Your Mastodon Instance is a Table in a Restaurant
You can see and talk to everyone at your table. This is your Local Timeline..
There are lots of other tables around you. You can hear conversations from them, walk around and look at them. This is your Federated Timeline..
You’re also, simultaneously, sitting at a weird multidimensional table. This table is composed of all the folks you follow at all the different tables in the restaurant, and also occasionally, people at tables those folks talk about. This is your Home Timeline.
Your Restaurant is unique to your Table
Wait what? Right. This restaurant’s a little bit weird! The tables around yours are the tables you and the other folks at your table know about! This is how Federation works - the only servers you talk to; the only “tables” you can engage with, are the ones that someone on your instance follows someone at. This kicks off a flow of information! And that flow is what populates the Federated Timeline, things like Hashtags, and your Search.
“The Fediverse” is every table!
There are thousands of instances, but not all of them know about each other! This is why Boosts are important, because they let well connected instances, like mastodon.social and the other big ones, share content to other folks timelines. And then those folks can follow the authors and, BOOM, their restaurant gets a new table!
Am I at the right table?
Think about what you want from an instance.
You can imagine the large instances as incredibly massive, banquet style affairs. You definitely can’t see everyone at the table, and if you say something, the odds of any one person hearing you are pretty small. But, you have a whole lot of folks right there with you to engage with, and they’re talking about lots of other people!
But, because they’re so big, they can struggle to feel like an actual community. It’s hard to get a word in edgewise when tens of thousands of folks are all talking! It can also be hard for the folks who make sure everyone’s having a nice time to keep an eye on all the guests. There might be some folks on some part of the table being real jerks, and it’s pretty hard for you or them to know.
Smaller Instances have fewer folks sitting at them. Conversation is easier, there are less folks trying to talk over each other, and it’s easier to see everyone at the table. But, that also means they know fewer folks, and because of how these metaphysical restaurants work, that means there’s fewer tables in yours!