How to see what’s happening on Mastodon without creating an account

This one's for everyone who would rather not create yet another online account.
An iPhone on a wooden surface with the sign-in page for Mastodon on the screen.
No need to go any farther than this. Battenhall / Unsplash

Social media is splintering. Where once sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram dominated, now there are a bunch of smaller networks. One that’s growing at the moment is Mastodon

The decentralized nature of this platform makes it a bit harder to navigate than most, which is why plenty of people are not on there. Still, there might be a lot of interesting content you’re missing out on just because you don’t want to sign up for yet another social network. 

So what if you want to follow a single account on Mastodon but can’t be bothered with understanding how the fediverse actually works? It sounds counterintuitive, but it is possible thanks to Mastodon’s ability to generate an RSS feed for every account. The option is not exactly easy to find, but once you pin it down you can add it to your favorite RSS reader

Find the RSS feed for any Mastodon account

The Mastodon account for PopSci contributor Justin Pot.
You don’t have to follow me on Mastodon—I’ll understand. Justin Pot for Popular Science

To get started, head to the page for any Mastodon account, like mine or PopSci‘s. You’ll notice that the RSS feed isn’t exactly advertised—there’s no link to it anywhere on the page, search as you might. But it’s there all the same: just add “.rss” (no quotes) to the end of the address in your browser’s navigation bar. 

So, in our example, “https://mastodon.social/@jhpot” and “https://mstdn.social/@popsci” become “https://mastodon.social/@jhpot.rss” and “https://mstdn.social/@popsci.rss“. 

Hit enter and you’ll see the raw feed. It’ll look something like this:

The raw RSS feed code for Mastodon social.
Just raw RSS. Justin Pot for Popular Science

Ignore this code—it’s not important right now. Just copy the URL for the feed from the address bar and paste it into your preferred RSS reader. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to open your reader on any device and see the content of every post, and even media when appropriate. 

Wait, what’s RSS?

A Mastodon social RSS feed in an RSS reader.
What a Mastodon RSS feed looks like in an RSS reader. Justin Pot for Popular Science

I’m glad you asked! RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s an easy way to keep up with any webpage and a lot of news sites and blogs offer them. For example, I use them to stay on top of local news and what’s happening in the tech world without having to check my social media feeds

To keep up with your favorite Mastodon accounts, you’ll first need a feed reader. If you don’t know what these are, we have a helpful guide to RSS apps you can use, which include Feedly, NewsBlur, and Reeder. Set up one of these apps on your device of choice and follow the instructions to add the feeds you’re interested in. You will see every new post in a single place. 

For now, RSS is likely the simplest way to follow a Mastodon account without creating your own, but it’s not the only one. Because Mastodon is decentralized, you can use other social networks that can connect to it, like Pixelfed, Friendica, and Gnu Social. In the future, it might get even easier, as eventually Tumblr and Instagram’s Threads will connect to the same protocol. That means you’ll be able to follow Mastodon users from those apps.