Have you heard about Bluesky? If you haven’t, you will soon. For now, the Twitter alternative is in invite-only mode—but the people on it won’t shut up about it, so the hype is loud despite its small size. (“Everything I have learned about Bluesky has been against my will,” one of my friends recently complained.) Backed by Twitter cofounder and ex-CEO Jack Dorsey, Bluesky is part of a motley pool of competitors jockeying to become the next great microblogging platform, including Hive, Mastodon, Post, Truth Social, T2, and Substack Notes, among others.
So what makes it special? When you log in to the app (there’s no desktop experience yet) that’s not immediately apparent. Bluesky looks like a stripped-down version of Twitter, missing features like drafts, a “block” button, and direct messages. It’s easy to use, but that’s because it’s so unoriginal—if you’ve ever tweeted, you’ll be familiar with the interface. It’s decentralized, but that’s not unique either; Mastodon is too. And while Mastodon emerged as an early front-runner for Replacement Twitter, its brief surge in popularity didn’t last and it will likely remain a niche product. (Too confusing!)
Bluesky was originally incubated at—and funded by—Twitter in 2019; it only became a stand-alone company in late 2021. As on Mastodon, the decentralized structure was meant to be its selling point; it was designed so that no one person can own or control it and users can create their own apps and communities within it. Bluesky was also designed with interoperability in mind, so it may someday allow cross-posting from other apps (like Twitter, if it still exists).
This is all well and good, and these features are attracting a subset of enthusiasts to the platform. But it’s not the core source of the surge in interest. The most impressive feat Bluesky has managed isn’t technical, but cultural. It has recreated an older, better era of the internet, one that’s actually fun.
Opening the Bluesky app feels, as several users have already pointed out, like nothing more than logging on to Twitter 10 years ago. It’s janky but convivial. Pseudonymous Twitter power users like Dril and Darth are there. Every fourth person’s a journalist, every fifth person’s a podcaster. Extremely online celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are there. It’s horny. (Just this morning, the “What’s Hot” tab showed me a close-up photo of some woman’s bare butt.) Crucially, if you follow somebody, you actually see what they post. Blessedly, there are no brands or advertisements yet.
Instead, there’s a fizzy, infectious fuck-around energy, like everyone chugged a Red Bull on a Friday afternoon and the boss is out of town. Users are playfully creating their own lingo; they call posts “skeets.” (Threaded posts are “ropes.”) The vibe reminds me of the weeks when Clubhouse was invite-only and looked like the next big thing, before it got overrun by hustle culture gurus and crypto entrepreneurs.
Elon Musk’s chaotic Twitter takeover has resulted in a lot of rosy nostalgia for what the platform was like before he took control. It’s a testament to how poorly things have gone for him, because Twitter was always troubled and tumultuous. (Remember, uh, @RealDonaldTrump?) It’s obvious that Bluesky will struggle with content moderation in the same way every major social network has. (It has already banned at least one user for threatening to beat blogger Matthew Yglesias with a hammer.)
Created in Twitter’s image, Bluesky will inherit many of the problems of its predecessor if it manages to grow, and probably a few new ones too.
And we’re still in “if” mode. It’s way too soon to tell if Bluesky can push past its fad phase. While Bluesky has managed to attract some ardent Twitter power users in these early days, it’s unclear if that will translate to interest from the general population, news organizations, political leaders, athletes, and other voices necessary for it to function as a full-blown Twitter-style online town square.
That’s OK. Maybe we’re moving toward an increasingly siloed-off version of the internet, where mega-platforms are largely abandoned in favor of smaller communities and this is as big as Bluesky gets. Maybe it’s the next Mastodon, not the next Twitter. Who knows! But spending some time on the app has convinced me that replacing Twitter is possible, that a competitor might be able to capture part of what made it so appealing in the first place: the sense of conversation.
In a eulogy for pre-Musk Twitter, New York Times Magazine editor Willy Staley described the platform’s current atmosphere as “the part of the dinner party when only the serious drinkers remain.” I thought of that comparison while scrolling Bluesky this weekend. The new app has a loose, slaphappy quality too—but it’s more like the part of a dinner party where everyone has had two or three martinis but hasn’t eaten food yet, when it seems like absolutely anything could happen that night.