While Elon Musk’s changes at Twitter have been heavily criticized by many, according to Twitter’s numbers, usage of the platform has not declined as a result.
Indeed, while Twitter has reinstated a range of previously banned users, including neo-Nazis, misinformation peddlers, transphobic spokespeople, and worse, while Twitter’s softened its rules around content removals, potentially putting more people at risk of abuse, while its changes to verification have opened the app up for more manipulative behavior, and it’s switched up tweet ranking, so that paying users get priority. Despite all of this, Twitter claims that usage is actually reaching new record highs.
Why is that? Well, in part, there’s a fascination with controversy, and it could be that more people are interested in seeing how these changes play out. But the main factor is that there’s nowhere else that offers the same experience – there’s nothing like Twitter that offers a real-time stream of updates from some of the most influential people on the planet, as well as top-level journalists breaking news, along with the people and profiles that you’ve been following for years, who are still sharing key updates via the app.
But the tide could be changing - and ironically, it’s because of the man who once labeled Elon ‘the singular solution’ to getting Twitter back on track.
While he was still in charge at Twitter, Jack Dorsey launched a new social platform project called ‘Bluesky’ which is focused, essentially, on creating a better version of Twitter, free from the various impediments that Dorsey believed had stymied his vision for his original app over time.
Built around decentralization, the main aims for Bluesky, according to Dorsey, are:
- To facilitate enhanced efforts to address abuse and misleading information, without overburdening staff
- To enable users and the broader community to have more input into platform algorithms
- To improve conversational health by giving people more input into platform rules
Based on the way that other decentralized social projects have gone, Bluesky has seemed like a similar pipe dream, a utopian vision for how a social platform can coalesce, like a natural organism, and rely on the power of the collective – while in reality being utterly unusable for regular people who don’t have a background in computer science.
Yet despite this, Bluesky is actually, seemingly working, for regular people as well as more tech-aligned types. And it’s now attracting some big-name users, a key step in facilitating mass adoption.
As reported by Decrypt:
“Among the big names joining the platform are Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who has over 13 million followers on rival platform Twitter, and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn, who's recently taken charge of DC Comics' film output. Others who've joined the invite-only platform include model Chrissy Teigen, ‘Mission: Impossible’ director Christopher McQuarrie, ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘The Eternals’ star Kumail Nanjiani, Edgar Wright, director of 'Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World’, and ‘Moon’ director Duncan Jones.”
The migration of influential users is significant, and what’s led to big changes in the social media landscape in the past. Vine, for example, was shut down not because Twitter failed to manage the platform properly (as per the now pervading narrative), but because its top creators demanded more money from Twitter to keep sharing their content in the app. When Twitter refused, they switched to YouTube and Instagram instead, which was the beginning of the end for Vne, as their legions of fans gradually stopped paying attention to the app as a result.
Could the same now be happening to Twitter – and could Twitter be killed off by its own decentralized project, which the company itself invested millions in?
When the Bluesky project was first launched in 2021, Twitter invested $13 million into what would eventually become an independent entity. Dorsey has continued to fund Bluesky since October, when it effectively separated from Twitter – i.e. Musk and Co. cut off Twitter’s funding, while as part of the Musk takeover, Dorsey also rolled over his shares of Twitter into Bluesky, giving it more runway to keep building. But in essence, right now, Bluesky is separate from Twitter – though given Musk’s angst around OpenAI, another project that he funded in its early stages, that’s now making money without him, I suspect that Elon will be none too pleased if Bluesky does emerge as a legitimate threat.
Which is still, to be clear, a long way off. Bluesky’s currently operating on an invite-only basis at this stage, which significantly restricts its capacity to see mass adoption and take-up.
But it is growing, fast. According to data.ai, Bluesky Social is currently the 8th most-downloaded social media app.
The hype around Bluesky seems to already have superseded Mastodon, the other big Twitter alternative, and with a UI that’s virtually the same as Twitter (minus DMs and some other functional elements), it does seem like Bluesky, at least right now, is offering some communities a better experience than the changed Twitter feed.
Bluesky also offers a range of content control options which could lessen the impact of an expanded user base, as a broader range of people set up profiles in the app.
To be clear, Bluesky still has a lot of challenges to overcome, and those challenges compound with every thousand or so more active users. It’s not going to be a simple scaling – hence the steady, invite-only process. But there are signs that Bluesky could be legit, and could be the real Twitter alternative that people have been seeking.
It’ll be interesting to see how Musk responds – as noted, he has a growing track record of attacking anything that he deems a threat, with more specific venom for projects that he’s had prior association with.
I suspect, as the hype grows, Musk will look to punish links to Bluesky, or ban references to it – though at that stage, it could be too late, especially if big-name users continue to switch across, and start posting exclusively on Bluesky instead.
That’s a more significant next step, as most users still seem to be posting on both Twitter and Bluesky concurrently.
But there are some signs that this could be the thing, which could be a big problem as Musk continues to alienate elements of Twitter’s user base.