Since Elon Musk completed his acquisition of Twitter last October, much discussion has ensued on finding an alternative social networking platform where unhappy Twitter users could migrate from Twitter and leave the uncertainty and chaos behind. In the past month, one name has gathered significant momentum and come to the head of attention – Bluesky.
Bluesky is a new social network founded by Jack Dorsey, one of the three founders of Twitter, built very much to look and feel like Twitter although it is not owned by nor is it a part of Twitter. It has not been released publicly yet but has attracted extraordinary attention and a surge in popularity in recent weeks on a wave of hype across the entire media landscape, mainstream and social, around the world.
Anyone can sign up on a waitlist for access to a Bluesky beta programme when that’s available. What’s been a big driver in the hype is that you can gain access to an exclusive pre-beta test now if you have a special invitation code, typically secured from someone already with access.
As you can imagine, that kind of exclusivity – added to a FOMO factor and opinions, screenshots and more being shared across the social web from people with access – is almost guaranteed to keep the hype boiling and drive the attention stream onward. In a supply-meets-demand situation, there are even invitation codes being offered for sale or auction on eBay and elsewhere.
I’d say you’ll be taking some major chances if you go the route of buying a code.
Earlier this week, I secured an invitation code for the pre-beta test from Drew Benvie – a good friend, and the best route. I’ve been setting out my stall on this would-be Twitter replacement and I’ve begun kicking the tyres.
My very first impression is that Bluesky really does look and feel just like Twitter. The design, the layout, and the actions you take to create and post a message, like others’ messages, share posts, etc, will be highly familiar to every Twitter user who comes here.
To begin, I installed the Bluesky app on my Android smartphone via a download from Google Play. If you have an iPhone, it’s a similar procedure with a download from the App Store. There is no app for Windows yet, but there is for Macs via the App Store.
I actually wasn’t keen at all on having to use only my phone or tablet for this. I primarily use social networking on my desktop or laptop PCs running Windows 11, not on a mobile device which I use when not at my desk. Luckily, with a little sleuthing and help from a new Bluesky acquaintance, I found the solution to using Bluesky with a browser on a computer once you know what your precise handle address is. (I haven’t found this documented anywhere so I may write up a quick how-to? unless one appears.)
So I’m happily using Bluesky in the Chrome browser on my computers. As with other social networks I use, I also have the app on my phone and tablet so I’ve covered all my bases.
Being as this is very much beta software, there isn’t a huge amount of documentation or explainers to help you – and so something that looks familiar to what you already know will be helpful. It all can be a bit buggy although the worst I’ve experienced so far is slow page loads from time to time. I have found tweeting (sorry, old habits are hard to stop) a question asking how to do something will typically get quick replies.
It reminds me a little of Twitter back in the beginning days in 2006 and the following few years where other users’ help was always there and the fail whale was your constant companion. Everything was an experiment!
And so, I have set up my account. I’ve posted more than 20 messages, some with images. I’ve started following a few dozen other users, nearly all of whom weren’t known to me before, and I have about 40 people following me so far. Not a bad start in just a few days.
It’s important to remember that, while this looks and feels very much like Twitter, it’s only just starting and does not have the infrastructure surrounding Twitter that’s been constructed and refined over the past 17 years. On a fundamental level, there’s no support yet for direct messages, hashtags or embedding videos, for example. This is pre-beta, don’t forget, although I’d expect such fundamentals to improve well before the time it gets to full public launch.
Is Bluesky an alternative to Twitter?
A low barrier to entry (once Bluesky actually launches) and a shallow learning curve will likely be two major influences on people looking for an alternative to Twitter that is familiar and where they can get going pretty quickly.
If you are seriously looking for somewhere other than Twitter, is Bluesky the place for you? As ever, the answer to such a question will inevitably start, “It depends.”
It depends on what you want from an alternative to Twitter and why you wish to leave Twitter. I think for many people, maybe most, a major driver will be to escape from the chaos and uncertainty about Twitter and what’s been happening recently, eg mass layoffs of key staff and constant changes to the platform often with unintended or unexpected consequences, and the removal of Twitter verification and replacing it with a paid-for service called Twitter Blue. Others will say that Twitter under Elon Musk’s leadership is not a place they want to be. Others will talk about decentralisation and getting away from manipulated content and the overt selling of things. And still others do not want to be on a social network full of – as the euphemism goes – bad actors.
As I’ve written here over the past year, I worry about all of the above, yet I remain on Twitter. The reason is partly related to my work where being present on Twitter is important. It’s also that I’ve been on Twitter since December 2006 so giving up my presence there isn’t something I will do lightly.
I do have an escape plan so if push comes to shove requiring an exit in a hurry, or I reach a point where I want to leave of my own accord, I am ready for that.
Whether Bluesky is an alternative to Twitter, for individual users it’s not yet because it’s in a pre-beta stage, it’s a closed private network, and it has no infrastructure to speak of yet nor ecosystem of communities and developers – such things take time to build.
If you would join Bluesky to represent your company or organization, then no, it’s certainly not ready for that yet either, other than for establishing a footprint there and testing the waters. If you have this in mind, you might want to read Drew Benvie’s article in PR Week this week (behind a paywall) in which he discusses Bluesky’s potential in the PR world. Also see the 4 things for PR pros to know about Bluesky report in PR Week, published last week.
What of other potential alternatives to Twitter, eg, Mastodon or Post.News to name but two? I’ve used both and I’m active on Mastodon and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Mastodon would be my primary choice if I were looking to move from Twitter – it has enjoyed huge growth over the past year and already has a developing infrastructure and ecosystem in place.
This was my choice right up until Bluesky emerged as a potential alternative. It may become an actual and viable alternative once it’s progressed into formal beta testing and features and functionality improve.
You might conclude that this picture doesn’t do well at presenting a clear alternative to Twitter. To be sure, the picture isn’t clear yet. I see this as a time for discovery and experimentation. Most people aren’t into all the tech that underpins many of the new offerings that have emerged where the word ‘decentralised‘ is commonly spoken. This word applies to Bluesky and this will be more important in the coming years as proving you are who you say you are requires verification quickly and seamlessly, all with no fuss. That’s what decentralisation will help deliver among other things.
There’s also a matter of major importance to many people, which is all about the people who found and run the infrastructure of the community you join and their role in creating a safe place for its users, the people in that community who you engage with, and your overall experience.
For many people, these are among the failings at Twitter and the primary reasons why they want to leave. Expect more ups and downs with Twitter in the coming weeks following an announcement yesterday that Elon Musk has hired a new CEO.
I would recommend checking out Bluesky when you can – right now if you want to be at the bleeding edge and if you can get an invitation code. Or join the waitlist for the public beta launch. Or, wait for the actual full launch.
I’ll continue my own exploration of Bluesky, getting to know the pros and cons and building up a community of my own, and report my further experiences in this blog.
I like Bluesky because of its familiarity with what has been an excellent tool for communicating and engaging with others online over the years. That’s Twitter even if it always has been an imperfect tool, one that in my view has rapidly declined in trustworthiness since Elon Musk arrived on the scene.
If you’re already on Bluesky and would like to connect, you’ll find me here:
https://bsky.app/profile/jangles.bsky.social [26/5/23: I changed my handle, now using a domain I own: https://bsky.app/profile/airstrip1.uk. The previous handle is no longer valid.]
Bluesky might be the reset starter that so clearly is needed now where reputation, trust, trustworthiness and authenticity really do matter to everyone, individuals and businesses alike.