Bluesky, championed by Jack Dorsey, was supposed to be Twitter 2.0. Can he succeed?

Bluesky, the hottest members-only spot on the internet right now, feels a bit like an exclusive club, populated by very online people, popular Twitter characters and former users of the Elon-owned platform. Musk.

Musk isn’t on it — and that might be part of the appeal for those longing for the way things were before billionaire Tesla bought Twitter and upended almost everything on the social network, from rules to harassment to content moderation through its user identity verification system. It also helps that Bluesky originated from Twitter – a favorite project of former CEO Jack Dorsey, who still sits on its board.

“It was designed to replace Twitter,” said Sol Messing, who worked at Twitter as a data scientist until January and is now an associate professor at New York University’s Center for Social Media and Politics. “And you can see that in the way the system is designed. It works like Twitter.

But can Bluesky replace Twitter? Prominent Twitter users, such as model Chrissy Teigen, U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Dril, a comedy account born out of “weird Twitter” and poking fun at Musk since the billionaire took over the platform , are active users. . Journalists, academics, and politicians — the users who helped make Twitter the culture’s spirit — are also flocking to the app (if they can get invite codes).

“I really wonder where the line is to leave the other place,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote – or “skeeted” recently, expressing concern about how Musk’s Twitter will handle next year’s presidential election. . “There’s a line where the harm of unchecked misinformation outweighs the benefits of direct, genuine communication. It’s really sad.”

Bluesky, however, has bigger ambitions than simply supplanting Twitter. Beyond the social network itself, he’s building the technical foundation – what he calls “a public conversation protocol” – that could make social networks work more like emails, blogs or phone numbers.

In computing, protocols are technical rules for processing and transmitting data, shared standards to which everyone agrees to adhere. Without the TCP/IP protocol, for example, we wouldn’t have the Internet.

When you call someone on the phone, it doesn’t matter if they’re using Verizon, AT&T or Cricket Wireless – as long as their phone has service, they can pick you up and talk to you. But on Facebook, TikTok, or Twitter, you can’t switch to another social network to leave a comment on someone’s account. Twitter users should stay on Twitter and TikTok users should stay on TikTok if they want to interact with accounts on these services.

There is no crossover, no interoperability. Big tech companies have largely built moats around their online properties, which helps serve their advertising-driven business models. Your Twitter friends are your Twitter friends, and if you switch to a new social network, you can’t easily bring them with you – if you can bring them at all. Bluesky tries to reinvent all of this. Moonshot or illusion, what is clear is that invitations to the Bluesky social networking app are commodity items, some even offered on eBay for $100 or more.

But as everyone — including Musk, who paid $44 billion for Twitter — knows, the value of a social network isn’t just in the technology behind it. It’s in the people – the network of people who use and contribute to a platform. And getting people, especially those who aren’t teenagers, to switch to a new social network is quite a challenge. Just ask Mastodon, Truth Social, or any alternative network that has appeared more recently.

“We are all active on Twitter because we are all active on Twitter. And so it’s very, very difficult to migrate to another social media platform once you have thousands of followers on Twitter,” said Messing, who also worked in data science at Facebook and the Pew Research Center.

While it seems unlikely that Bluesky can replace Twitter as the global news channel anytime soon, it’s more intuitive and easy to use than 7-year-old Mastodon, which not too long ago was touted as a possible replacement for Twitter, but which many find baffling. complicated and lacking in important features. Although it looks and feels similar to Twitter, Bluesky lacks many features that Twitter has developed over the years. There’s no way to send direct messages, for example, and there’s no verification system.

For now, Bluesky is like the back room of a house party where cool kids and misfits have found refuge from the increasingly rowdy rager up front — at least until he is also shrouded in chaos. Less than 100,000 people are currently taking part. It is by design.

“Once you open it up and allow different forms of content moderation to dominate, it’s going to be a very different platform,” Messing said.

Bluesky’s approach to content moderation is similar to its algorithmic approach to deciding what users see. In other words, give users a choice of what they see. The app launched with a chronological feed, which means you see posts in the order they are posted. Other social platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter use secret algorithms to show you what interests you the most. Bluesky also has “custom feeds”, which allow users to choose the algorithm that controls what they see.

“Imagine if you want your timeline to be only posts from your mutuals, or only posts with pictures of cats, or only sports-related posts – you can just choose any feed you want from an open marketplace,” wrote CEO Jay Graber in a recent blog post. Bluesky did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s an open question whether Bluesky will soar or remain a pie in the sky. But some early Twitter supporters are cautiously optimistic. After all, Twitter started just as small, and along the way, its creators and users have learned a lot.

“There’s a whole community of people doing these experiences in these projects learning from each other and sharing things back and forth and with the hope and the idea that we can’t make the same mistakes we did. did last time,” Evan “Rabble” said. Henshaw-Plath, who worked on Twitter’s predecessor Odeo with Dorsey and is now CEO of Planetary.Social, another decentralized social network.

“In some ways, we have democratized the media. We have changed the world. We gave everyone a chance to speak. But we didn’t understand what to do with it,” he said. “We haven’t given ourselves great tools to deal with it.”

Could Bluesky be the redesign of Twitter it was designed for?

“I would love to see these guys find a smart way to maintain data portability, without losing the ability to essentially moderate content,” Henshaw-Plath said. “And yes, it may be impossible, but that’s what I would like to see eventually.”

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