Bluesky, the Twitter alternative backed by Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, has hit the App Store and more testers are getting access. While the app is still available as an invitation-only beta, the arrival of the App Store indicates that a public launch could be imminent.
We haven’t heard much from Bluesky since October 2022, when the team behind the project shared an update on the Bluesky blog, detailing the status of the social protocol that powers the new Twitter-like app, dubbed Bluesky.
AT (originally called ADX or “Authenticated Transfer Protocol”) is Bluesky’s flagship effort, while the Bluesky mobile app serves to showcase the protocol in action. Similar to the ActivityPub protocol that powers Mastodon, AT offers the ability to create a federated and decentralized social network. However, there has been some criticism of the project, particularly from Mastdon and other developers, who pointed out that ActivityPub — a recommended W3C standard — already powers a large and growing “Fediverse” of interconnected servers.
And That Fediverse gained popularity following Musk’s acquisition of Twitter as users left the microblogging network to try the open source, decentralized alternative, Mastodon. The latter has also benefited from the work of former third-party Twitter app developers who have since rolled out polished Mastodon clients like Ivory and Mammoth, most recently.
Other companies have also committed to or at least talked about embracing the ActivityPub standard, including Flipboard, which announced its plans today, as well as Medium, Tumblr, and possibly Flickr.
Where that leaves Bluesky’s future is unclear.
The Bluesky project, now a public benefit company, was originally incubated within Twitter in 2019 when Jack Dorsey was CEO. While this was well before the sale of the company to current owner Elon Musk, more recently the two executives had discussed the idea of an open source protocol over SMS prior to Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.
In texts, Dorsey explained to Musk that a “new platform is needed. It can’t be a business. This is why I left [Twitter].” (Dorsey left the CEO role at the social network in November 2021, but remained on Twitter’s board until May 2022.)
Shortly after relinquishing his CEO duties, Dorsey took to Twitter to speak publicly about Bluesky, describing it as “an open decentralized social media standard.” That discussion had taken place around that time Dorsey shared his thoughts Twitter’s decision to ban President Trump from its platform. Bluesky, he believed, would diminish the ability of large, centralized platforms — like Twitter — to have so much power to decide which users and communities would be allowed to participate in speech and who would be responsible for moderating that content.
Get started with Bluesky
Now the Bluesky app is public and some users are invited to try it. According to app intelligence agency data.ai, the Bluesky iOS app debuted on Feb. 17, 2023, and has somewhere north of 2,000 installs. Given the invite-only status, this probably only represents the newly added beta testers at this point. The app is not yet on any top list in the US and is not available on Google Play.
We received an invite to the service and found it to be a functional, if still rather bare-bones, Twitter-like experience.
Users create an entry that then appears as @username.bsky.social, as well as the display name appearing more prominently in bold text, like on Twitter.
As a brand new app, Bluesky’s list of suggested users didn’t immediately impress with big names of public figures during onboarding. Mastodon, meanwhile, has managed to attract more high-profile individuals in the wake of the Musk-induced Twitter exodus, by comparison.
The app itself offers a simplified user interface where you can click a plus button to create a 256-character message, including photos. (Though, unlike Mastodon, it doesn’t prompt you for alt text for accessibility’s sake).
Where Twitter asks, “What’s happening?”, Bluesky asks, “How are you?”
You can find and follow other people just like you do on Twitter, then view their updates in a Home timeline. User profiles contain the same kind of features you’d expect: a profile picture, background, bio, and stats like the number of followers and posts a user has, as well as how many people they follow. Profile feeds are also divided into two sections, like Twitter: Posts and Posts & Replies.
Bluesky users can share, mute, and block accounts, but advanced tools, such as adding to lists, are not yet available.
The Discover tab in the bottom center of the app’s navigation is useful, offering more “who to follow” suggestions and a running feed of recently posted Bluesky updates. The latter gives you the ability to find more people you might want to follow, based on their posts rather than just a bio.
Posts themselves can be replied to, retweeted, liked and, from a three-dot menu, reported, shared to other apps via the iOS Share Sheet, or copied as text.
Another tab lets you view your notifications, including likes, reposts, followers, and replies, just like Twitter. There are no DMs.
The app encountered a bug when we tested, which showed errors when you sometimes tried to click in different sections, but a Bluesky developer replied to our post that a fix would be forthcoming within the hour. (Since Bluesky isn’t open to the public, this is easy to forgive.)
There’s something ironic about leaving Twitter to use an app that looks and feels so much like Twitter, right down to Jack Dorsey’s posts musing on product issues like “density of information,” character count, or in-app -navigation. Bluesky’s bigger promise is the new AT protocol assistive technology, but the app itself feels like a stripped-down Twitter.
In a way, it’s nice to be away from Twitter’s mean tweets, crypto scams, and hunting posts (also from the new owner). But there are already so many Twitter clones in the works, including those that have yet to be publicly launched, such as T2, Spill, and Post; it’s hard to imagine making time to use another app as well. (Sure, if Twitter adopted AT, things could get more interesting. But who knows what Musk is up to these days.)
No doubt some aren’t sold on the promise that the web needs another decentralized protocol that serves the same purpose as ActivityPub. After all, a million little Fediverses isn’t the decentralized web of our dreams.
Bluesky declined to comment or answer questions about the app and beta, noting that it’s not getting press at this point because it’s focused on bug fixes.