Bluesky has successfully built a vibrant community of 600,000 users on its initial test server, but faces challenges reconciling its vision of an open, decentralized protocol with the community's desire for a more managed social environment. This proposal suggests maintaining the existing server as a standalone entity while launching a new, open atproto network. Users could choose between the two, maintaining their identity across both platforms. By potentially transferring management of the existing server to its users and exploring various funding options, Bluesky could align with its original vision of empowering communities, while still accommodating diverse needs and upholding the open protocol.
Building a Community
Bluesky has successfully built a thriving community on its initial test server, complete with its own norms, culture, and even inside jokes like "sexy alf." Far from being just a test server, it has become an entity of its own, boasting a community of 600,000 users.
However, not everything has been smooth sailing. The server has also been a battleground for significant conflicts. A fundamental difference exists between those who advocate for an open, decentralized protocol and those who prefer a more actively managed social space. This gap between the driving vision of the project and the evolving values of its community has led to tensions within the Bluesky team.
Addressing the Challenge
The merits of both a federated social media protocol and a rigorous stance on policing bigotry are clear, but these two goals are not entirely compatible. What if they didn't need to be? The current Bluesky server could continue to operate as a standalone entity with updated software, while the company also launches the atproto network using the same software.
Users could then choose whether to stay on the existing server or use key migration technology to move their accounts to another server that is part of the open network. This would enable users to maintain the same identity across both platforms, offering them a choice in their user experience.
On a fully open, decentralized social media protocol, managing speech the way many early Bluesky adopters would like is challenging. Although you can block or mute undesirable users and content, you can't entirely prevent them from using the protocol. This underscores the inherent tension between what early adopters want and the open-source, open-protocol direction the company is taking.
Examples of Exclusivity
Case in point: some fediverse servers either don't federate at all or only do so on a very limited basis, like certain Japanese servers. This shows that exclusivity is possible, and the current server, with its 600,000 users, could continue as its own standalone entity.
What if the current server were handed over to its users for management? Bluesky the company would continue to develop software that could be used both for this specific instance and for the larger network. Digital democracy tools could be employed to allow users to vote and select a management team responsible for both technical and trust and safety issues. This would provide the community a direct voice in shaping their online environment.
Funding the Transition
Operating Bluesky isn't without costs, so funding is crucial. Potential sources could include Bluesky LLC, crowdfunding, or foundation donations. Once operational, the community could explore sustainable business models to continue financing trust and safety measures.
This proposal aligns with Bluesky's original vision of empowering communities to manage themselves. By giving control of the current server to its users and continuing to develop software that can be used both by this standalone instance and the larger network, we can create diverse digital spaces that meet the needs of all users while maintaining the vision of an open social media protocol.