Bluesky finally gets rid of invite codes, lets everyone join

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Written By Sedoso Feb

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After more than a year as an exclusive invite-only social media platform, Bluesky is now open to the public, so anyone can join without needing a once-coveted invite code.

In a blog, Bluesky said that requiring invite codes helped Bluesky “manage growth” while building features that allow users to control what content they see on the social platform.

When Bluesky debuted, many viewed it as a potential Twitter killer, but limited access to Bluesky may have weakened momentum. As of January 2024, Bluesky has more than 3 million users. That’s significantly less than X (formerly Twitter), which estimates suggest currently boasts more than 400 million global users.

But Bluesky CEO Jay Graber wrote in a blog last April that the app needed time because its goal was to piece together a new kind of social network built on its own decentralized protocol, AT Protocol. This technology allows users to freely port their social media accounts to different social platforms—including followers—rather than being locked into walled-off experiences on a platform owned by “a single company” like Meta’s Threads.

Perhaps most critically, the team wanted time to build out content moderation features before opening Bluesky to the masses to “prioritize user safety from the start.”

Bluesky plans to take a threefold approach to content moderation. The first layer is automated filtering that removes illegal, harmful content like child sexual abuse materials. Beyond that, Bluesky will soon give users extra layers of protection, including community labels and options to enable admins running servers to filter content manually.

Labeling services will be rolled out “in the coming weeks,” the blog said. These labels will make it possible for individuals or organizations to run their own moderation services, such as a trusted fact-checking organization. Users who trust these sources can subscribe to labeling services that filter out or appropriately label different types of content, like “spam” or “NSFW.”

“The human-generated label sets can be thought of as something similar to shared mute/block lists,” Bluesky explained last year.

Currently, Bluesky is recruiting partners for labeling services and did not immediately respond to Ars’ request to comment on any initial partnerships already formed.

It appears that Bluesky is hoping to bring in new users while introducing some of its flashiest features. Within the next month, Bluesky will also “be rolling out an experimental early version of ‘federation,’ or the feature that makes the network so open and customizable,” the blog said. The sales pitch is simple:

On Bluesky, you’ll have the freedom to choose (and the right to leave) instead of being held to the whims of private companies or black box algorithms. And wherever you go, your friends and relationships can go with you.

Developers interested in experimenting with the earliest version of AT Protocol can start testing out self-hosting servers now.

In addition to allowing users to customize content moderation, Bluesky also provides ways to customize feeds. Anyone joining will be defaulted to only see posts from users they follow, but they can also set up filters to discover content they enjoy without relying on a company’s algorithm to learn what interests them.

Bluesky users who sat on invite codes over the past year have joked about their uselessness now, with some designating themselves as legacy users. Seeming to reference Twitter’s once-coveted blue checks, one Bluesky user responding to a post from Graber joked, “When does everyone from the invite-only days get their Bluesky Elder profile badge?”

Bluesky’s growth plans

Bluesky began in 2019 as one of Jack Dorsey’s projects while he still owned Twitter. At that time, Dorsey expected that under Graber’s guidance, Bluesky would become “an open social protocol for public conversation” that Twitter “could someday become a client on,” Bluesky’s FAQ said. By 2021, Bluesky had broken out as an independent company but still had financial ties to Twitter. Then, when Elon Musk bought Twitter in 2022, Musk cut those ties.

Graber told The Verge that Bluesky currently has fewer than 40 full-time employees, “about half of whom work on moderation and user support.”

Building out the third-party ecosystem will help Bluesky to continue to thrive by providing a platform where developers can profit from creating custom feeds. As of February, Graber estimated that Bluesky has 25,000 custom feeds, some of which exist purely to delight users, like one of Graber’s favorites designed to churn out appealing photos of moss.

Last year, developers who designed custom feeds on Twitter were abruptly cut off from developing some of Twitter users’ free favorite fun bots and public services when Musk began charging for access to Twitter’s API. Bluesky has said that won’t happen on its platform, promising that influencers and creators will be protected from disruptions, too.

“As a developer, if you try to build a new app, you have to overcome network effects to rebuild the social graph from scratch, and if you try to build on the APIs of these companies they can cut you off and kill your company in the blink of an eye,” Bluesky’s FAQ said. “As a creator, you might spend years building an audience only to lose access to it when the platform changes the rules on you.”

Graber told The Verge that Bluesky expects to profit by “taking a cut” of developers’ profits and charging users for additional features. Bluesky already provides an option for users to purchase domains—which serve as user handles—directly from the app.

While Bluesky officially starts its grander public experiment this week, a key question remains whether the platform can keep up with content moderation efforts should users spike to numbers that attract regulatory scrutiny. Some Bluesky users are already grumbling about spam and offensive content that may come with opening the platform to the public.

In a technical paper released yesterday explaining how Bluesky works, authors acknowledge that “Bluesky and the AT Protocol are a new approach to social media.”

“While some decentralized systems prioritize censorship resistance, we believe that a good user experience requires explicitly addressing problematic content such as harassment and misinformation,” Bluesky’s technical paper said. “We therefore make moderation a first-class concern that is handled separately from infrastructure hosting, and we provide strong mechanisms for users to control the content they see.”

According to the paper, Bluesky agrees with Musk that users should have “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach,” striving to turn Bluesky into “a pluralistic system in which there is no global consensus on what content is acceptable.”

As regulators closely monitor the social media old guard for failure to remove misinformation ahead of a contentious election year, European Union regulators have already warned Musk that X needs to do more than rely on community notes. If Bluesky wants to break out as a different kind of social media platform, it may be tasked not just with selling users on all its novel features and approaches but regulators, too.

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