Bluesky, the decentralized social network created by former Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey, is expanding its app to all interested users, abandoning the invitation-only system the service used to stifle growth last year.
The social network opened to the public last February and now claims 3 million users, but Bluesky only allowed new users through an invitation code to ensure the technology supporting the network could handle the traffic.
Another key aspect of BlueSky, called “Federation,” is also coming in late February, according to BlueSky CEO Jay Graber. Federation is a core part of Bluesky's mission, allowing anyone to create their own social network using the Bluesky technology protocol. Those different networks can interoperate, and users on one network can see posts from people on another network or jump between networks while taking their profile and followers with them. Each network is free to set their own rules around speech or create their own algorithms to decide what content users see.
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The idea for Bluesky came when Dorsey was at Twitter, now called X, and was pitched as a way to offer users a new kind of social network that wasn't controlled by any single corporation or entity. Bluesky's original idea was to create a social networking protocol that could then join Twitter, allowing people to take their Twitter profile and posts to other networks that adopted the protocol.
Bluesky created a protocol called the AT protocol and even built its own social networking app to prove the theory works, Graber said. “We only started building the app later, and this app is really intended as a flagship client that shows what we can do with this kind of 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 better place for people.”
That community has emerged as one of the main alternatives to X, especially for those frustrated by owner Elon Musk. Dorsey will leave Twitter at the end of 2021, and while the Bluesky effort will continue as an independent company, it's unknown whether X will ever adopt the AT protocol, as Dorsey once predicted. Dorsey is a Bluesky board member.
Bluesky was initially funded by Twitter, but announced in July that it had raised $8 million in an outside round to help expand the network. Neo, a startup accelerator and seed fund, led the round.
Graber says there's a lot of uncertainty about which networks might eventually sign up for a decentralized protocol like the one she and her team built.
“It's a moment for a lot of change socially,” she said. “It's just a matter of recognizing that there are limits to how one company can be the sort of arbiter of how our digital social communications work for public conversations for billions of people.”
The idea of decentralizing social media is gaining some popularity and has led to Meta Platforms Inc., the parent company behind some of the world's biggest networks, Facebook and Instagram. Meta's new competitor to X, called Threads, tested integrations with a separate open protocol called ActivityPub. It also makes posts from threads available on other networks using the same protocol, including Mastodon.
“Making threads interoperable gives more choice in how they interact and helps content reach more people,” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in December. “I'm very optimistic about this.”
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