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Bluesky invites become a hot commodity as demand for the Twitter alternative outstrips access

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Image Credits: Jose A. Bernat Bacete (opens in a new window) / Getty Images

Consumer demand for the Jack Dorsey-backed Twitter alternative Bluesky is outstripping access, according to the latest App Store data and figures published today by the company. In a new FAQ on Bluesky’s website, the company shares that its community has topped 50,000 users. However, estimates provided to TechCrunch by app intelligence company data.ai indicate the decentralized Twitter clone has seen over 375,000 worldwide installs on iOS as of April 26, 2023, and has been ranking highly on Apple and Google’s app stores’ top charts by downloads.

Excitement for Bluesky has also been climbing in recent weeks, thanks to a combination of exclusivity — the app still requires a hard-to-find invite to get in — and the culture its community is creating. The latter has seen the app embrace what has been described as “early Twitter” energy, thanks in part to the numerous meme accounts and shitposting. This results in a sort of frenetic, chaotic vibe to Bluesky that’s attracting many former Twitter users and particularly those who haven’t quite meshed well with the more serious and structured environment found in the other decentralized Twitter alternative, Mastodon.

But for the time being, Bluesky isn’t capitalizing on the outsized consumer demand for its app.

While other would-be Twitter alternatives like Post and T2 have broadened access to their respective networks, Bluesky invites have become such a hot commodity they’ve been selling for anywhere between $120 to as much as $400 on eBay in recent days.

Image Credits: eBay screenshot
Image Credits: eBay screenshot

Some sellers are now even testing the market for higher prices, as Bluesky demand increases.

(Above: sold invites. Below: Bluesky invites for sale as of May 2, 2023).

Image Credits: eBay screenshot

Consumer interest in the app has also been fueling its rise across the app stores’ top charts, data.ai’s analysis indicates.

The firm found that Bluesky has gained over 375,000 iOS downloads globally, having peaked on April 15th with 66,000 downloads in a single day thanks to becoming the No. 1 app across all categories in Thailand. Before that, the highest level of daily iOS downloads was more than 22,000 on March 22, 2023.

This 375,000 figure is up from the 240,000 iOS installs Bluesky had as of April 20th, 135,000 of which had come just that month, data.ai had recently reported.

Data visualization by Miranda Halpern, created with Flourish

The app launched on Google Play in late April, so insights into its traction on Android devices is still forthcoming.

But the analysis indicates that, despite consumers’ lack of access to the new social network, Bluesky has managed to trend on the downloads charts across both Apple’s App Store and Google Play in several markets.

In Japan, for example, Bluesky reached as high as No. 3 among social apps on Google Play by downloads on April 24 after previously reaching No. 8 among social apps on iOS on March 4.

In the U.K., the app was No. 10 among social apps by Google Play downloads on April 26, shortly after reaching No. 10 among social apps by iOS downloads on April 23.

The U.S., meanwhile, has been responsible for much of Bluesky’s more recent growth, the firm said. That’s helped the app reach No. 22 among social apps by Google Play downloads on April 26 and up to the No. 11 spot among social apps by iOS downloads on April 24.

Because of its relative newness, data.ai said it’s not yet able to accurately predict the number of daily or monthly active users at this time.

The rankings are impressive not just because the app is still fresh out of the gate, but because its community is still quite small.

As of a few days ago, Bluesky accounts that aim to follow all the app’s users were following north of 45,000 people. However, according to the FAQ published by Bluesky today, the company says the community now has north of 50,000 users.

The FAQ also attempts to clarify how access to invite codes will be distributed, noting that existing users receive just one invite every two weeks they’re on the app. Plus, the company shared that it periodically monitors the social graph, and if it finds that certain users are inviting “other trustworthy participants,” they’ll receive more invites.

This aspect of the invite system makes Bluesky feel even more exclusive than if it were just slowly rolling out access to its waitlist. Instead, getting in now feels like a function of who you know. This has led to existing Bluesky users being asked daily — often by multiple folks — if they have any invite codes to spare. (In other words, your best bet to get a Bluesky invite is to become an existing user’s best friend for the next two weeks!)

Bluesky says it’s limiting access to grow the network “organically,” but if that were the case, it would roll out a few more codes or increase the frequency in order to capitalize on the real-world demand, because that would still be considered organic growth. At this point, restricting invites to one every two weeks is artificially slowing the app’s growth.

That appears to be by design. The company explains its thinking in the FAQ, saying that it needs to limit bad actors up front.

“Social networks can be abused by spammers and bad actors who might want to manipulate the public conversation. It’s much easier to limit sign-ups and let them spread through an existing social graph than to try to retroactively clean up rampant network abuse,” the post reads. “Long-term, we view this invite code system as a piece of the open source tooling we’re building to help server admins (people running services) to help curate and moderate their communities,” it says.

It’s not clear if the company believes its existing user base can’t be trusted to give out invites responsibly, or if it wants to have more of a hand in who gets in — and who stays out. But with Bluesky invites now selling to the highest bidder on eBay, the company’s plans for keeping out bad actors could be disrupted.

The FAQ details other aspects of Bluesky’s plans, including its AT Protocol for decentralization, and its differentiators from Twitter, like algorithmic choice and composable moderation.

It also tries to clear up the nature of Bluesky’s relationship to Twitter, as it was originally incubated in Twitter while Jack Dorsey was CEO. It was later spun out as an independent company (a PBLLC), having received $13 million from Twitter to kickstart its launch. Now, the FAQ notes that “Twitter closed its service agreement with Bluesky in 2022.” Jack Dorsey is still on Bluesky’s board.

Bluesky was asked for comment on the new figures, but an automated response to press inquiries only pointed us to the new FAQ.

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