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What is Bluesky? Chief exec says Twitter / X rival will open ‘discussions’

Bluesky app (Bluesky)
Bluesky app (Bluesky)

Bluesky’s chief executive has said that the Twitter rival will not go over the top with adverts as the social media network opens up to more users.

Until now, the platform had only admitted users who were sent an invite – but the hub has now allowed sign-ups from Joe public.

It means that potential users no longer need to be the proverbial son of a user (or save the life of a member) and can just download the app or sign up on the website.

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was on the team behind the launch of Bluesky in October 2021 and it was set up around the time Elon Musk was taking over what he has now called X.

Jay Graber has been the chief executive from the off and announced last week that it would be opening its doors to the masses.

Alas, you could argue that Bluesky has missed the boat by restricting access to its platform for so long. Yes, Twitter is still as problematic as it’s always been under Musk, but the noise around it has died down in recent months.

Meanwhile, Facebook owner Meta has taken away some of Bluesky’s sheen with the launch of Threads. The social platform amassed 100 million users in record time, proving there was room for a genuine Twitter rival.

But Graber has said that Bluesky has merits that make it worthy of your time.

She told Wired: “It's very playful and chaotic. Especially over the past year, we've had a very high poster-to-lurker ratio. On most social apps, people are just looking at content. Here, there's a lot of people posting and talking.”

Another plus is that it will introduce adverts at a slow and moderate rate – and will not, as she put it, “enshittify” the network.

“There will always be free options, and we can't enshittify the network with ads,” she said.

“This is where federation comes in. The fact that anyone can self-host and anyone can build on the software means that we'll never be able to degrade the user experience in a way where people want to leave.”

What is Bluesky?

Bluesky appeared on Apple’s iPhone App Store in February 2023 and an Android version was released in April.

Until now, the only way to access the platform was by joining a waitlist or by grabbing an invite from someone who had already signed up.

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.

Who is on Bluesky?

Following its launch, the platform quickly caught the eye of a number of rattled celebrities peeved by 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.

Why did Bluesky use invites?

Bluesky CEO Jay Graber previously claimed that 1.2 million people were on the waiting list after Musk took over Twitter.

At its peak, invites were being given away on Twitter, the very place those keenest to use Bluesky are fleeing from. A r/blueskyinvites subreddit was also established, and there was an invite thread in the r/BlueskySocial subreddit.

One seller even attempted to offload Bluesky invites on eBay for £155 each, before his listing was removed.

Bluesky’s rollout has been slow, with the service having reached an estimated 20,000 users in last 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.

Is Bluesky a good Twitter alternative?

At a glance, this may look like former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey reacting to Musk’s 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.

Bluesky controversy

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

Bluesky previously banned an 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”.

Numerous racist, ableist, and transphobic slurs have also been removed from its list of flagged words in a contentious update in July.

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.