Why I’m on Bluesky (and my personal take on social media for the kidlit community right now)
(Last updated November 18, 2023 – I’m now at https://bsky.app/profile/debbieohi.com; here’s how and why I converted to a custom domain Bluesky handle. Also, Bluesky now has PUBLIC LISTS, woohoo!)
Shortform link to this page: https://debbieohi.link/social2023
I originally started writing a post with tips for those just joining Bluesky, but I’ve had so many people ask me about social media choices and what Bluesky IS that I decided to write this post first. If you’re looking for my lists of Kidlit/YA community threads and custom feeds, scroll down to later in this post. On Bluesky, you can find my Custom Feeds by going to my Bluesky account and looking under the FEEDS tab.
Latter includes custom feeds like Kidlit/YA editors who work with traditional publishing houses, Kidlit/YA agents, K12 educators & librarians, Spooky MG authors, book bloggers, art directors, indie bookstores, kidlit illustrators who work with traditional publishing houses, Canadian kidlit creators, podcaster and more.
Like many others, I’ve been trying out different social media platforms during the past year as xTwitter continues to destabilize. Here is my personal rundown on some of the new platforms, and why I ended up settling on Bluesky. Please keep in mind there is NO one right social media platform. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
Changing my approach to social media:
Like many other kidlit creators out there, I found it challenging to stay creative and productive during the pandemic. What the pandemic taught me: that I needed to prioritize my own mental health. Before I could properly care for others, I needed to put on my own oxygen mask. So many out there are going through difficult and challenging times, both out in the world and closer to home.
I’m also trying to do less skim-scan-scrolling and instead devote more focused time and energy on activities that I find genuinely satisfying, re-training my brain and attention span. I started thinking more deeply about this after listening to literacy scholar Maryanne Wolf talk on The Ezra Klein Show: “This Is Your Brain on ‘Deep Reading.’ It’s Pretty Magnificent.” That podcast led me to discover Maryanne’s book, Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain In A Digital World. Wolf talks about the difference between scanning, scrolling, and “deep reading”, the effect of reading medium on brain processing, the rewiring of our brains because of how we read, and strategies to rediscover deep reading.
Some at this point might say, “Well, why not just QUIT social media completely?” That’s a choice some have made, and I respect that choice. In my case, however, I genuinely enjoy online communities. I’ve been helping to build online communities since before the term “social media” existed, and did this many years before I had anything to promote. I love finding kindred spirits around the globe from the comfort of my own home. Yes, I prefer getting together with people in person BUT this is often not possible (for others as well, not just me) because of limited time, money, and geographical constraints.
I don’t believe that social media helps sell books, at least not in the traditional sense. Just because someone has thousands or millions followers does NOT translate into thousands or millions of book sales. For me, the biggest value of social media has always been the community that comes with it.
What I’m NOT fond of: how much social media can influence my mood, the addictive appeal of the act of posting/checking for hearts/likes/shared etc., the drive for social approval.
MY CURRENT GOAL: to cull down the amount of time I spend on social media AND to improve the quality and intentionality of the time that I DO spend on social media.
As Brian Gene Olson said in a recent Bluesky discussion: “The question I should have been asking wasn’t ‘Is there a viable alternative to Twitter’ but rather ‘What kind of social media experience do I want to have/create?'”
Social media platforms right now (my take):
X (formerly Twitter): Continues to destabilize in terms of the kidlit community, especially every time Elon Musk makes a casual or not-so-casual statement about the future of the platform. I strongly advise NOT deleting your account if you decide to go elsewhere, else there’s a chance a spammer will scoop your username or educators tagging the wrong account when mentioning your books. I’ve seen this happen more often. Noticing a steady decrease in community engagement, especially since I unsubscribed from Twitter Blue.
Threads: Too chaotic for me, too mobile-based. I know there’s a desktop version but it has limited functionality. I try to avoid using social media apps on my iPhone for a bunch of reasons, including: (1) Thumb-typing aggravates my tendinitis, (2) Scrolling tends to makes me queasy, and it’s gotten worse over the years, (3) I’m trying to avoid the kneejerk habit of “oh I’m bored standing here in line, I’ll just check social media on my phone.” Also, Threads is not available in the 27 countries in the EU and may not be for a long while, and I don’t want to exclude my EU friends. The EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Instagram: I prefer Instagram to Threads. However, like Threads, Instagram is mainly focused on mobile access (see my earlier reasons for while I try avoiding using social media on my smartphone) and lacks curation tools like Lists, so I’m visiting IG less and less these days. I also find that while I loved Instagram in the beginning, my enjoyment has declined as it increasingly strives to be like other platforms. I miss the days when the focus was on photography and art. I tend to catch up with individuals on IG (“what has xxx been posting?”) rather than en masse.
Facebook: Too chaotic for me, not enough curation tools. When I visit Facebook, it’s usually to catch up on a single person’s feed, or a specific event or community. I also still dislike the whole “Friends” term on this platform. My turning point with FB came years ago when, like many others, I was posting Happy Birthday messages as prompted by FB. Then I came across someone whom I knew had passed away just the week before. I checked their FB wall and, sure enough, there were so many cheery “Happy birthday” messages mixed in with the condolences from close friends and family. I was horrified, and it gave me a new perspective on the platform.
Post.news: I did try, but was disappointed by the continuing tech issues. I also got tired of people telling me I was a Bad Person for still being on Twitter. The platform was originally promoted in a way that I (mistakenly) thought encouraged online communities to join, whether or not they had anything to do with news. As months passed, however, I became aware that development was geared toward those seeking news, especially U.S.-focused news, with a priority of news over community. Fine, of course! But not what I was looking for. I’ve been gradually culling my Follow list of dormant accounts, mostly kidlit – over 1000 so far. 😢
Spoutible: I confess the name is partly what turned me off, and (from the first sentence of the Community Rules) that “Spoutible’s goal is to allow users to “spout off” in a safe, civil, and fun environment.” I didn’t connect with this mission statement as much as those of other platforms. Plus I was already feeling spread too thin.
Hive.social: I didn’t really try out this platform because I wasn’t convinced that it had the infrastructure / staff / funding for longevity, then I heard about the severe security issues that ended up with a shutdown. I thought it had been permanently shut down but (I just looked it up) it looks like the platform’s still around.
Mastodon: I did try Mastodon for a while, but back then there was no Global search and no Global hashtags. The on-boarding process was also complicated for the average person. Mastodon has improved a lot since then, but it still reminds me more of a gated communities structure rather than a global space. Global search functionality has been added, I’ve heard, but people need opt IN for their content to be searchable. If you’re curious, you can read my additional (now somewhat outdated) thoughts on Mastodon from late 2022.
Substack: In addition to Bluesky, this is another online platform I’m really enjoying. Because of its focus on longer-form writing, it’s in a different category, though its newer short-form Note functionality has promise. I’ll write more about Substack in a separate post.
Again I reiterate: There is no ONE right way to use social media, and no ONE platform that is best for everyone. You need to find what works best for you, which platform or platforms you enjoy the most. ALWAYS REMEMBER that your creative work needs to come first!
I’m also aware that many of these platforms have improved since I first tried them. Like many others, however, I’m at the point where I’m too tired to keep trying out platforms. I just want to settle somewhere, even if it’s not perfect, so I can get on with my creative work.
And that brings me to Bluesky, which has become my go-to social media platform for short-form posts.
Above: Cautiously optimistic about Bluesky!
Q. What exactly IS Bluesky?
Bluesky is a social media network that has a Twitter-like user interface. For anyone familiar with Twitter, it’s an easy on-boarding process.
It was founded by former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2019, but now Bluesky is completely separate from Twitter. Some people don’t like Jack Dorsey, but I’ve been told that while Jack is on the Board, CEO Jay Graber is the one in charge. Here’s a short interview on The Verge (April/2023) with Jay about the vision behind Bluesky.
Related side note: If you dig deep enough, you’re bound to find people behind EVERY social media platform who are controversial. If your goal is to find a platform that is beloved by everyone, has no problematic people behind the scenes, then you’re best staying off social media completely. Also be aware that some out there may not be in a privileged position where they DO have the option of easily switching platforms. This is one reason I would never accuse someone of supporting racism/bigotry etc. if they stay on the platform formerly known as Twitter. Some non-profits still use that platform as a lifeline. Instead of throwing stones, I encourage you to focus on finding 1-2 platforms YOU enjoy the most, and focusing on positive aspects of the community there instead of trying to tear others down. However, this is just my take on social media.
Q. What do you like about Bluesky?
The clean interface, the easy on-boarding, the friendly vibe, minimal rage-posting. However, almost all new social media platforms have that in the beginning.
Some of things that REALLY mattered to me:
The flexibility of moderation tools, the fact that the platform considered ALT text important early on (rather than something to be added when they had time), the focus on getting a solid foundation/tech first BEFORE opening it up to the public (rather than chasing numbers like so many new platforms do).
I can easily use it on my desktop computer. As I mentioned earlier, I try to avoid using social media on my iPhone for physical and psychological reasons.
Although it doesn’t yet have lists [UPDATE NOV. 7, 2023: Bluesky just added public lists!], users can create Custom Feeds using 3rd-party apps. I created a Custom Feed of all the kidlit/YA agents I’ve found so far on Bluesky, for example (nearly 80 as of today!!!). To follow their posts, you just need to go to my Feeds tab, find the custom feed you’re interested in, click on “add to My Feeds.” This makes it much easier to find people to follow; there are now hundreds of user-created custom feeds out there. See the end of my post for just a few.
Right now, Bluesky helps remind me of what I used to love about online communities, back in the old days (yes, I am OLD) before the term “social media” existed, when people were more interested in authentic interactions than self-promo. To be clear: there’s nothing WRONG with self-promo, especially if you’re a freelance creative. Over the years, however, I’ve noticed a trend of putting the focus on that over conversation.
Again, however, this is just MY take on social media. I know that some out there may despise social media and are just using social media because their publisher is telling them to. If you are one of those people and your focus is on Likes / traction etc, Bluesky may NOT be for you, especially if you are happy on other platforms.
Don’t expect the same type of community engagement that you have on other platforms. What I’ve learned: To spend more time replying to other people’s posts than expecting others to come to mine. This also makes it more fun for me, reminding me what I used to love about social media in the early days. Stop thinking “traction” and start thinking “community.”
Q. What features does Bluesky NOT yet have that I should know about?
As of today (November 7, 2023), Bluesky does not yet have DMs, clickable hashtags, or private lists. Bluesky added functionality for public lists (HURRAY) and private lists are planned for the future. Although the native app does not yet have clickable hashtags, hashtags ARE clickable when using 3rd-party apps like deck.blue and Graysky.
I’ve been using custom feeds as well, created through Skyfeed, where you can create a feed with parameters like “all posts that include a particular hashtag” or “all posts from a curated user list that include particular terms” or “all posts from a curated user list who use a certain combo of emoji” etc.
Be aware that custom feeds currently only show posts from the past 7 days.
No private lists yet, sadly. Pseudo-private lists still involve the workaround using Mute lists, and people’s Mute lists are all public. As far as I know, xTwitter is still the only social media platform that lets user create private lists. If you’re on Bluesky and ALSO would like private lists, I encourage you to re-post my thread.
You can’t upload gifs or video yet to the native app. This matters more to some than others. For video, I’m uploading to YouTube and then including the link in my post instead. However, both deck.blue and Graysky now have GIF functionality, though only access Tenor gifs. The deck.blue developer tells me he may make it possible to access GIPHY in the future; this makes me happy, since I created a GIPHY library for use on xTwitter ages ago. You can also upload your own custom gifs via deck.blue, too, though they are only viewable within deck.blue.
Q. Is it worth joining Bluesky? I’m just so tired of starting again on yet another new platform.
This discussion came up recently on Bluesky, about social media fatigue and “yet another platform where I need to cross-post.” Here are some thoughts I posted over there.
Like many others, I’m going through social media fatigue. It’s one reason I’ve stopped looking for The Perfect Twitter Replacement and am just embracing Bluesky. It’s not perfect and is still missing some community-building features, but I’m cautiously optimistic. Rather than wait as Twitter gradually deterioriates, however, I’ve decided I need to just pick a platform and move on, so I can go back to focusing my time and energy on creative projects again. If Bluesky flounders, then I will have to start looking again….but for now, it’s where I’m settling in.
Instead of approaching Bluesky as “ye another platform where I’m cross-posting,” I’m looking at Bluesky as a chance to start from scratch with a clean slate, a chance to do something DIFFERENT. I will occasionally cross-post, especially when I have something super-important or that I’m proud of, that I’d like other people to know about, but I am NOT doing constant cross-posting across all my platforms. For me, the thought is not only exhausting but also something I don’t want to inflict on those who are following me on multiple platforms.
Even though I don’t have nearly as many followers on Bluesky compared to xTwitter, I am enjoying Bluesky MUCH more. Right now, Bluesky reminds me of the early days of Twitter, when people were having more conversations rather than just broadcasting or self-promoting, and not talking so much about whether or not their posts are “getting traction”. I was just as guilty as the rest, but right now I’m trying VERY hard to focus on conversation and community, seeking out people and conversations rather than expecting them to come to me.
What tipped me over the edge in embracing Bluesky: the growing community of educators and librarians! Browse my K-12 Educators & Librarians public list (click on About for a list of users). Do check out the #EduSky hashtag and follow @EduSky.
On the topic of community engagement: I did a bit of cross-posting a while ago to test this, and the results were interesting.
Despite having many MORE followers on xTwitter, I had far more engagement on Bluesky. Posts are basically the same and posted within a minute or two of each other. Especially note that on the right, only 399 people saw my post (out of my 54,000+ followers)
Some theories about why the difference include:
- I am no longer a Twitter Blue subscriber, which means my posts (and replies) are not being boosted the way Twitter Blue subscribers’ posts are. I understand that the platform needs to make money somehow, but still. I’ve been helping build community as well as building my platform there for over a decade. In terms of community reach, it seems like a spammer or troll who can afford the Twitter Blue subscription could easily achieve the same or greater reach without investing the time.
- I’m interacting with the community on Bluesky far more than on xTwitter these days.
- Many of the kidlit people who had been following me on xTwitter are no longer active or are far less active on that platform.
I also think it probably makes a difference if someone with a Twitter Blue subscription shares something, because Twitter Blue subscribers have a far wider reach.
Q. But doesn’t this mean that you’ll miss some great opportunities and people’s news that are only posted on other platforms?
It’s still a challenge for me, but I’m trying to embrace JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out). The term was first coined by long-time blogger Anil Dash in 2012, as a counter to FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but I first came across it in Emma Gannon’s The Hyphen on Substack. One of the many reasons I love Substack is because is because of the longer form posts that encourage me to think more deeply, in addition to the fun discussions with the community via comments, Chats, and Notes.
When I see a post about some initiative or event that many of my kidlit friends are part of, I do still experience wistful envy sometimes. Or a moment of anxiety, as in “oh geez, I should be doing more stuff like that” or “maybe I should look into joining that <name of group>, too.” But now I try VERY HARD to weigh the pros and cons first, and think about what activities I enjoy NOW that might suffer as a result, or if it’s worth giving up <enjoyable activity> so I can do something else.
More often than not, I end up thinking something like “Well yes, I would have enjoyed doing that. But instead, I read a book / spent time with a dear friend / worked on a creative project” etc.
I want to focus on being more present, to more fully enjoy what I already have and where I am in my life, to free up the part of my brain that keeps negatively comparing myself to others so I can direct that energy toward healthier self-goals.
Q. Isn’t Bluesky still invite-only? How do I get an invite? When will Bluesky open up to the public?
According to the Bluesky blog, the platform is getting closer to opening up to more users.
While the invite-only system can be irritating for those trying to join, it’s for the good for everyone. According to the Bluesky FAQ, here’s just one reason they’re invite-only right now:
I’ve been getting one invite code to give out every two weeks. I’m trying to give my codes only to those genuinely interested in helping to build the community, not just create a placeholder and leave. I encourage code-givers to be discerning – there are many code-flippers/sellers out there, as well as spammers trying to join.
I was on the waitlist for month without getting a code, so I finally mentioned over on Substack that I was looking for one and a kind stranger offered one to me. I also sometimes have Bluesky invite code exchange threads over on xTwitter, but find they don’t always work because both code-givers and code-seekers don’t always check back or follow up. Also, if they aren’t following each other on xTwitter, then DMs can potentially be flagged as spam.
At THIS point, there are enough members of the kidlit/YA community on Bluesky that there are a lot more codes available. However, you need to make it clear that you ARE seeking a code and that you plan to activate the code right away. And again, make it clear that how/why you are seeking a code, so code-givers know you’re not a spammer.
Q. I’ve just joined Bluesky. Any quick tips for a newbie?
Here are some starter tips based both on my own experience as well as suggestions from others in the community. I’m also posting short Bluesky How-To Videos on my Youtube channel.
Before following anyone, fill out your profile. So many are wary about following back potential fake accounts or spammers, so be sure to fill your profile. Include your real name if at all possible, profile bio, a clickable link in your profile bio text where people can find out more about you and your work, profile user image (using the same profile avatar as you do on other platforms will help others recognize you), cover image.
Add a cover image:I found it a bit confusing knowing what dimensions would be best for a Bluesky cover image, so have created a template in case it helps anyone else:
If it looks like you only spent a few seconds creating an account on Bluesky, people may assume you’re not planning to hang around.
Before following anyone, make a post. Even if you aren’t posting regularly yet, I encourage you to make an intro post. Ideally, make it something that isn’t just “buy my book.” Assume that people who don’t know you or your work are going to be checking your first post to help them decide whether or not to follow you.
Before jumping in and starting to promote stuff the same way you do on other platforms, think hard about how you want to use Bluesky. This is a chance to start with a clean slate. What can you do differently here that will help you enjoy the platform more? In my case: Instead of having a different account for my gaming posts the way I did on xTwitter, I’m going to try having just ONE account. In addition to my usual work-related posts, I’m going to be posting about other interests. I love the thread on Naomi Krueger (acquisitions editor at Beaming Books)’s Bluesky feed, in which she points out that she tries to have an authentic presence online, and one of her values is a work-life balance. “Social media has been tremendously beneficial to my career and connecting with creatives and publishing folks, but I’m more than just my job. I have other interests and aspects of my identity beyond books.”
Use ALT text when posting images. Not only does this make your images more accessible, but some custom feeds (depending on how they’re set up) will pick up the ALT text in searches. Bergsbites’ Fountain Pens custom feed, for example, searches for the term “fountain pen” not just in posts but also in image ALT text. In your Settings, you can toggle on the “Require alt text before posting” to remind yourself.
Stop thinking in terms of “traction” and number of Likes. Instead of waiting for people to discover you and react to your posts, seek them out. Participate in conversations, respond to fun community polls, engage with the community. Because relatively few people are on Bluesky compared to much more established platforms right now, I find I have to be more proactive. What seems to be working for me right now: Spending much more time replying to posts and conversations initiated by other people than broadcasting on my own Bluesky feed. I’m also discovering new and interesting people by coming across their replies to others.
Jury’s still out on what nicknames to use for those on Bluesky, and the act of re-sharing posts on Bluesky. I’ve seen some using the term “skeet” and “skeeters,” but be aware that these terms mean something differently as slang terms. (Feel free to look it up).
Take the time to explore your Moderation options and your Settings. In the latter, especially check your Home Feed Preferences, in which you can find-tune the content you see on your home screen. Current default is that replies are only shown in your feed if they have at least 2 likes, for example. To see more, turn this off, or move the number to zero.
Consider learning how to make your own custom feed BUT be aware that with public Lists coming soon to Bluesky, you may not need to. See @kellienicely.bsky.social’s post with resources re: Skyfeed.
OPTIONAL TIP (for more tech-advanced):
Consider changing your user handle to a custom domain.
Early next year, Bluesky is switching to federation. I am not an expert so I may be using the wrong terminology, apologies! But from what I understand, this means that it will be spread across multiple servers rather than a single server (or servers) run by just one company. Here’s the Wikipedia explanation of a Federated Social Network and an explanation by Jay Graber about Decentralized Social Networks.
When this happens, many Bluesky profile links will change as our accounts are moved to different servers. From a user experience perspective, I’ve been told very little should change. A Bluesky team member reassured me that global search will still work, for example.
Because user profile links will likely change, however, I decided to be proactive and switch to my already-registered DebbieOhi.com domain, so I don’t have to worry about this later. You don’t have to buy your custom domain through Bluesky; there are many domain registrars out there.
I’ve also been told that old user @ tags will always redirect to our current profiles, regardless of what our usernames change to. For the more tech-savvy out there, here’s another suggestion from the Bluesky team on how to use “evergreen” links. I’m going to stick with @debbieohi.com.
👉🏼 Here are instructions on how to change your handle to a custom domain, though be warned that you need to know how to adjust settings via your domain registrar. Mine is Dreamhost, and here’s what my final DNS custom record listing looked like:
(Reminder: This is specific to Dreamhost. I had to read this Dreamhost support page to figure out where to go.)
As soon as the switch had been made, I used an extra invite code to create a new account with my old handle, to prevent anyone else from scooping it and also to provide forwarding information to my new @debbieohi.com account. However, I’ve been told that the Bluesky team is considering ways of making it less of a hassle for those wishing to switch to custom domains and not wanting their old handles scooped.
Be sure to VERIFY at the end, else the change won’t go through. Make sure you enter the domain you want to use; I initially just put “debbieohi” instead of “debbieohi.com” and ran into problems.
I’ll be offering more specific tips and advice in future posts, but I did want to get this post out there for those curious about Bluesky in general.
Related Resources (I will update as I find more):
Brian Kirby’s post about the KidLit Community On Bluesky, with tips
Community Connect Threads and Custom Feeds:
If you’d like to be added to my Kidlit/YA Book Boosters list, reply to this thread on Bluesky.
MY PUBLIC LISTS ON BLUESKY:
LIST: Canadian Kidlit/YA Authors and Illustrators (also includes CanKidLit boosters)
LIST: Kidlit/YA Publishers (traditional publishing houses)
LIST: Kidlit/YA book bloggers, booktokkers, booktubers, bookstagrammers – Also see Kidlit/YA book boosters custom feed. This feed is user-based, but only showing posts that include 📚👍🏼 emojis, which signal a post boosting someone else’s kidlit/YA book.
LIST: Kidlit Illustrators who work with PAL publishers – See PAL guidelines on the SCBWI website.
MY CUSTOM FEEDS & OTHER COMMUNITY THREADS:
KidLit Book Authors & Illustrators on Bluesky (who enjoy connecting with schools/libraries). Because there are SO many kidlit creators joining Bluesky recently 🎉, I lack the time to maintain a Custom Feed. However, there are already several kidlit Custom feeds out there, such as Greg Pincus’s #KidLitChat, David B. Fox’s Kidlit, Boring Stories’ KidLit Community. Check out Kate Messner’s Google Doc for the kidlit community (not just creators) and here’s how to add yourself.
Selection of other people’s Custom Feeds:
#kidlitchat by @gregpincus.bsky.social
KidLit Community by @boringstories.bsky.social
KidLit by @davidbfox.com
Some topic-specific custom feeds I follow:
Fountain Pens by @bergsbites.bsky.social
Board Games by @gilhova.bsky.social
Board Game Design by @vickilanger.bsky.social