Twitter X alternative Bluesky is now open to everyone
If you’re looking to hedge your fan marketing bet on Twitter or exit the chaotic social network altogether, Bluesky could be the answer.
Bluesky is now open to anyone without an invite. And a bunch of other exciting things are coming soon.
As many of you know, I’ve been pretty excited about where Bluesky is going as a social media offering, not just because of the people who have been using it (who have mostly been great, making it a fun place to hang out these days), but because of the concepts behind it.
Bluesky was originally seeded by Jack Dorsey in response to his reading my Protocols, Not Platformspaper. The project moved along (somewhat slowly) for a few years. While Dorsey funded it, and the idea was that Twitter would eventually adopt the protocol, it was created as a wholly independent company, which initially had a contract with Twitter. The whole concept was finally picking up steam, just as Elon bought Twitter and cancelled the company’s relationship with Bluesky.
From there, the company quickly pivoted to release a reference app of its own, to give people a sense of how you could build a social media network that wasn’t awful and wasn’t confusing. But, because of the rush to set up their own network, and the numerous features it didn’t yet have ready (e.g., in the early days there was no “block” feature at all), it was setup as a closed beta, where you needed an invite to use the system.
Even with that invite system, Bluesky grew to over 3.2 million users (not all of whom have stuck around, but the network keeps growing). Over the past year, Bluesky has built out a number of new features, both ones to reach parity with what’s expected of most social networks, as well as some unique (and important) ones.
For example, the company has added some (still early) features that give users much more control over their experience: composable moderation and algorithmic choice. Composable moderation lets users set some of their own preferences for what they want to encounter on social media, rather than leaving it entirely up to a central provider. Some people are more willing to see sexual content, for example.
But, the algorithmic choice is perhaps even more powerful. Currently, people talk a lot about “the algorithm” and now most social networks give you one single algorithm of what they think you’ll want to see. There is often a debate among people about “what’s better: a chronological feed or the algorithmically generated feed” from the company. But that’s always been thinking too small.
With Bluesky’s algorithmic choice, anyone can make or share their own algorithms and users can choose what algorithms they want to use. In my Bluesky, for example, I have a few different algorithms that I can choose to recommend interesting stuff to me. One of them, developed by an outside developer (i.e., not Bluesky), Skygaze, is a “For You” feed that… is actually good? Unlike centralized social media, Skygaze’s goal with its feed is not to improve engagement numbers for Bluesky.
I also have feeds showing me “quiet posters” (calling attention to posts from users who don’t post all that often) or posts that are “popular with friends.” I have a few different topic-focused algorithms as well, including one highlighting breaking stories from journalists, and others highlighting posts from folks interested in tech law and policy.
In other words, rather than letting Bluesky curate my experience (or leaving it up to the whims of a chronological feed), I get to curate the experience myself, with help for anyone else who is creating and releasing their own feed algorithms.
And all of that is about to get even better. Because Bluesky also announced that they’re opening up their moderation system as well, to enable a similar sort of feature for moderation:
In the coming weeks, we’re excited to release the labeling services which will allow users to stack more options on top of their existing moderation preferences. This will allow other organizations and people to run their own moderation services that can account for industry-specific knowledge or specific cultural norms, among other preferences.
One potential use case for labeling is fact-checking. For example, a fact-checking organization can run a labeling service and mark posts as “partially false,” “misleading,” or other categories. Then, users who trust this organization can subscribe to their labels. As the user scrolls through posts in the app, any labels that the fact-checking organization publishes will be visible on the post itself. This helps in the effective distribution of the fact-check and keeps users better informed.
I expect that we’ll begin to see a lot of innovation there as well.
In addition, the company has said that it is finally rolling out its long awaited federation features. While Bluesky and its underlying ATProtocol was always designed to be a federated network, to date, the only real way to use Bluesky was to rely on Bluesky’s servers. There are some amazing third party clients (Deck.blue is an astoundingly great Tweetdeck-like multi-column client), but they’re still just showing you what’s on Bluesky’s servers.
But that’s changing:
This month, we’ll be rolling out an experimental early version of “federation,” or the feature that makes the network so open and customizable. On Bluesky, you’ll have the freedom to choose (and the right to leave) instead of being held to the whims of private companies or black box algorithms. And wherever you go, your friends and relationships can go with you.
I know that a lot of people hear “federation” and worry that it will be confusing and complex, as it often feels on something like Mastodon (though, Mastodon has put a lot of effort into making that experience better). But Bluesky is building from the ground up with a plan to make the federation aspect as seamless as possible.
All of this is pretty exciting. Yesterday, I spoke to Will Oremus at the Washington Post as he was working on an article about Bluesky opening up, and I said something to him (which didn’t make his article) but I think is important. I mentioned that I’ve always believed that there were two ways to make a “protocols” approach to social media work: (1) convince a big company to move away from a centralized system or (2) have someone use a protocol based system to build something that was just, fundamentally, at its core better.
Both approaches have challenges to succeed. But I think it’s fascinating that Bluesky started as (1), but has very much moved to (2) (and, of course, it’s notable that I never included “have a narcissist billionaire ruin one major platform that people kinda liked” as a third option for how this might work).
It’s still a long way to go to see if Bluesky succeeds, and there are oh so many ways it could go wrong. But the inclusion of composable moderation and algorithmic feeds already gives me a way better experience than any other social media platform, and it does so not in the service of any billionaire, but rather in service of me, the user. And that is incredibly encouraging as a start.
And, given the open nature of ATProtocol, it also means that if Bluesky fucks it up, and doesn’t actually continue to build in this direction, others have the ability to make it better for them (and for everyone).
To celebrate opening up, Bluesky teamed up with artist Davis BIckford to create a lovely comic explaining why Bluesky is different, and why it matters. You can see the whole thing in Bluesky’s post on opening up, but here’s just a snippet.
I know lots of people like to crap on social media. And I’ve heard a bunch of people insist that Bluesky is too late to the party, or that Threads will kill it or some-such. And, hey, that may be true. But right now, it’s a place that offers a fantastic user experience, which puts you in control more than any other. And, once federation opens up you don’t even have to worry about it being in service to a single company or a single billionaire.