X rival Bluesky hits 2M users, says federation coming ‘early next year’

Bluesky, the company building a decentralized alternative to Twitter/X, announced today it has hit 2 million users — up by another million since September, despite remaining an invite-only app. It also revealed its time frame regarding other key goals, indicating that it planned to have a public web interface go live by the end of the month and would launch federation by early next year.

The latter is one of the most important differentiating factors between Bluesky and X, as it would allow Bluesky to function as a more open social network. This means it will work more like Mastodon where users can pick and choose which servers to join and move their accounts around at will. This is what Bluesky today says makes it “billionaire-proof” — a swipe at Elon Musk’s ownership of Twitter, now called X.

“You’ll always have the freedom¬†to choose (and to exit) instead of being held to the whims of private companies or black box algorithms,” a company blog post explained. “And wherever you go, your friends and relationships will be there too,” it noted.

Similar to the decentralized service Mastodon, federation would let anyone to run their own service and connect to any other service also running the same protocol. In Bluesky’s case, this would be done via the AT Protocol that the company is also developing alongside its consumer-facing service and mobile app. However, the other major decentralized social network, Mastodon, uses a well-established protocol, ActivityPub, which has gained greater traction in the months since Musk’s Twitter acquisition.

Since then, other companies, including Mozilla, Flipboard, Medium¬†and Automattic (WordPress.com’s parent), have embraced ActivityPub and Mastodon. That could pose a challenge with regard to Bluesky’s eventual reach unless it makes a move to allow the AT Protocol and ActivityPub to somehow interoperate. Bridging the two may be technically possible, but it’s likely something that would take place further down the road, rather than in the near term.

In the meantime, Bluesky is working to make its own service more accessible, which includes launching a public web interface later this month. This will allow anyone to view the posts on Bluesky, even if they don’t have an account. That could make the network more promising in terms of being a true X rival for breaking news and conversations but could also expose Bluesky users’ posts to the outside world in ways they’re unprepared for. (The app doesn’t currently offer an option to set profiles to “private,” as Twitter/X does. Some users are not happy about this.)

Despite its growth, Bluesky’s hesitancy to drop its invite-only status and open its network to more users has allowed other X competitors to gain a foothold. Last month, for example, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his X alternative, Instagram Threads, has just under 100 million monthly active users. He believes it could reach a billion users in the next few years. And Threads intends to interoperate with ActivityPub in the future.

Bluesky’s announcement follows Threads’ rapid-fire release of features to make its app more competitive with X, including things like a chronological feed, support for viewing your likes, search, a (free) edit button, a web version, polls and GIF support, topic tags and, soon, a developer API. Mastodon has also capitalized on the opportunity Twitter’s acquisition presented, and launched an easier-to-use version of its service this September. But Mastodon currently has 1.6 million monthly active users, making it still much smaller than Threads.

Alongside today’s news, Bluesky also noted other recently launched features, including mobile push notifications, shareable user lists, email verification, advanced feed and thread preferences for sorting and filtering posts, a media tab on user profiles, a Likes tab on your own user profile, suggested follows and various accessibility improvements.

Though Bluesky began its life as a Twitter project under Jack Dorsey, the company was spun out from Twitter with $13 million to get started on R&D. Dorsey sits on its board. This year, the company raised an $8 million seed round led by Neo to further its development, and converted from being a public benefit LLC to a public benefit C Corp.