UPDATED 14:30 EDT / MARCH 01 2023


Decentralized Twitter alternative Bluesky launches on App Store in beta

Decentralized social network Bluesky, a project started by former Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, launched today in beta test mode.

Interested users can now download Bluesky Social app directly from Apple’s app store, but they must first sign up for a private beta in order to access the network, if they have not already.

“We really are still in beta, but DM me if you want an invite!” Jay Graber, Bluesky’s chief executive, wrote on Twitter.

The last time the team addressed Bluesky was in October when it announced that the social network app was closing in on its final launch date. At the same time, it provided a waitlist for users to join the upcoming beta test.

The original project was launched in December 2019 by Dorsey with the intention of creating a “decentralized standard for social media.” It was then formed out of a small team and he and Twitter funded it to build a protocol that underpins the new network known as the Authenticated Transfer Protocol, or AT Protocol.

Using the AT Protocol, the social network can run multiple nodes similar to the way that email servers run in a network instead of the way that large centralized platforms function, such as Twitter or Facebook. The objective was to allow users a choice of provider and businesses or individuals to self-host.

A similar type of network, also known as a “federated” social network, can be seen in action with Mastodon, which uses a similar style of server- or node-based social network. In the network, individuals can choose which instance they want to join, but their individual identity is not tied to a specific node, which they can move at will.

“A person’s online identity should not be owned by corporations with no accountability to their users,” the Bluesky team said. “With the AT Protocol, you can move your account from one provider to another without losing any of your data or social graph.”

The AT Protocol itself is open source and designed to allow node providers to interoperate freely with one another. It also allows the addition of open algorithms to control feeds, which will give users the opportunity to decide what gets displayed on their timelines. The team said that should help avoid problems that have cropped up in highly algorithmic decisions made by centralized platforms such as Facebook, which drives certain posts to users and hides others without their input.

The Bluesky Social app’s interface looks similar to that of Twitter, with a social feed that displays posts with text and media. It also uses familiar icons such as the talk bubble “reply” icon, the rotating arrows “repost” icon and the heart-shaped “like” icon.

Users can discover other people on the app using a search feature that will offer them a “who to follow” functionality that offers up other accounts.

The app also allows users to follow, mute and block other users, but not direct-message them or add users to lists. As a beta, Bluesky is still somewhat light on a feature set, but it maintains everything needed to be a basic scaffold for a social network.

Decentralized social media platforms saw a massive uptick in popularity after billionaire Elon Musk’s controversial takeover of Twitter in October. Mastodon grew its active user base between October and November from 300,000 to more than 2.5 million – although that number has since declined to 1.8 million now that the luster has worn off somewhat.

Images: Pixabay, Bluesky

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