The magic of Bluesky

Ben Neely · September 20, 2023

Last fall I wrote about what was going on with the initial Twitter exodus, and tried to present a primer on Mastodon. Since then many did in fact leave Twitter for good and are only on Mastodon. For whatever reason, these are some of my favorite computational folks (Ron Beavis, Phil Wilmarth, David Tabb, etc.). Bluesky has slowly been building in invite-only mode, but for me has never been more than some of my favorite authors (Neil Gaiman and John Scalzi) posts… but this past week I started to see a lot of the genomics comp bio folks posting on Bluesky, and then even more yesterday and today. Maybe it was that Elon just said Twitter might charge everyone, but something seemed to happen. As Carl Bergstrom wrote last fall “Until now, scientists were locked into staying on Twitter by the “network externality” problem — the value of Twitter comes from the community there, and unless scientists could move en masse to a new home, there was no incentive for any individual or small group to switch. Mr. Musk may have broken that particular dam.”


So here is my effort to present what I know and like about Bluesky, and what are their future plans (not exhaustive):


For me, it clicked today when I made a custom proteomics feed using the (instructions here) and realized that by pinning it I can have multiple feeds to click through at the top of the webUI or the app. Why is this a big deal for me? I thought (and still think) Mastodon is awesome and has all the right things going on… except being able to browse your follows when time is limited (a thread by me about this). Let’s say all 2-3k team mass spec folks come over to Mastodon, and here I am browsing a chronologically sorted timeline… I am gonng miss tons of posts unless I have hours to scroll and will be biased towards those active when I am active (like a shared time zone or region). Instead, with Bluesky I can make up whatever feed I want that can gather certain users or tags (even emjoi), mixing in random posts from all over, picking the last 3o minutes or day or 3 days or 7 days, or I can sort it all based on likes, chronologically, random, or Hackter News Rank (whatever that means). Specifically, it means I can (and did) make a ProteomicSky feed and now I can see others are actually here and I can quickly browse it. Obviously I need to fine tune this custom feed (maybe make a “hot” ProteomicSky feed instead), but that’s the thing, I can make whatever I want or anyone else can. This is not a choice in Mastodon (short of maybe the app Mammoth starting to add it).


Feed Update: ProteomicSky is chronological and ProteomicSky-Hot is last 3 days sorted by likes.


Okay, but going back to my post about Mastodon last year, what was the function and functionality of sciTwitter and what are we getting right/wrong now with Bluesky.

  • Posts are technically called skeets (akin to toots or tweets), but calling them posts seems acceptable
  • There are “Repost” and “Quote Post” options (quote posting is still a contentious topic on Mastodon)
  • Has an app and webUI, and they are pretty good (specifically controlling feeds and moderation are really cool)
  • Posts are not public (yet), so public SciComm sharing doesn’t work (yet)
  • AltMetric isn’t here (but it isn’t anywhere but Twitter, yet)
  • Many of my nonScience follows (think cycling, weather, sports) are on Twitter and/or Threads, but not here (this is still a big bummer to me about the whole twitter exodus)
  • No DMs (feature is coming)
  • No GIFs (feature is coming)
  • No post editing (most Mastodon clients have a pretty nifty “edit” feature, which is essentially is a delete a re-post, but it works well)
  • No polls
  • No Spaces thingy, but POTRH has some plans if needed (Discord I think)
  • No pinned post (not a deal breaker, but I liked this feature)
  • No verification, unless you count using custom domain handle (for comparison, some Mastodon servers let you verify yourself with your domain). I don’t think this is essential, but is a point to mention.
  • Hashtags aren’t really what they are on other sites (autosuggestable clickable aggregators), but this is by design, and custom feeds are the answer instead
  • Lingering question of will I be able to access everything via an “AllMyTweets” type service?
  • I can view all my follows without worrying about servers or truncated conversation threads (looking at you Mastodon)
  • Custom feeds are becoming more and more the main selling point, imo (make your feed and UI exactly what you want). Having custom feeds to flip through on the app or webUI is a really fun hack I didn’t think I would like as much as I do (here are more science ones)

    I wrote a follow up to this after a couple weeks using it, with some final thoughts. Check it out here.