BlogHow It Started: Three Phases

How It Started: Three Phases

Feb 28, 2022

by Jay Graber

TLDR: Bluesky was announced in 2019 but the legal entity itself was only recently set up. In the meantime, the bluesky community took shape and has taken on a life of its own. There now exists two separate organizations, the bluesky community and Bluesky PBLLC. We’ve been using lowercase “bluesky” to refer to the original open-ended project, and uppercase “Bluesky” to refer to the company with that namesake.

Three phases

Bluesky began with an idea, developed into a community, and solidified into a company, in three stages. The formation of Bluesky, PBLLC at the end of 2021 marked the beginning of the most recent stage, where we now have funding and an organization to pursue our mission.

Phase 1: The idea

The bluesky project began with a tweet by Jack Dorsey announcing Twitter’s intentions to fund the development of an open protocol for decentralized social media. Many people DM’ed the new bluesky Twitter account to learn more, including myself. Twitter brought about a dozen of us together in a Matrix chatroom, and that was the beginning of the initial discussions of what bluesky should be.


The first bluesky community chatroom

In an initial Q&A in that room, Jack wrote “The biggest and long term goal is to build a durable and open protocol for public conversation. That it not be owned by any one organization but contributed by as many as possible. And that it is born and evolved on the internet with the same principles.” This resonated with us. Twitter’s support for this was exciting, because of all the people who already use it as a platform for public conversation, but we also knew this needed to be independent from Twitter to succeed.

Twitter’s creation of that Matrix room was partly an experiment in self-organization, to see if the direction and leadership of bluesky would emerge from that community. Many people were generous with their time in contributing insight to the discussions, including Jeremie Miller (inventor of XMPP who is now on the Bluesky board), Matthew Hodgson (technical co-founder of Matrix), Ian Preston (co-founder of Peergos), and rabble (early Twitter engineer and co-founder of Planetary). However, around the same time the bluesky community chatroom was created, COVID-19 was beginning to take the world by storm. 2020 threw organizations and personal lives into chaos. Midway through the year, I proposed writing an ecosystem overview of existing decentralized social networks.


A diagram from the ecosystem overview

We created a bigger version of the bluesky chatroom that grew to around 60 people, and I started writing an overview of all the projects in the space. The ultimate shape of the bluesky project remained undetermined, but the bluesky community was starting to connect people to talk across projects and building up a collective knowledge base in the form of the ecosystem review.

Phase 2: The community

Sometime in 2020, Twitter put out a request for proposals to the community group. Several of us wrote technical proposals on how we thought a novel decentralized social protocol could work, either building on existing protocols or starting from scratch. In 2021, Twitter interviewed people for the role of bluesky lead, and ended up nominating me. I say nominating rather than hiring, because rather than starting to work for Twitter, I started spinning up an independent organization that would receive funding to make bluesky a reality.

I knew there was going to be a lot of press when I was publicly announced as bluesky lead, but I didn’t have anywhere to direct people yet, so I asked Golda Velez to help with opening up the bluesky community to anyone interested in joining. Her side project was a social events startup that could help cover the costs of hosting and moderating a public community until the Bluesky company got set up. On the day of the announcement, we launched a site that I put together, and a bluesky Discord* and site that Golda put together. We discussed how to best channel the enthusiasm of newcomers in a productive direction, and decided to direct energy into core topics and existing projects. This ended up creating a lively forum for debate and discussion, becoming a unifier for once disparate conversations.

Phase 3: The company

In the last few weeks of 2021, we got the Bluesky PBLLC established and funded. We decided to keep the community as a separate organization, funded through grants from the Bluesky company, so it can function as an inclusive forum while the company pursues more focused research and development. At the Bluesky company we want to start being more public, having more conversations with companies besides Twitter, and engaging with other protocols, but first we need to finish hiring and articulate the technical vision for our proposed direction. In the meantime, the community continues to be a place for discussion and debate, where we participate but do not drive conversations.

* Update: In the spring of 2022, this Discord server was renamed to dSocial Commons. It is not affiliated with Bluesky in any official capacity.

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