Over six months have passed since I first started exploring Mastodon. I’ve switched servers (to hachyderm.io from mastodon.cloud), updated this blog’s sharing settings in Jetpack Social to post to Mastodon automatically (replacing the deliberately-broken Twitter integration), subscribed to the Ivory for Mastodon mobile app, made 1813 posts and gained 338 followers. I only follow 196 accounts, but between that and folks in the Local feed on hachyderm.io I find it to be an informative, enlightening, and fun social media experience.
A little over a month ago, I joined Bluesky thanks to a friend’s invite. The protocol it runs on (the AT Protocol) is federated, like ActivityPub. But as of now, bsky.social is the only place you can sign up (and signups are currently still invite-only). Nor does it appear that you’ll be able to host your own AT Protocol server anytime soon. Bluesky does implement a few interesting ideas that other social networks should borrow (or steal): (1) app-specific passwords, (2) feeds, (3) domains as handles.
I first learned about app-specific passwords in a Mastodon post (which I have not been able to find again because that whole hashtag search thing) announcing the Ice Cubes for Mastodon app had added support for a bridge instance (skybridge.fly.dev) that would let you connect to and use your Bluesky account and your Mastodon account(s) in the same app. The sign in page recommends using an app-specific password instead of the real one and the link text takes you directly to the UI in the Bluesky app to create one. In my limited use of the Ice Cubes account for this purpose, the disclaimer about the bridge not working for every Mastodon client proved true often enough to be annoying. The sign in page recommended the Ivory app as providing the best experience—we’ll explore whether that advice proves true in a future post.
Feeds are the way Bluesky packages algorithms that show certain posts and topics. Beyond the Following feed (the default feed for every Bluesky user), I’ve added feeds including Mutuals (posts from people you follow who follow you back), Likes (every Bluesky post you’ve liked), and Cat Pics (the content of which should be obvious, but occasionally includes pictures of raccoons and opossums). Bluesky has made a feed generator starter kit available on GitHub.com, but I haven’t gotten that code working yet. If I do, and happen to feel particularly ambitious the next step would be to publish and host a custom feed for other Bluesky users to subscribe to.
Domains as handles lets you use a custom domain as your handle (instead of a subdomain of bsky.social). Since I own genxjamerican.com, I took the opportunity to update my handle using the instructions in Bluesky’s April 28 blog post. The process was quick, and the handle change was reflected almost immediately in my Bluesky mobile app (I had to refresh) and immediately in my Ivory app (no manual refresh required). If Mastodon were able to adopt this feature, it might at least make server switches much easier for people with custom domains.
Without much time on Bluesky, I haven’t done much posting, gained many followers, or followed many accounts yet. Some of the people I follow on Twitter for news (like Phil Lewis) and commentary (like Adam Serwer) are on Bluesky as well (along with fun accounts like Bodega Cats).
Threads is the newest kid on the social media block (launched July 5th) and already has over 100 million users, courtesy of its ability to leverage the large installed base of Instagram users as a starting point. Unlike Bluesky, Threads plans to join the fediverse so its Threads users can follow and interact with people on other fediverse platforms. But before Threads was even officially named and launched, numerous instance admins joined an anti-Meta fedi pact. The instance admins in the pact agree to block any fediverse instances owned by Meta. As for the app itself, there are the sort of privacy controls and account settings that will make Threads safe for users (and especially for brands, compared to the anti-woke haven Twitter seems intent on becoming)–but not much else. You can invite your friends to Threads via WhatsApp, text messages, email, or just about any other method you can think of. As of yet there are no custom feeds, or lists, or any other features that might let you filter what posts you see. Since Meta is really about selling ads, I presume its only a matter of time before we start seeing (and scrolling past them) in Threads.
Between the three social media apps I’ve been spending more time with since last year, Mastodon is still the one I most enjoy using. I’m still on Twitter, but less often than last year–primarily to engage with a DM group I joined made up of black professionals and academics. When Twitter first looked like it was on shaky ground, some of us exchanged emails to keep in touch, others shared their Instagram accounts. If and when Bluesky shifts from invite-only to broader adoption, it looks like the social media option with the most tools to recreate the sort of community we found on Twitter beginning in the pandemic.