Jack Dorsey’s Twitter alternative Bluesky reaches closed beta

Twitter’s ex-boss, perhaps unhappy with what Elon Musk is doing with the platform he used to head up, has built a competitor. Bluesky app is invite-only so far, but will soon join the field of rivals to the controversial social media platform.

There’s a waitlist where users have to submit their email addresses, in the hope of one day receiving an invite to join. The closed beta is only available on the App Store, and only US residents can join.

Bluesky closely resembles Twitter – down to the timeline and profile pages. This should not be surprising, as the new platform originated from Twitter as a side project, back when Jack Dorsey was still its chief executive.

Dorsey reportedly saw Bluesky as a more open alternative to a Twitter that was becoming increasingly centralized. After Bluesky spun off as its own company and Musk took over Twitter in 2022, Dorsey said he believed social media should be free of corporate or government control, and that only authors should have the power to remove their content.

It’s worth remembering that Dorsey approved the decision by Twitter to ban US ex-president Donald Trump after the riot in Washington in January 2021. However, he has since expressed worry that a precedent has been created.

At first look, only minor differences between Bluesky and Twitter are visible. For example, when Twitter asks “What’s happening?”, Bluesky inquires “What’s up?”

Everything else on the surface looks familiar. You can search for and follow other users, and view their posts on a ‘home’ timeline. Creating posts is easier, though – you simply select a “plus” button. And, as with Twitter, your post can include a photo.

Bluesky is powered by the open-source Authenticated Transfer (AT) Protocol. It’s described by the app creators as a “federated social network” where separate networks exist within a single hub.

The BlueSky app. Image by Bluesky.

“It’s a way for servers to communicate with each other – like email. Instead of one site running the network, you can have many sites. It means you get a choice of provider, and individuals and businesses can self-host if they want,” Bluesky said in a blog last year.

“A person’s online identity should not be owned by corporations with no accountability to their users. With the AT Protocol, you can move your account from one provider to another without losing any of your data or social graph.”

This sounds quite similar to another Twitter rival, Mastodon. This app, named after an extinct breed of mammoth, is installed on thousands of computer servers – “instances” that are largely run by volunteer administrators who join their systems together in a “federation.” The latter constitutes a sort of a public sphere beyond the control of a single entity.

Mastodon’s boom started shortly after Musk bought Twitter, when its monthly active users climbed from 380,000 to 2.5 million. However, this tally had dropped to 1.4 million by January, and is still dropping. It remains to be seen what happens with Bluesky.

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