What we really need is a directory of instances by theme/focus, not just by level of rules enforcement.
My most important advice is start on a smaller instance, follow lots of people, and don't be afraid to butt in on conversations as long as your goal is not to be offensive. And if you're accidentally offensive and apologize sincerely, people will forgive you and life will go on.
That said, does anyone want to help me create a directory of instances by theme? I can do the research and writing, and maybe some HTML, but I don't know how to do backend
The Wandering Shop is a Mastodon instance initially geared for the science fiction and fantasy community but open to anyone. We want our 'local' timeline to have the feel of a coffee shop at a good convention: tables full of friendly conversation on a wide variety of topics. We welcome everyone who wants to participate, so long as you're willing to abide by our code of conduct.