Why the crazy last two weeks of Bluesky convinced me it’s a real challenger to Twitter

Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Hi there, it’s Fortune tech reporter Kylie Robison.

You may have heard of Bluesky, a new invite-only social media app that’s getting a lot of buzz. Since its launch in beta in February, the app has already ballooned to 60,000 users, many of whom have decamped from Elon Musk’s Twitter.

When I was initially badgered by friends to join Bluesky, I was hesitant, having already been part of the earlier wave of Twitter users fleeing the Musk regime for Mastodon. While Mastodon hopes to be an alternative to Twitter, it hasn’t stuck widely outside of tech circles so far. And the idea of creating yet another profile and social network on Bluesky, only to eventually abandon it, wasn’t very appealing to me.

I eventually caved though, and did join Bluesky. And I’m here to explain why, in this case, the excitement is completely warranted.

Bluesky is a nine-person team, including its CEO Jay Graber. The entire team is extremely active on the platform, and not in the same way that Musk is. For instance, if you find a bug in the app or have a question about what a decentralized platform even is, they’ll respond to you within minutes. They engage heavily with the growing community, make jokes, and drop extra invites in people’s accounts if they post regularly.

It’s a world apart from Chief Twit’s antics of the past few months, which have ranged from labeling NPR as “government-funded media” to firing much of the staff that kept the platform operating smoothly.

Bluesky’s team is working on two pieces of tech at once: the user-facing app (which looks and feels very similar to Twitter) and an underlying protocol that would create an open-source framework for others to build social apps. They’re also speedrunning about a decade of social media history, only creating a “block” feature last week after “shitposters”—people who make mostly satirical and nonsensical posts—threatened journalist Matt Yglesias with hammers.

There’s some other programming notes I should fill you in on. The users call posts “skeets,” which is a portmanteau of “tweet” and “skyline,” the name of Bluesky’s feed (which the CEO hates). There’s a duck bot that can be summoned easily and has wreaked havoc. There’s a fake Pope Francis. I personally invited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who wound up really loving the app and making some news of her own. There’s something called a “hellthread,” unfortunately also created by me, that broke the app and inducted me into the Know Your Meme hall of shame

At one point people posted so many naked pictures that they appeared in the “What’s Hot” feed that’s presented to people when they first join Bluesky, resulting in some politicians and celebrities seeing a few bare butts before the devs coded the butts out of existence (the team has made it clear they encourage nudity, just not at the jump of a user’s experience on the platform). There’s also a lot of naked Alf, an alien from a beloved 1980s sitcom, but I don’t think you need to know more, mostly because I’m already over my assigned word count.

You might be thinking, this sounds incredibly chaotic, like building a plane in mid-air—and you’d be right! Except the plane is filled with drunk people, some in fursuits, and others are CNN anchors, saying things like “I have information that will lead to the arrest of the creature known as Alf.” I’d say the chaos is a feature, not a bug.

If you were on Twitter in 2008, you deserve a senior citizen discount invite to Bluesky. Many users have compared the app to the early Twitter days when you just tweeted at your friends and updated the timeline with whatever food you were enjoying. The topics remained light, there were no “main characters” or “quote-tweet dunking” to be had. Similarly to Twitter’s heyday, there was even Bluesky meetups in San Francisco, New York, and Austin.

With all that being said, I promise you, it’s very fun and I think you should check it out. The underlying technology and rapidly growing community are a very promising start, but if you’re still skeptical like I once was, I completely understand. The leaps and bounds this company will need to make in the next year will test the limits of Bluesky’s popularity.

Moderation, decentralization, and onboarding 1.2 million waitlisted users are only a few of the immense stress tests the Bluesky team can look forward to. Fortunately for them, they’ve already created an extremely rabid fanbase who have been pushed to their limits on Twitter.

Bluesky has one chance to get it right, and here’s hoping they don’t go extinct like the Mastodons. One more thing, I appreciate you reading this far, so the first person to email me at this email address gets a Bluesky invite code. Ready, set, go!

More news below.

Kylie Robison

Data Sheet’s daily news section was written and curated by Andrea Guzman. 

NEWSWORTHY

Apple’s slowed hiring. On Thursday, Apple reported $94.9 billion in quarterly revenue, its second consecutive quarter of falling sales (though the decline was smaller than analysts expected). In an interview with CNBC, CEO Tim Cook expressed optimism, calling the results a “good quarter from an iPhone point of view” and saying mass layoffs would be a “last resort.” But he also shared that hiring was at a lower level than in the past. This comes after the company took some cost-cutting measures like trimming a small number of employees in its corporate retail division in early April and reportedly delaying bonuses.

Discovery could become profitable this year. After expecting to break even in 2024 and turn a profit the year after, Warner Bros. streaming business is now saying it will become profitable this year. The streaming division also touted an additional 1.6 million subscribers in the first quarter. In a statement, CEO David Zaslav said “we’ve come through some major restructurings and have repositioned our businesses with greater precision and focus.” Some of those restructurings, TechCrunch reports, involved cutting back on content spending last year by taking some shows and movies off of HBO Max and laying off hundreds of employees. Now, it’s looking ahead to the launch of Max later this month, which will bring Discovery+ and HBO Max content under one roof. 

Google plans to hide A.I. discoveries. Google’s head of A.I., Jeff Dean, used to encourage researchers to publish academic papers. But in February, the policy changed. That’s because a foundational part of the latest A.I. tech, including ChatGPT, originated in a Google study. Google now plans to share research only after it’s been turned into products, the Washington Post reported, citing two anonymous sources. Not all are okay with such restrictions, causing some researchers to leave.

SIGNIFICANT FIGURES

19 out of 22

The share of Neuralink employees on an internal animal research oversight board as of late 2022. Reuters reports that the board’s chair was a Neuralink executive who led its animal-care program and 11 others were directly involved with animal care or research, raising conflict of interest concerns for a panel intended to be a watchdog for animal experiments as the company develops implantable brain chips.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Peter Thiel confirms he’s signed up to be cryogenically frozen after death but says it’s more of an ‘ideological statement’, by Steve Mollman

Lina Khan says that decades-old lessons from IBM could guide the way the government regulates A.I. today, by Tristan Bove

Gmail gets on board the blue checkmark bandwagon, by Chris Morris

Ford CEO admits the carmaker can’t ‘upskill everyone’ to work on its high-tech electric vehicles: ‘It will take too much time’, by Christiaan Hetzner

CEO of Google’s DeepMind says we could be ‘just a few years’ from A.I. that has human-level intelligence, by Tristan Bove

BEFORE YOU GO

Slack offers a glimpse at new A.I. features. Slack GPT will help users compose messages by vetting them for tone and length, and it can also summarize Huddles and unread messages. These features, along with customizable automated workflows and a generative A.I. assistant known as Einstein GPT is on the way. The workflow builder will be released this summer while the other features are still in development. “The real power of this technology is when A.I. can analyze and act on the most valuable data from a company’s most trusted resource—its own internal knowledge,” Slack CEO Lidiane Jones told the Verge.

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