Growing Pains For Bluesky

After a two-week orgy, Bluesky is settling down to the problems of being a social medium. Not solving those problems yet, but defining a problem is the first step to solving it.

Bluesky looks to me like the most likely successor to Twitter, if they can solve their problems. The others have stagnated, for their various reasons. The network – the people on the app – is the most critical factor, and Bluesky did a good job on that starting off. But there are next steps.

Bluesky’s intention is to be a better Mastodon – distributed over servers/instances, with distributed moderating. What Mastodon has gotten wrong on that is the intimidating signup, which demands that you choose a server before you have any idea of what that is. They have now said that they will make that process easier, but I am not clear whether that has happened yet.

In distributed moderating, each server develops its own moderating rules. Advocates of this structure see this as a benefit, but those of us who moderated bulletin boards back in the day have other thoughts. The execution on Mastodon has not been encouraging. Some servers insist that spider pictures be hidden, with a content warning. Others have gone full fash and have been locked out of the larger structure. People of color have gotten silenced for talking about their experiences. Most servers are somewhere in between.

The second intimidating thing that happens when you sign up for Mastodon is that you get handed a several-page rulebook about what your server expects. I skimmed mine; I’m on a relatively tolerant server, but I’ve decided that, rather than try to internalize those several pages, I’ll ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

So how does Bluesky propose to push moderating down to servers without getting into these problems? It’s not clear.

When I joined, about two weeks ago, they were talking about federating within the next few days. It hasn’t happened yet. A day or so after I joined, there was a great influx of users, and I suspect that a combination of technical and moderating challenges have slowed them down. They occasionally provide a map of users, which I suspect will be a basis for dividing into servers. They have Brazilian, Persian-language, and Japanese clusters that are fairly obvious. There is something called TPOT that I haven’t seen a clear explanation of, but it seems to be largely techies, although there is a techie cluster too. The rest of the English-language group is kind of amorphous.

This is, of course, a function of whom they’ve invited. Human choices are being made there, even as the developer team refuse to accept that human choices must be made around moderation. Developers have been given lots of invites, as have the more prolific posters. So far, I’ve gotten one. The national security presence is not strong.

The hottest discussion is around Nazis. Early invites included a lot of LGBTQ+ people, who were exhilirated to be free of Twitter harassment. A few Nazis and other undesirables have shown up, and some of them have been removed. If a person has a reputation from other platforms for being a Nazi, should they be allowed an account on Bluesky? So far, opinions differ. A lesser problem is that of scraper accounts – the ones that show “wonders of nature,” frequently highly colorized, cute kitties and doggies doing cute things, and other stuff that you can subscribe to for a periodic lift to your feed. They use others’ material without credit to monetize their accounts.

The means available on Twitter to deal with such accounts have always been limited, and Musk is cutting more of the guardrails. Bluesky has an opportunity to deal with them, but that would mean making standards, which apparently are anathema to the developer team, who partake of the libertarianism of Silicon Valley.

So old arguments are being re-argued, while some of the celebration continues and some of us are posting pretty much the way we did on Twitter.

Update: Another report from a Bluesky user, somewhat orthogonal to this post, on status and blue checkmarks.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money