressions per post and zero interaction. Of course this could be down to me posting boring content or any number of things, but it seemed odd.
I went through my feed, painstakingly blocking the right wing politics and gradually the photography returned, but the content looked suspiciously bot driven “Hey Landscape photographers, post me your wide angle shots” being typical, and a couple of actual photographers in the mix for good measure. My own posts continued to drop like stones in a vacuum, while the same content, posted on Facebook, Vero and Instagram picked up decent numbers of impressions.
So, nobody in their right mind sticks around where their best efforts are failing. Goodbye Twitter, Hello Mastodon.
How to Join Mastodon
You can subscribe to a number of Mastodon servers, but the steady flow of users from Twitter has caused some to suspend subscriptions. The available instances are not particularly themed around photography, but I decided that was missing the point. What I wanted was a social feed that I would be in charge of.
If you simply want to try Mastodon out, then you can join one of the original instances like home.social (https://home.social/explore) or look for an instance that looks like it might match your own interests, like photog.social (https://photog.social/about).
In the end, I decided to host my own instance so that it would be recognisably part of the brand and I could be in total control of the timeline. There are no algorithms evident on Mastodon yet, but after the Twitter experience, I’m wary.
Setting up a Mastodon Server for Photography
First, find a host that offers a managed service. I elected to use Ossrox.org, a german organisation offering a family deal for €5 a month. An alternative was Mastohost, based in France at €6 a month and their website is in English, but I thought the Ossrox offer was slightly more attractive plus I had a personal recommendation from the Spanish Highs people which is always an advantage.
Setting up a Subdomain
I wanted to use my own subdomain,mastodon.chriswright.photography
so the first thing to do was to set that subdomain up and create a CNAME record pointing at my hosting service cname.ossrox.org.
If you are using a CDN, you’ll need to add the CNAME record to the CDN DNS zone as that is the first place Domain servers will look. The install is taken care of by the hosting company who will also do all upgrades and maintenance.
Creating a Profile
Really no more difficult than Twitter or Facebook. Provide a picture for the header and another for your profile.
Creating Content in Mastodon
Content creation is again, very straightforward. The big difference here is that because you have your own server you can invite colleagues to join you and they will then be able to post content on the server timeline. So for us, Chris Wright Photography is one strand of quite a few other activities we do in Spain including, video, education, workshops and more.
What Will I Use Mastodon For?
I would really love to escape the corporate, political and right wing tripe that appears to be taking over Twitter and so I intend to use Mastodon as a straight replacement for Twitter. But further than that, there is potential to use Mastodon to pull some of the disparate strands of my photography, video and teaching activities together in a way that Twitter was never able to support because of its toxic culture and mad algorithms.
I also intend to put the “social” back in my social media and hopefully inspire others to migrate to Mastodon too. I only hope its doesn’t go the same way as other social networks. I have a feeling it won’t.
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