What is Bluesky? Record traffic spurs Twitter rival to impose rate limits

Bluesky app (Bluesky)
Bluesky app (Bluesky)

Bluesky, the social platform from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, is struggling to accommodate an influx of new users.

The service recently experienced record traffic following Elon Musk’s announcement that Twitter, now known as X, was ditching the ability to block people. As news of the divisive change spread, users flocked to Bluesky, causing its servers to give way.

Although it’s a nice problem to have for a fledgling app, Bluesky is now placing rate limits on certain actions. These include the amount of times people can change their password or update their user handles.

Wary of upsetting its fledgling user base of Twitter transplants, BlueSky says the new rate limits won’t affect the general experience on its service. That stands in contrast to the daily rate limits imposed by Twitter earlier this month, which effectively restricted the amount of posts people could view.

So what is Bluesky? Here’s all you need to know.

What is Bluesky?

Bluesky appeared on Apple’s iPhone App Store in February and an Android version was released in April.

At the time of writing, the only way to access the platform is by joining a waitlist or by grabbing an invite from someone who has already signed up.

Those who want to use Bluesky can input their email address at its website to join the queue.

In terms of its design, screenshots on the Bluesky App Store page show an interface very similar to that of Twitter. There are likes, retweet-like “reposts”, and comments on posts.

The app’s fledgling user base has even coined a phrase for Bluesky posts: skeets. This is a combination of the words “tweet” and “sky”. It also has a very NSFW meaning that we won’t share here.

The phrase is emblematic of the irreverent mood on the app; one article describes it as the opposite of professional networking platform LinkedIn.

However, the way the network operates in the background is quite different from its rivals.

Bluesky is a decentralised social app, meaning it operates off multiple servers run by multiple entities, rather than being controlled by a single company.  It uses a piece of technology called the AT Protocol to store your account data, effectively connecting up these “decentralised” elements.

If you have tried Mastodon, another Twitter alternative, you’ll have already experienced a decentralised social network.

How to get a Bluesky invite

Bluesky CEO Jay Graber has claimed 1.2 million people were on the waiting list after Musk took over Twitter. That figure is only likely to have climbed since.

But there may be a quicker way to get in. Existing Bluesky users are being sent invite codes, which lets anyone get started on the social network.

Some of these are being given away on Twitter, the very place those keenest to use Bluesky are fleeing from. A r/blueskyinvites subreddit has been established, and there’s also an invite thread in the r/BlueskySocial subreddit.

One seller was even attempting to offload Bluesky invites on eBay for £155 each. However, the post now seems to have been removed and we strongly recommend not paying for invites.

Bluesky’s rollout is quite slow, with the service having reached an estimated 20,000 users in mid-April. But this is in part to generate the hype that comes with scarcity, and to make sure the service’s servers don’t collapse through rapidly increasing demand.

Who is on Bluesky?

Since launching in February, the platform has quickly caught the eye of a number of rattled celebrities peeved by Elon Musk’s divisive management of Twitter.

Its current crop of luminaries include US Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has more than 13 million Twitter followers; model Chrissy Teigen, who has mocked Musk’s cull of Twitter blue ticks; and Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning director Christopher McQuarrie.

They’re joined by The Eternals star Kumail Nanjiani, Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright, and Moon director Duncan Jones.

Bluesky controversy

Bluesky came under fire in July for temporarily allowing users to register accounts containing racial slurs.

The app banned the offending account within 40 minutes of it being reported, and the company says that “the code that allowed this to occur was patched the same evening”.

But it comes amid wider concerns about racism and moderation on the platform.

“You have an incredibly bad anti-blackness problem on your platform,” wrote Scott Hirleman, host of the Data Mesh Radio podcast on a LinkedIn post addressing Bluesky’s executive team. “If you don’t want to run a social media platform, split the company in twain and go focus on the protocol and fund the platform with another team that cares.”

Bluesky’s community guidelines, emphasise that it does not allow behaviour that “targets people based on their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, nationality, disability, or sexual orientation.

“Our community guidelines reflect our values: that racism and harassment have no place on Bluesky, and we will continue to take action to uphold these policies,” the official Bluesky account wrote on the platform.

Is Bluesky a good Twitter alternative?

At a glance, this may look like former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reacting to Musk’s recent handling of Twitter. However, Dorsey announced Bluesky in December 2019, to attempt to tackle issues with social media that existed years ago.

One aim was to give the user more control, including over content recommended to them, while reducing the power of the platform holder.

Jack Dorsey in Miami, Florida (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Jack Dorsey in Miami, Florida (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Bluesky reportedly began with a team of five people and was spun off into its own independent company in 2022, with Dorsey on its board. It is unclear how involved he is in the day-to-day running of the company.

He has described the Bluesky app as being like a “web browser” that lets you explore the AT Protocol network. Here’s where we find the issue that turned some off Twitter alternative Mastodon.

It asks you to join a specific server, making the process seem less simple and more like a geekier online community such as Reddit. At present, it’s unclear how friendly Bluesky will seem to a less techy crowd, although the screenshots are at least promising.