Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the platform has been dying out as a place for academic discussion and networking. Many alternative platforms have been created, with one of the most promising being Bluesky. In this post, Emily Hunt explains how to get started on Bluesky, including how to rebuild your network from scratch and how to use Bluesky’s unique feeds feature. Emily is a postdoc at Heidelberg University, Germany, where she studies star clusters using data from the Gaia satellite and a range of machine learning techniques. This guide was originally posted on Emily’s personal website, where she posts about things related to her work.
Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the platform has gotten much, much worse. There’s more hate speech, the familiar ‘blue check’ has been turned into a paid-for service to get your content seen, and Twitter (now renamed to X) is even going to remove the ability to block other users.
Twitter is no longer fit for purpose as a town square of academic discussion, and it’s clear that an alternative is needed. Enter Bluesky.
Bluesky is one of a number of viable Twitter alternatives that have popped up within the last few months. I won’t get into explaining which I think is best in this post, or advocating for one over another – as it stands, I feel like Bluesky has the most momentum right now, and as such I’d like to write up a post explaining how to get started on the app.
Topics in this post:
- Getting an invite code
- Signing up
- Finding people to follow
- Feeds, feeds, feeds
- Settings & accessibility
- Start interacting!
- (bonus: set your domain name as your handle)
1. Getting an invite code
At the time of writing, Bluesky is still in private beta, meaning that you’ll need an invite code to sign up. Invite codes are given to every existing Bluesky user at a rate of about one every two weeks. Getting an invite code is the hardest step.
If you’re active on Twitter, then you may already know someone with a spare invite code. I recommend asking there! Otherwise, a few initiatives like this thread have been started to give out codes.
There’s also a waiting list for Bluesky invite codes that you can sign up to – although I doubt you’ll ever get one, as it has more than 2 million people on it…
2. Signing up ✍️
Once you have an invite code, Bluesky has both a web app and mobile apps – you can use either or both!
Go to one of the following and follow the instructions from there to make an account.
3. Finding people to follow 🤔
Starting a social media account from scratch isn’t something most people do often. I think it’s actually quite annoying. You’ll start out with a very small/non-existent network of people, and it takes some deliberate effort to rebuild a list of followed accounts again on any new app.
I’d recommend setting aside around 20 minutes just to find people and rebuild your network.
Building your network
There are some ways to automate this a bit. To find people you know from Twitter, you can try using a tool like the Sky Follower Bridge extension for Chrome, which looks for links to Bluesky accounts in the Twitter bios of people you follow. This can be a slow process if you follow a lot of people on Twitter, due to Elon-Twitter’s rate limiting – but it’s definitely the most automated way to find people.
Next off, Kelly Truelove maintains a list of astronomy accounts on Bluesky. It’s a really useful list of accounts sorted by follower count, some of whom you’ll probably already recognize from Twitter.
Once you’re following at least a few people, the “Search” tab on the web/app will be able to give you a list of additional suggested people to follow. Under the subheading “In Your Network”, you’ll get 20 suggestions for people to follow based on who you already follow.
You can refresh the page (or swipe down on mobile) to refresh this list and get new suggestions. It’s probably worth doing this a few times!
Expanding your network
Finally, one of the most useful things I did was to look at who the people I follow are following. Find an account of someone you follow who’s active on the network and who posts content you like. Navigate to their profile and look at who they follow.
This can be a goldmine of hundreds and hundreds of suggestions for people to follow, which you can easily find by looking at people’s profiles.
I highly recommend following at least 200 people on Bluesky – but honestly, the more the merrier. Following more people will make your home tab more active, and will make the app a lot more enjoyable.
4. Feeds, feeds, feeds 📡
A discussion about Bluesky wouldn’t be complete without talking about its best feature – feeds. On Bluesky, all components of the app are open source and will (eventually) be completely federated.
Because of this, a really awesome thing is that anyone can write and host their own algorithm for sorting posts, meaning that you’re not limited on Bluesky to just a “Following” and “For You” feed of posts. In fact, there are already over 10,000 feeds to choose from!
My feed recommendations
Assuming that you’re reading this blog post because you’re interested in astronomy/science, then you might be interested in the following feeds to get you started (small disclaimer – I’m the maintainer of the two astronomy feeds):
- Astronomy – posts about astronomy by astronomers on Bluesky
- Astrosky – all posts from everyone signed up to the Astronomy feed, whether about astronomy or not
- What’s Science – a very popular feed with posts about any science topic
- SciArt – posts at the intersection of science and art, containing some really cool things
The descriptions of the above four feeds also contain instructions if you’d like your posts to get included in them. There are also some popular feeds containing more general posts:
- Discover – Trending content from your personal network
- What’s Hot Classic – some of the most liked posts on the network
- Cat Pics – a feed containing pictures of cats from the whole network (CATS!!)
How to subscribe to feeds
After clicking the above links to the feeds, you can press “Add to My Feeds” to add the feed to your list of feeds. You can also press the 📌 icon to pin the feed to your home screen, for easy access. Finally, you can ❤️ the feed to like it to show your support!
You can also search for more feeds by going to the “My Feeds” tab on the app and pressing “Discover New Feeds”. You can search for new feeds and view a list of all feeds sorted by how many likes they have.
As a final tip, you can press the ⚙️ (cog) icon on the “My Feeds” tab to rearrange which order feeds appear in on your home screen, as well as which feeds are pinned.
5. Settings & accessibility 📐
There are a few settings that you also may want to tweak in the app. Navigate to the “Settings” tab on the web, or the “Settings” part of the menu on the top-left of the mobile app.
Settings: Accessibility: Require alt text on images
Firstly, let’s talk about alt text. Alt text on images is really important for improving the accessibility of the web. Most social media sites support it, but Bluesky has something uncommon: you can require it on images you post. I recommend turning it on: it makes it impossible to forget to add!
Now is a great time to turn on dark mode if you’re also a vampire. 🧛♀️🦇
Settings: Advanced: Home feed preferences
There are some things you may want to tweak about your experience on the app here. The main thing is that you can change how many likes a reply to a post needs to have to be shown in your home feed.
By default, this is set to 2 – but you may prefer a lower number (like 0) if you want to see everything the people you’re following are interacting with. You will always see all replies to your own posts in your notifications.
In addition, you can also show/hide reposts and quote posts from this window.
Settings: Advanced: Content languages
The final setting worth mentioning to get you started is languages. Select which languages you’d like to see in feeds on the site.
6. Start interacting 🥳
Congratulations! You’re done getting set up on Bluesky. You should now be following a good number of people, and you should have a few feeds to look at for extra content. Now comes the fun part!
Go out there, read some great posts, and join in on discussions! You could also make an introduction post, talking about who you are and what you’ll be posting about.
And if you have any questions, just ask! I think the Bluesky community is nice, we don’t bite. You’re also always welcome to ask me – my handle is @emily.space.
Bonus: set your domain name as your handle
Bluesky uses a unique system for verification. You can set your handle to be your personal website’s domain name! Long-term, this means that big organisations (like NPR) could use a handle like “@npr.org” to show who they are on the platform. Only people with control over the domain can allow the domain to be used for handles.
But it also means you can get yourself a fun handle! (This is how I have @emily.space). You will need a domain name and access to configure its DNS settings. There’s a great tutorial on how to do this on the Bluesky website.