The social network Bluesky has been around since November 2022, but until Tuesday, it was by invitation only. Wannabe users had to know a current Bluesky user who would pass along a numerical code before the new person could join. Now anyone who’s interested can sign up to use the site, no code required. And that appears to be helping Bluesky bloom: The site announced Wednesday that more than a million new users had signed up since the site opened to all. That’s 1,000,179 to be exact, and those newbies are added to the more than 3 million folks who were already on the site.
“For the past year, we used invite codes to help us manage growth while we built features like moderation tooling, custom feeds, and more,” says Tuesday’s blog post on the site. “Now, we’re ready for anyone to join.”
Bluesky is a social-media platform that shares many similarities with X, formerly Twitter. X underwent a number of changes after billionaire owner Elon Musk bought the site and retired legacy blue check marks showing verified accounts and reinstated previously banned accounts, as well as starting a new subscription program. Some former users are seeking an alternative, and according to The New York Times, users say Bluesky is the app that comes closest to mimicking X.
A cartoon in Tuesday’s blog post shows an apocalyptic landscape depicting other social media platforms filled with bots and money scams, and goes on to show Bluesky as a peaceful landscape where users can discuss news, science and art, and share cat pictures.
Although the invite-only model has hampered Bluesky from reaching all interested parties, things could change now that it’s open to all. Here’s a look at what you need to know.
How do I sign up?
It’ll ask for your email address and phone number (to send an authentication code) and tell you to choose a username and password. Then you’re in.
How is Bluesky similar to X and Threads?
I’ve been using Bluesky for about six months, and I can say that if you’re accustomed to X, Bluesky’s design and purpose should make sense to you.
The site uses vertically scrolling messages with small round photo avatars for users and icons under messages showing how many comments, likes and reposts they’ve received. It looks pretty similar to X’s format and Meta’s Threads.
Who’s behind it?
Even Bluesky’s name is related to X’s former name. Dorsey confirmed a Bluesky user’s speculation that the name ties in to Twitter’s bird mascot, the idea being the bird could fly even more freely in an open blue sky. Even though the name of the site doesn’t capitalize the S in “sky,” it’s pronounced “blue sky.” Don’t rhyme it with “brewski.”
The app is built on something called the authenticated transport protocol, or AT, a social media framework created by the company and made up of a network of many different sites.
And how is Bluesky different?
Domains as handles
For one thing, you can set your domain as your handle, if you wish. This could help with verification, which became a heated issue for Twitter once Musk began removing blue check marks from verified accounts that refused to pay a monthly fee.
“For example, a newsroom like NPR could set their handle to be @npr.org,” the Bluesky Social company blog notes. “Then, any journalists that NPR wants to verify could use subdomains to set their handles to be @name.npr.org. Brand accounts could set their handle to be their domain as well.”
Moderation is also different. Another blog post says that Bluesky is already using automated moderating, and is working on a system of community labeling, which is described as “something similar to shared mute/block lists.”
Users of many social media platforms are shown posts from a feed selected for them by an algorithm, though you can influence that by following or blocking certain accounts. But Bluesky wants to give you a chance to pick from a variety of different algorithms to determine what you see.
You can mute accounts, which prevents you from seeing any notifications or top-level posts from them, or you can block accounts, which takes that a step further, meaning you and the other account both cannot see or interact with each other’s posts. And you can report posts or accounts for abuse.
It’s possible that creators who acquire a following on Bluesky might one day be able to keep connections with those who follow them, even if the service itself changes.
Algorithms are the rules that determine how content is filtered and recommended to users. Bluesky has something it calls custom feeds, which allows you to choose the algorithm that determines what you see.
“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,” a blog post on the site says. A longer post goes into more detail about custom feeds and algorithmic choice. Click the hashtag icon on the bottom of the app to add and discover new feeds.
Right now, developers can use the site’s feed generator starter kit to create a custom feed, and the site promises that eventually, the tools will be easy enough that the rest of us can build custom feeds.
NBC News reporter Ben Collins tweeted that Bluesky “works and looks and feels just like (Twitter),” and praised the site’s “moderation, desktop experience and reliability.”
The site has a 3.5 out of 5 star rating on the Apple App Store. “Feels like early Twitter days, but more organic,” wrote one reviewer.
Who’s using it?
Here’s a small list of some of the people and groups you’ll see posting on Bluesky, though some post more than others.