User Growth at Bluesky, Mastodon, and Twitter

MacKenzie Sigalos and Jonathan Vanian, reporting for CNBC with quite a rosy introduction:

Elon Musk’s Twitter is facing new competition from a rival called Bluesky, a so-called decentralized communications app that is backed by Twitter co-founder and twice-former CEO, Jack Dorsey.

Sure sounds promising. So how popular is this new “Bluesky” thing which ought to be spooking Twitter?

The social messaging app had 628,000 mobile downloads in April, representing a 606% rise from March when it became available on Android in addition to iOS. Meanwhile, Twitter had 14.9 million app downloads in April, which is a 2% increase from the 14.6 million downloads it accumulated in March.


Bluesky appears to be gaining more attention than decentralized messaging app Mastodon, which attracted a lot of interest in November as a possible alternative to Twitter. In April, for instance, Mastodon only had 90,000 downloads, the Sensor Tower data showed.

It is not until several paragraphs later that Sigalos and Vanian acknowledge it is only possible to participate in Bluesky by invitation. Even so, it racked up hundreds of thousands of app downloads in April — or, from a different perspective, about 95% fewer than Twitter managed. Quite the competitor.

It is all rather irrelevant, however. Measuring the popularity of decentralized services based on the number of app downloads seems like, at best, a flawed metric. Because Bluesky is available only by invitation, it has only about 65,000 users. And, while Sigalos and Vanian have effectively written off Mastodon based on the number of downloads of its official app, an independent bot reported over 210,000 new users in the last week of April. If the numbers from Mastodon User Tracker’s bot are to be believed, the network had 10,526,195 users at the end of March and 11,509,031 at the end of April, a difference of nearly a million users.

Neither of these services have anywhere near as many users as Twitter, obviously, but the apparent popularity of Bluesky and its comparison to Mastodon should be more correctly contextualized. As of today, I have been using both — you can follow me on Bluesky or Mastodon — and the former feels more akin to a Twitter clone. The latter is clunkier, though it recently made signing up easier. Do not get me wrong: I like Mastodon a lot, and I see good reasons to use both. But I could see Mastodon taking on a more Tumblr-like role of developing its own quirky culture and being better for it. Right now, neither one feels like a product — which is really cool. It all reminds me of an earlier era. I like how this is going.