The Great Twitter Diaspora of 2023 has flung my peers across the social media landscape, which basically renders the purpose of social media null and void. I had been on Twitter for…I have no idea; well over a decade and a half, I know that much, but not since the platform’s inception. Being the counter-culture rebel that I am (!), I spent a lot of my early social media time on Google Wave which is where I met a lot of the people I have known the longest at this point. We met up again on Twitter, and I got to know a whole lot of other people there.

Twitter was easy because it was just one person, one micro-post. Viewing the site in its native format allowed for a whole lot of posts in one column which made Twitter seem busy: a whole lot of people chatting away or screaming into the void or posting cat pictures or arguing over something. Twitter informed the social media version of the old saw “don’t like the weather? Wait a few minutes and it’ll change”, except here it was “don’t like the conversation? Wait a few minutes and it’ll scroll out of view”.

After Twitter’s implosion, I went to Mastodon. Yes, yes; another droning on about the Fediverse. I went there in part because it was the “counter-culture alternative”, also because it was where many people I know went — but sadly, not all of them ended up there. It was also the least odious option at the time. I sure as hell wasn’t going to go make my new home on Facebook, in part because I follow a whole different set of people there who use Facebook like Facebook, and I’m not down for that, but also because only two people I know and care about went there. Everyone else stayed on the Titanic Twitter, and the rest went to Mastodon or vanished entirely. If I was going anywhere, it would be where my existing network was setting up.

Then BlueSky appeared. Jack Dorsey, creator of Classic Twitter, apparently still has social media platforms in his blood, because he started this project not too long after Twitter took a torpedo to the keel. On its face, BlueSky looks exactly like single-column Twitter, pretty much to a fault. I have never liked single-column Twitter because it obscured all kinds of info behind manual intervention, and it eventually gave way to unstructured timelines and ads; I was a TweetDeck fan, myself (there’s a BlueSky version called BlueSkyDeck, thank gawd).

The kicker with BlueSky is that it started with a waiting list — originally excusable as the service was spinning up and load balancing, maybe — which then morphed into a status symbol. Whether it was intentional or not, celebrities and Big Name Users seemed to be getting in; the rest of us had to either wait until our number was pulled (mine was pulled just this morning), or we could get an invite from an existing user (which is how I got in a few weeks back). Invites aren’t instant; they “re-grow” over time, so now the users are doing the dirty work of populating the platform. I guess that makes sense: now that BSky has a rep for being an “exclusive club”, getting an invite either from the source or from a friend is like a golden ticket, except once you get to the destination…it’s kind of underwhelming.

Algorithms everywhere and nowhere

People really like to complain about “the algorithm” and how some Vile Maths determines what we get to see on our social platforms. It does suck because no algorithm used thusly has been worth a damn. “Because it’s popular” is not a reason to see much of anything, since “popularity” is probably driven by demographics to which I do not and do not want to belong. On the flip side, Mastodon users frequently surface the “you are the algorithm” war-chant every few weeks to hammer this point home to any new users who might be appearing.

Thankfully — for now, at least — BSky doesn’t seem to really do the whole algorithm thing which immediately makes it better than Classic Twitter, the Abomination Formerly Known as Twitter, and Facebook. Posts seem to appear chronologically, which is a good thing.

The vague feeling that you’re missing something

What BSky does do that’s annoying is to present conversations already in progress, with the post that a followee is replying to being shown above the reply. Basically, we get what our friend is saying, but only part of the conversation they’re engaged in.

I’m not going to lie: I am as much a busybody as any Agnes Kravitz on the Internet. If someone I know is saying something I find interesting in reply to someone else, I’m going to want to know the whole story. While this “already in progress” approach is a sly way to get people to expand the conversation, it’s also kind of a pain in the ass because it also works this way when people thread their own posts. If a person has a 10 post rant, I’ll only see the most recent post in the thread at the time the page loads. If you’ve ever stumbled upon a thread-in-progress, you will understand how off-putting it is to see something like “and once I get out of the hospital, I’ll never use paper plates again!” can be, with absolutely no context.

Never thought I’d miss THAT feature

BSky is a young platform, and I don’t know what its roadmap looks like. There are features missing which are very conspicuous in their absence. One is direct messages. I rarely used them on Classic Twitter, and I know they have been a raging source of abuse and misery over there, so assuming the BSky team really wants to make a decent platform, I can only assume and hope that they’re trying to figure out how to make DMs Suck Less.

More importantly, BSky lacks hashtag support. I despise hashtag spam; it’s just really fucking dumb, like throwing a whole Italian restaurant’s worth of spaghetti at the wall in the hope that as much of it sticks as possible…but in both cases, doing so results in an unholy mess that no one likes to see. Aside from that the hashtag is one of the best inventions on the Internet, simple, and effective. Instead of hashtags, BSky has Feeds.

Feeds, as far as I can tell, are curated lists of people or posts that meet certain criteria. There are tools out there which allow users to create feeds using RegEx and keyword matches to collect any and all mentions of specific things as well. We can subscribe to these feeds which will incorporate that feed’s content into our main timeline. This takes a lot of work, in my opinion, to filter this feed list (many of which don’t have anywhere near the number of users you see above) to find everything you want. It’s compartmentalized, whereas hashtags were on-the-fly, accessible from the post that we saw in our native feed, and therefor auto-categorized content through a self-selecting mechanism.

Tumbleweeds abound

Any social media platform is what we make of it, which has been my mantra since people started complaining about social media. My Twitter experience was overwhelmingly positive since I used Tweetdeck (no ads, everything chronological), followed interesting people, and spared no use of the mute or block button for those whose posts ran from mildly irritating to rage-inducing. I never followed people “because I felt I had to”, so my timeline was nothing but 100% pure unadulterated Awesome People. That’s why the Diaspora hurt so much for me and for many other people.

My BSky feed is painfully anemic. Only a few folks who didn’t go elsewhere ended up on BSky so I follow them there, but aside from those folk, I haven’t gone looking for other people to follow. That means my feed is slow. I get maybe two or three new posts each day.

BSky is also suffering from Late-Century Twitteritis, which is to say that all of the scummy account behavior like paid reposts of other people’s content and such is already at maximum strength here. Unless I know the person I’m giving a follow to, I can’t be sure the account isn’t just someone trying to translate one shitty facet of Twitter to a whole new platform.

I know that I bear the entire responsibility for making my BSky feed the best it can be, but on one hand, I don’t want to. I have Mastodon, and my follow list has quickly been filled not just with Twitter expats, but even more people I had never met before. This has made my Fediverse experience very much like my experience during the heyday of Twitter when everyone was new to one another and everyone was excited to meet new people. As Belghast said this morning in response to a post I made last night about BSky:

BSky doesn’t feel like home. It feels like a bunch of people who are trying to parlay whatever level of clout they believed they had on Twitter to what looks to be a carbon-copy of that storied platform. It also feels like the Platform of Least Effort. People (who got invites) went there because it works like Twitter and they don’t have to expend effort to learn anything new. I don’t believe that BSky is going to shy away from replicating the features that degraded Twitter over time that supported status-chasing. That BSky leaned into the whole exclusive nature of the platform, making it a status flex when someone got an invite, really doesn’t help the optics among those who value interaction over being broadcast to by “celebrities” and “influencers” looking to “build their brand”. BSky is sterile, and is very supportive of those who want to use it less as a way to connect with people and more as a way to shill themselves.

One the other hand, I’ve not made an attempt to use, create, or even understand how feeds work on BSky. The first few official feeds are all standard stuff, like what’s popular with the people you follow, and posts from the official BSky team. It then rapidly transitions to NSFW furry feeds, foreign-focused feeds, and single-topic feeds. These exact themes are repeated over and over, because everyone wants to be in control of their own version of the same thing, meaning it’s literally only furries, foreign-focused, and single-topic feeds. I just did a search for any feeds regarding Star Citizen, and a few turned up, but all with 0 followers. TTRPG, however, brings back many feeds with many subscribers. I find that comforting, but I don’t want my platform to become a single-topic feed, and following several different feeds in an attempt to dilute a subject would probably just overwhelm me to the point where the platform becomes just as useless as if I’d followed no one at all.

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