clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What is Bluesky, and why is everyone on Twitter talking about it?

The invite-only, decentralized new social network, explained.

A cellphone displaying the app Bluesky.
Twitter alternative Bluesky is catching on.
Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

As Elon Musk continues to make drastic changes to Twitter, a new competitor called Bluesky is rising up — and an invite to it is the hottest social media ticket in town.

Originally started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Bluesky has recently taken off with an influential crew of media and celebrities. Some of the big names that have joined in the past few days include New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Chrissy Teigen, Twitter comedic legend Dril, and prominent journalists from publications like the New York Times and CNN. On Thursday, Bluesky said that Thursday represented its biggest single-day jump in new users that it had experienced so far, up 100 percent from the day before.

“A/s/l?” posted Teigen on Friday morning — referencing the early internet chatroom acronym — in the kind of inside online humor that’s popular on the platform.

One of Chrissy Teigen’s first posts on Bluesky.
screenshot of Bluesky

Part of the app’s appeal is its exclusivity. Right now, there’s a scramble for people to secure a coveted invite code, and it’s a bit of a mystery how Bluesky is dishing those out and letting people off the waiting list.

“My DMs are full of people asking me for an invite right now,” said NBC News reporter Ben Collins, who started using the app on Thursday. Collins added he’s ready to embrace an alternative to Twitter, which for him “has been rendered almost unusable for getting information in the moment.” Musk has recently made several controversial changes to Twitter, like changing its verification system and prioritizing paid accounts in people’s feeds, that have made it harder for many people to quickly find credible sources of news.

Bluesky is hardly the only platform vying to be a Twitter alternative. Competitors like Mastodon, Post News, and Artifact have all gained attention in the months following Musk’s takeover, but Bluesky has managed to set itself apart. Some say it’s because of the site’s irreverent vibe — many users are calling posts “skeets” — or simply how easy it is to use.

At first glance, Bluesky looks a lot like Twitter. You can post short messages of up to 300 characters and toggle between an algorithmically sorted feed or a chronological one. But behind the scenes, Bluesky is built differently: It is an open, decentralized network. That means when you join, you have to join a specific server with its own unique set of rules, interests, and users‚ similar to the also popular social media app Mastodon. For now, Bluesky has set up one main server that everyone is on, but in the future, people will be able to customize their own algorithms and feeds using Bluesky’s underlying technology.

It’s too soon to say whether Bluesky will keep gaining traction and become a popular alternative to Twitter. It could also quickly fade into obscurity, like the many trendy social apps before it, including Clubhouse and BeReal. But Bluesky does appear to be the most serious contender we’ve had for a Twitter replacement just yet. And its timing — sending out a blast of invites just as Musk plows ahead with controversial product decisions at Twitter — is perfect.

So, what exactly makes Bluesky interesting, and what are people talking about there? Here’s a brief rundown of what you need to know about the buzzy new app.

Bluesky’s backstory: A decentralized social media protocol backed by Twitter’s co-founder

While Bluesky launched a public beta version in February, its origins go back to 2019, when Twitter co-founder and then-CEO Jack Dorsey announced that he was funding a small team within Twitter to develop an “open and decentralized standard for social media.” It was intended to serve as a “protocol” for other apps and social media networks, including Twitter itself one day.

Bluesky became independent of Twitter in early 2022, well before the Musk-Twitter deal closed. It was set up as a public benefit limited liability company, meaning it’s supposed to operate in a more socially responsible way than a regular company. Bluesky also fits into Web3 principles of a less hierarchical, more distributed vision of social media.

Even though it’s decentralized by design (more on that later), Bluesky is currently giving users access to a centralized experience on the main server it has set up. So what does that all look like?

Design-wise, the app looks a lot like Twitter. It has a “What’s hot” and a “Following” feed, similar to the algorithmic “For You” and the chronological “Following” feeds on Twitter. For now, you can only post text or pictures on Bluesky (there’s no video and no DM feature yet). But it’s still early days, so we’ll likely see more features rolling out soon.

Now back to that decentralized concept. The idea is that Bluesky wants to give users more control over their social media experience — control over their own data as well as what content they see when they log in. The company is doing this by building an underlying protocol that works a bit like the Android OS. Unlike a more traditional social media platform that designs the experience and makes the rules, Bluesky provides a framework on which users can build their own social media apps.

So in the future, Bluesky could spawn a whole generation of new apps with feeds that are tailored to different kinds of interests, like a news-heavy feed, cat memes, or a feed that’s more or less profane. Bluesky also wants to let users easily transfer their own data like their username and followers to other apps if they so choose.

“Users will also be able to control the algorithms that determine what content is served to them,” Bluesky wrote in an October 2022 company blog post. “We must have control over our algorithms if we’re going to trust in our online spaces.”

It’s apparent, though, that it’s early days and there are major parts of content moderation the app is still figuring out, like how to block people.

What’s drawing users in: Fewer meanies, more weirdos

On a technical level, Bluesky is definitely different from major social media apps, including Twitter. But the difference people really care about is simple: People using it are less mean and are having more fun (so far).

“There’s something so refreshing about scrolling through a feed and seeing posts from accounts you follow that are funny instead of accounts that you don’t follow and think you don’t deserve rights,” posted Friday by a user who goes by “em.”

That’s in contrast to what some people say they’re experiencing on Twitter these days. Twitter has controversially allowed previously suspended neo-Nazis and other extremist figures back on Twitter in line with Musk’s “free speech absolutist” ideology, and recently rolled back some hate speech protections for trans users. Musk has said that he’s decreasing the visibility of negative tweets and that hate speech has gone down since he took over, but outside researchers have tracked a rise in racial and homophobic slurs on the platform since Musk took over.

Bluesky’s approach also stands apart from Twitter’s new approach of more laissez-faire content moderation as well as its old, more heavily moderated one. Bluesky’s moderation is largely user-driven.

With a few straightforward settings, the app lets individuals decide whether they want to hide or show — or warn before showing — certain kinds of content like “explicit sexual images,” “political hate groups,” or “violent/bloody content.” The company also says it takes a “first pass” on moderating its central server in order to remove illegal content and label “objectionable material.”

Example of a lighthearted post on Bluesky.
screenshot of Bluesky

But beyond moderation, for now, it seems people are encountering less hate on Bluesky simply because of who’s on it: writers, some politicians and Twitter-famous people, tech enthusiasts, and people looking to escape the angry trolling of major social media networks.

AOC jumping into the conversation on Bluesky.
screenshot of Bluesky

Bluesky is full of people cracking internet jokes and starting quirky memes, but without the default angry tone that’s become so common on Twitter.

So part of the appeal of Bluesky — which currently does feel similar to early Twitter — is that you have some serious people posting not-so-serious things, and famous people replying to not-famous people. When user April King, for example, posted asking if she needed to “start acting responsibly now that AOC follows me?” none other than AOC herself replied “no” with a relaxed-face emoji.

If Bluesky can manage to keep the good vibes flowing between media people, politically important people, and Very Online people, it could have lasting power.

“Weirdos are the people who drive news,” said Collins. “Interesting content only comes from weirdos, that’s what makes platforms live or die.”