Bluesky, the decentralized social network that was hatched by former Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, is expanding its app to all interested users, abandoning an invite-only system that the service used to help regulate growth for the past year.
The social network opened to the public last February, and now claims 3 million users, but Bluesky only allowed new users via an invite code to ensure the technology supporting the network could handle the traffic.
Another key aspect of Bluesky, known as “federation,” is also coming at the end of February, said Jay Graber, Bluesky’s CEO. Federation is a central part of Bluesky’s mission, which will allow anyone to create their own social network using Bluesky’s technology protocol. Those various networks will be interoperable, and users of one network will be able to see posts from people on another, or jump between networks while taking their profile and followers with them. Each network would also have the freedom to set their own rules around speech, or create their own algorithms to determine what content users see.
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The idea for Bluesky came about when Dorsey was still at Twitter, now called X, and was presented as a way to give users a new kind of social network not controlled by any single corporation or entity. The original idea was for Bluesky to create a social networking protocol that Twitter would then join, enabling people to take their Twitter profile and posts to other networks that also adopted the protocol.
Bluesky created a protocol, called the AT protocol, and also spun up its own social networking app to prove this theory could work, Graber said. “We started building an app only later and then the app was really intended to be a flagship client that shows off what we can do with this kind of an open protocol,” he said. “Since then we’ve built a community around it and we’ve put a lot of effort into making it a really good space for people.”
That community has emerged as one of the main alternatives to X, especially for those frustrated by owner Elon Musk. Dorsey left Twitter in late 2021, and while the Bluesky effort continued as a standalone entity, it’s unknown whether X will ever adopt the AT protocol as Dorsey once imagined. Dorsey is a Bluesky board member.
Bluesky was initially funded by Twitter, but in July announced it had raised an outside round of $8 million to help expand the network. Neo, a startup accelerator and seed fund, led the round.
Graber said there remains a lot of uncertainty about which networks may eventually sign up for a decentralized protocol like the one she and her team built.
“This is a moment for a lot of change for social,” she said. “There’s just a recognition that there’s limitations to having one company sort of be the arbiter of how our digital social communications works for public conversations for billions of people.”
The idea of decentralizing social media is gaining some popularity, and has made its way to Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company behind some of the largest networks in the world, Facebook and Instagram. Meta’s new competitor to X, called Threads, has tested integrations with a separate open protocol, known as ActivityPub. This would make Threads posts available on other networks using the same protocol, including Mastodon.
“Making Threads interoperable will give people more choice over how they interact and it will help content reach more people,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in December. “I’m pretty optimistic about this.”
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