Early days experiences on Bluesky

Bluesky Android app in Google Play.

Just over three weeks ago, I signed up for Bluesky, the new social networking service started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and currently in private beta for users who join via an invitation code from someone who already signed up. The company will open a public beta on a currently-unknown date in the future for which you can add your name now to a waitlist.

Since the Bluesky private beta opened in February 2023, it’s become one of the most desired online destinations with high-profile users and a few celebrities piling in – so much so that invitation codes are a hot item for sale on Ebay with asking prices reaching the hundreds of dollars, pounds and euros.

Currently, the level of hype surrounding Bluesky is off the scale, putting it squarely at the peak of inflated expectations.

What’s clear, though, is that Bluesky continues attracting attention, desire, and new users to the private beta. Overall, mainstream media reporting on Bluesky is very largely positive. The result is steady but sure growth to the point that it passed 105,000 users in early June. I joined on May 9: then, it had about 70,000 users.

Blueskay user growth

From less than 60K users at the start of May, to more than 105K in early June.

Remember, this is still a private beta where it’s far too soon to think about phrases like ‘daily active users’ or, in Twitter parlance, ‘monetizable daily active users.’ Is that ever the ugliest of phrases! And Twitter currently has about 237 million of them (which I guess includes me as I’m still there).

The Bluesky platform itself is still in development with frequent changes, and the mobile apps for Android and iOS are updated regularly with bug fixes and improvements. There’s also a desktop app as well now.

While it has many similarities to Twitter in terms of look and feel, Bluesky doesn’t yet have a comparable feature list other than the basics – how to create and post messages, ‘like’ others’ posts, share them, etc. At present, there is no direct-messaging function nor any means to embed videos, two of the most-used functions on Twitter, nor can you set your profile as private.

Twitter’s been going for 17 years, don’t forget, Bluesky for little over six months.

Yet in the midst of such current-minimalism and constant change, people are taking part in a great experiment to help create an online presence that gives them something more/different/better/new than they currently get in other places online, whether it’s Twitter or somewhere else.

It’s worth noting one important aspect of Bluesky in this regard. While most people might think of Bluesky as a social network, it’s actually more of a technical project, an initiative to develop a decentralized social network protocol called the AT Protocol, and an associated social networking service. So it’s much more than a social network.

AT Protocol - Introducing the Social Internet

And incidentally, one thing I see on Bluesky that’s different is few people talking about Bluesky and Twitter comparisons, something I see all the time on Mastodon.

From now to coming soon

In my Bluesky usage over the past three weeks, I’ve had a good opportunity to kick the tyres and get a good feeling for this familiar-but-different place that I could see becoming my new outpost on the embryonic social Internet.

  • I edited this post on June 9, updating information regarding my Bluesky handle which I changed to @nevillehobson.xyz. Most screenshots show the old handle, @airstrip1.uk.

A few days after I signed up, I posted some initial impressions of Bluesky. Since then, I’ve learned quite a bit; here are a few further thoughts and perspectives.

1: A guide for users. The Bluesky team published a Bluesky User FAQ in mid-May. If you’re new, this is a good first port of call. If you’re not yet here, it’s worth looking at to see how things currently work on Bluesky.

2: Use a domain you own as your Bluesky handle, instead of the default ‘@yourname.bsky.social’. It’s quite easy to set up, even to change your existing handle from a default one to your own domain (and know why you would want to do that). The tutorial explains how. It’s a move I made in May (and again on June 9). On a simple level, it’s a big personalisation step but the real value will be seen in the future when the AT Protocol starts to have an impact.

3: No support for hashtags yet. This is a mixed blessing. But I’m sure support will come at some point because of the innate usefulness of hashtags in search and as a tool to focus attention on a given topic. There’s also the fact that hashtags are widely used on other platforms and familiarity exists already. Perhaps asking for it might help.

4: Choose custom feeds to follow. This may well be one of the biggest features that will differentiate Bluesky from other would-be Twitter alternatives. This is the polar opposite of algorithms where the platform automatically creates lists of posts from your behaviour, and a lot else, based on analyses of lots of data about what you do on the network and who you’re connected to, such as how Twitter works. As Bluesky explains in the User FAQ:

Custom feeds is a feature on Bluesky that allows you to pick the algorithm that powers your social media experience. Imagine you want your timeline to only be posts from your mutuals, or only posts that have cat photos, or only posts related to sports — you can simply pick your feed of choice from an open marketplace.

Bluesky, May 19, 2023

If you’re a developer you can create your own feeds. Blueskey says a feature for users to do this themselves is forthcoming.

5: Sharing information to Bluesky is still a manual process. We’re very much used to being able to share a news item to a social network like Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook by clicking or tapping an icon or button on the source website or other place. You can’t do that on Bluesky.

You also can’t do things like embed tweets from Twitter or other social networks, although the platform now lets you include visual references in Bluesky posts you create much like the cards you have on Twitter. Also, you can’t embed Bluesky posts on websites (such as in this article, hence only screenshots) that you can do with posts from Twitter and other networks. No doubt this is due to the private nature of the current beta: you also notice it when sharing someone’s post on Bluesky which you won’t be able to see unless you’re logged in to your own Bluesky account. And there are no share buttons anywhere on any websites yet.

The infrastructure for such things isn’t in place yet, and I wouldn’t expect some of it to be until development in the Bluesky public beta is well advanced. So for now, it’s a manual copy-and-paste job of article titles, URLs, etc, into the edit panel when you create a new post.

While I can see Bluesky as a realistic alternative to Twitter for individuals, even basing such a view just on this private beta test, it’s far too early to make any concrete or credible predictions. There is too much unknown, especially thinking about what Bluesky might look and feel like if it were to assume the mantle of a mass social networking medium with tens of millions of users, something I don’t really foresee in the immediate future considering their current roadmap.

Plus, consider what others may be planning. For instance, it appears that Meta, owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is developing a Twitter-like decentralised social network.

Is Bluesky a place for businesses or political groups?

In a word, no, it’s not. Bluesky’s terms of service contain wording that might restrict or prohibit some activities by people representing organisations.

For instance:

Bluesky grants to you a limited, non-exclusive, non-transferable license, with no right to sublicense, to download and install the App on a mobile device that you own or control and to run the App solely for your own personal non-commercial purposes.

Bluesky Terms of Service

Even if Bluesky becomes such a place as it develops and the terms of service change, I don’t see it as an attractive or sustainable place for business and other advertisers if they continue the business models we currently see elsewhere. It’s not a place for businesses or organisations in the way Twitter is (or better said, was in the relative normality prior to the Elon Musk era).

That’s largely based on demographic profiling, data capturing and algorithmic procedures, all legitimate activities – setting aside appallingly-bad practices with people’s privacy and data under the guise of legitimacy – but anathema to most of the users on Bluesky (I’d say) and their reasons for being there.

So while you will find individual politicians, mostly American at the moment, you won’t find businesses, political parties, governments, activists, non-profits, etc, on Bluesky if they don’t comply with all the conditions in the terms of use.

Experiment with no pressure

One thing I’m sure of is that it’s worth exploring Bluesky, seeing how it works, seeing who’s there and making your own connections. It really is very much like Twitter was in its earliest days in 2006-2007, a time of relative innocence and one of openness, trustworthiness and authenticity that has greatly diminished in recent years. Think about what the AT Protocol will do in terms of user verification.

If you do join Bluesky, it could be part of your individual Twitter escape plan if pursuing an alternative option is what you want. Otherwise, just enjoy your unfettered, unpressured freedom.

"I've totally neglected Mastodon since I joined Bluesky."

This is not about seeing the world through a cloud of nostalgia and winding back the clock. Those early Twitter days are in the past, part of history, something to learn from.

My advice is to sign up when you can, be yourself, feel liberated and not pressured to perform; explore, connect with new and old connections alike, and see what natural social behaviours can bring you, for yourself and those you connect with in this refreshingly different environment.

Undoubtedly there’s a lot more to talk about that I’ll save for my next ‘Bluesky report card’ post.

If you have questions or comments about Bluesky, I’m happy to help you address them. If you’re already on Bluesky, I’m at https://bsky.app/profile/nevillehobson.xyz. If you’re not there yet, well, Twitter or Mastodon are the other best public places to find me.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.