Shortly after the Elon Musk takeover, users put their hopes on Mastodon, but the open-source Twitter alternative has not taken off as expected. Now, the strongest contender to replace it as the internet’s water cooler is the decentralized Bluesky.
Backed by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Bluesky looks a lot like Twitter down to its corporate colors. We spent a couple of weeks there and these are our main takeaways.
There are not a lot of people on there
Maybe the biggest hurdle preventing Bluesky from becoming the next huge thing on the internet is the fact that the platform is in a closed beta version. This means it’s a work in progress (more on that later) and that you can only get in there with an invite code. Users without an invitation can join an ever-growing waitlist that’s currently 1.9 million people long.
Having such a limited entry to the platform has resulted in a user base of only a little over 100,000—that’s not even 0.02 percent of Twitter’s monthly active users. It’s safe to say no one actually knows that many people, but it’s still a low-enough number to make Bluesky feel like a small place.
During our first two weeks on the platform, we kept seeing a low rotation of content and skeets (that’s what they’re unofficially called, much to the dismay of Bluesky’s CEO, Jay Graber) by the same users over and over again.
If you used Twitter to catch up on world events, you might find some of your go-to legacy media outlets haven’t made it to the platform or haven’t built their accounts just yet. For example, The New York Times only just appeared on Bluesky (at the time of writing it has 83 followers and no posts), while NPR has been there for a while, but shows no activity whatsoever.
If you’re a Twitter power user moving to Bluesky, you might miss the endless scrolling and a continuous feed of fresh posts. But maybe the overwhelming amount of tweets is exactly why you’re running away from the bird app, so the small user base could also be a benefit depending on how you look at it.
You might find it a nice and fun place
A party you can only attend when invited by somebody who’s already at the party is bound to become an echo chamber of like-minded people. And this is exactly what’s happening on Bluesky right now. Again, this can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it—or which side of the aisle you sit on.
Maybe because Twitter became an uncomfortable or straight-up unsafe place for some users, on Bluesky you’ll find a lot of politically liberal posters who are either part of the LGBTQ+ community or fully support it. You’ll find a lot of cute cat and dog content, memes, and users just nicely saying “Good morning” to the world.
If this is all reminiscent of the early days of Twitter it’s not because having such a clearly defined vibe is a unique experience, but something most platforms go through at the beginning, and a direct result of having such a small user base. It’s possible all of this changes once Bluesky comes out of beta and opens up to a wider audience.
It’s still in beta—and it shows
When in beta, apps are usually in a weird stage where they’re nearly formed but not quite there yet. Bluesky is currently in an adolescent phase, so users who have access to it are prone to stumble upon glitches and other aspects of the platform that need some development.
In our experience, this translated into either no new skeets generated throughout the day, to our What’s Hot or Popular with Friends feeds going into an updating frenzy that, if left alone, could go on for minutes. And this didn’t happen once, but repeatedly and almost every day. There is also a delay between you skeeting or reskeeting a post and it showing up on your profile, as well as outdated follower counts. Notifications were also glitchy, and sometimes they don’t go away immediately after you view them.
This is not to throw shade on Bluesky, as errors and interruptions are a normal occurrence in a beta program. But if you’re interested in joining the platform and manage to get an invite code, you should know that your experience will probably not be seamless. If, on the other hand, you have little patience with glitches, wait until the site opens up to the public, as you should expect smoother functionality then.
The similarities with Twitter can be confusing at first
Sometimes you’re walking down the street and someone in the distance looks familiar, but you have a hard time figuring out whether it’s that friend you met at your first job or a total stranger. The feeling is akin to when you first migrate from Twitter to Bluesky, mainly because the interfaces are undeniably reminiscent of each other. The colors are very much alike, and the page layout with a main feed flanked by two sidebars, is more or less the same. Even the order of the options on the main navigation sidebar is similar.
But that’s the problem: it’s similar but not quite the same. This will result in occasional confusion, especially while you figure out how feeds work. The structure of feeds, Bluesky’s way to sort content, is the main difference between the platform and the bird app. While on Twitter you have only two feeds (the messy, algorithmically-customized For You, and the old-school Following), Bluesky gives you three feeds by default:
- Following: A chronological timeline with all the skeets from the people you follow.
- What’s Hot: An algorithmically-curated timeline with the top trending skeets from all over Bluesky.
- Popular With Friends: A little bit of both above, this timeline compiles the top trending content among the people you follow.
You’ll find these feeds as tabs at the top of the Bluesky interface, but that’s just the beginning. On the left sidebar, you can go to My Feeds and open the settings menu (it looks like a cog icon) in the top right corner of the page to see, remove, and sort your feeds. You can hide them so they’re only available when you click on My Feeds, but you can also pin them to your home page so you can access them more easily.
To find a full list of feeds you might be interested in, click Discover new feeds at the bottom of the settings menu. Bluesky offers some official extra feeds while the rest is created by users. You’ll find a wide array of options: from some solely dedicated to pictures of cats, dogs, or flowers, to feeds filtered by language and other topics, like science, news, and health. There’s also one said to be dedicated to Alf from the TV show Alf, but if you add that feed, you’ll soon realize it has little to do with your favorite alien from Melmac.
As a Bluesky user, you can also create your own feeds (for you and other people to follow) but at the moment the process is not streamlined and requires coding know-how. The platform’s goal is to make feed-making more intuitive and create an “algorithm marketplace” so users have more control over what they see on Bluesky and how that content is sorted.
Bluesky takes content moderation seriously
Twitter has some very useful content moderation tools but if you’re not a power user you might not exactly know where to find them or how to use them. Bluesky put its content moderation tools front and center, and you can access them directly from the main left sidebar on the homepage—no diving into the settings menu required.
Go to Moderation and you’ll find some useful items. Muted accounts and Blocked accounts are self-explanatory: they’re the lists of the people you’ve filtered out of your feeds, and going here will allow you to edit that roster as you see fit.
Mute lists are an interesting addition—it allows you to create themed blacklists of accounts you can mute and unmute in bulk. For instance, if you identify a handful of users who tend to post spoilers, you can add them all to a list and avoid their posts around the time a season of your favorite show is coming to an end. You can then easily unmute them all in one go once you’re all caught up with the show by unsubscribing to your own mute list. The list will still be there, though, and you can subscribe to it again if you want to.
Finally, Content filtering is an intuitive menu where you can choose the level of filtering of sensitive content in your feeds. You can choose between Hide and Show (an all-or-nothing approach), or set the filter to warn you about certain types of posts. Bluesky offers granular options for sexual content, allowing you to choose the exact volume of Explicit sexual images, Other nudity (this includes non-sexual and artistic nudity), and Sexually suggestive content you’d like to see. The site doesn’t have a help site yet, so it is unclear whether these filters apply only to images or if they also include other types of posts. The platform also offers an option to filter out gorey content (Violent/bloody), but you won’t be able to be as granular as you can be when curating how many sexually charged posts you see in your feeds.
As far as Twitter alternatives go, the lack of a steep learning curve makes Bluesky a pretty good option, even if there are still some details left to tweak. But whether this is the platform that will take the bird app’s place, is still unclear. In the meantime, you can use Twitter to see if you can get an invite code—unless you’re willing to join the waitlist for who knows how much longer.