On Super Bowl Sunday, Bluesky showed off its signature feature. Days after leaving its invite-only period, the decentralized X alternative rolled out a special feed for users who wanted to follow the Big Game without hearing about Taylor Swift.
Bluesky aims to provide a more customizable experience than X by letting users — not algorithms — determine the posts that show up on their feeds. The social network showed off that feature during Super Bowl LVIII, when it offered a pair of second-screen experiences catered to different cultural tastes. For the Swifties, Bluesky offered “Taylor’s Version” of the feed, which was filled with updates about Swift and her relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
A separate feed eschewed Taylor Swift commentary altogether. “The real distinction is that some football fans have strong feelings about *not* seeing any TS-related content in their football news, and the first feed can provide that for them,” wrote Bluesky team member Emily Liu.
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Bluesky’s Swiftian hijinks, and the user freedom they demonstrated, came at an opportune time. The year-old app added about 1.6 million new users after it shed its invite-only status a few days before the Super Bowl. New users no longer need to provide access codes to set up their accounts, and Bluesky brags that those profiles will be “the last social account you’ll ever have to create.” That’s how the app described its decentralized, transferrable framework in a post announcing its public launch.
“This month, we’ll be rolling out an experimental early version of ‘federation,’ or the feature that makes the network so open and customizable,” reads the post. “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.”
The influx of new accounts brings Bluesky’s total user base up to 4.8 million. That number dwarfs other X alternatives like Mastodon. In the year since Bluesky arrived on the App Store, it has gathered new users in waves, often in response to unpopular decisions by X boss Elon Musk. During that period, Bluesky’s invite-only status controlled the size of its user base. That was by design, since time was needed to develop the AT Protocol that underpins the service’s federated structure.
Now that Bluesky’s doors are fully open, its ability to scale will be put to the test. The service offers some automated moderation systems as well as tools that let community leaders set up their own regulations, á la Reddit. “We have community guidelines to prevent harassment and hate speech, and we use moderation to try to create a baseline of a healthy, welcoming social space on the default Bluesky app,” CEO Jay Graber told Wired. “Then because it’s built on this open protocol, anyone can set up and run their own infrastructure and start labeling or annotating content and accounts in the network.”
Bluesky is backed by Twitter Co-Founder Jack Dorsey, who still has an ownership stake in the company now known as X. Dorsey, like Graber, is a champion of decentralization; while attending the Super Bowl, he wore a “Satoshi” shirt in reference to pseudonymous Bitcoin developer Satoshi Nakamoto. We don’t know which Bluesky feed Dorsey looked at during the game, but I don’t get the sense he’s much of a Swiftie.