In 2022, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey left the company. One of his new projects, Bluesky, is a social media app it seems Exactly like Twitter. The difference? Bluesky promises an unprecedented level of control over your scrolling experience. The goal, essentially, is to undo all of Dorsey’s self-described mistakes, fixing social media and perhaps, hopefully, the entire internet in the process. The company’s first step toward this lofty goal is to do the job in public. If you know where to look, you can watch Bluesky try to save the world online in real time.
Bluesky could transform the web or it could simply end up as a forgotten Wikipedia entry. On Wednesday afternoon, Paul Frazee, a protocol engineer at Bluesky, told viewers: It’s about time. Let’s rock everyone, welcome to live stream. Frazee had jumped onto YouTube to stream his code. He was building one of the app’s most revolutionary features in front of a live audience: custom algorithms that will allow users to create their own custom feeds. He seemed more interested in his spectatorhas opinions on app design versus his own.
Fewer than 40 people have watched the stream at any given time. Frazee, a jolly programmer with bright red hair who always seems to be on the ball, was as casual as can be. He has become the public face of Bluesky within the app, answering users’ technical questions, posting memes, and providing updates on progress in building the app.
At first glance, you wouldn’t know it was building a tool that is supposed to fix society’s sinking ship. And unlike other tech companies that fight hard to maintain an image as a unified, blameless front, Bluesky wants you to know that it’s just a group of people—people who want your input. One of the reasons I really wanted to do this with all of you is that I wanted your feedback as we were shaping the final calls, Frazee said during the stream.
Social media feeds are run by algorithms that use artificial intelligence and a lot of complicated logic to decide what content to show you. Custom algorithms are one way for users to build these things, Frazee said. Algorithms are usually built by companies that build social media websites. (Bluesky declined to comment on this story.)
Putting users in charge of their own feeds is a radical idea. Almost all social media companies problems get down to decisions about the algorithms that classify and sort user feeds. The algorithm decides what gets censored and what gets promoted. The algorithm decides whether Democrats and Republics are seen complaining. The algorithm decides whether you see politics posts or cat videos. And, in general, the company decides how the algorithm works. Because these companies are ad-driven businesses, they optimize their algorithms to try and keep you staring at their apps and ads at all costs.
You have some input. The Like, Follow, and Mute buttons all affect feed composition. But these are blunt levers with no noticeable or guaranteed effect. It’s like you’re watching TV at Mark Zuckerberg’s house, and he has the remote. In most of the internet, you have little to say about the content that lights up your phone and fills your mind.
Bluesky promises the salvation of social media someday.
Bluesky is not a finished product, not for nothing. It’s available to a growing but limited number of users in an often glitchy beta release. For now, you can’t join without an invite, a manufactured scarcity that has made Bluesky the hottest place to be extremely online in recent weeks. Referral codes sell for hundreds of dollars on eBay. Experts celebrate Bluesky for capture the vibrations of Twitter’s glory days.
It is now a hopeful haven for many of Twitter’s power clique users who find the bird app increasingly hostile. Bluesky has become a safe haven for a community of self-described trans shit posters, For example. The feeds blossom with quick banter and the frantic, positive energy of an app in the honeymoon phase where everyone is still having a good time. Users have decided that a Bluesky post is called skeet, despite the company begging them to come up with something else. For a few days, the Whats Hot feed displaying the apps’ most popular posts was dominated by images of the naked and somehow incredibly slutty Alf, the alien puppet of the The 1980s television sitcom that bears his name.
It’s a fun journey, but Frazee and his colleagues haven’t yet realized Bluesky’s more transformative features. It’s not even known if they’ll be successful when they finally arrive.
Jack Dorsey has spent years exercising algorithmic authority over Twitter, an app that is seen as the public square of the country, reasonably or otherwise. By the end of his run, Dorsey has decided that it’s a power no one should have.
The biggest mistake I made was continuing to invest in construction tools for us to manage the public conversation, against construction tools for people using Twitter to easily manage it ourselves, Dorsey said in December 2022 on Revue, Twitter’s newsletter platform.
Dorsey’s post came in response to Elon Musks Twitter Filesa major exposition of Twitter’s internal conversations when it banned former President Trump for fueling the January 6 insurrection, and when he stopped a New York Post story from being broadcast on Hunter Biden’s laptop. (Twitter’s files revealed little other than that Twitter employees took the decisions seriously.)
I generally think that companies have become too powerful, and that became completely clear to me with our suspension of Trump’s account, Dorsey said. As I said before, we did the right thing for the public company at the time, but the wrong thing for the internet and society.
Instead, Dorsey said content moderation decisions should be made by users. It is the users who should be controlling the algorithms, not the companies, and only a user should be able to delete their posts or close their account, with a few exceptions. Dorsey’s post was a manifesto, a look back at what went wrong, and a utopian vision for the future for Bluesky.
Elon Musk, who defines himself as a free speech absolutist, shut down the Revue platform, where Dorsey had posted his musings, immediately after Dorsey’s post. The content is preserved from the Internet Archive.
A Blueskied vision of the future
Bluesky is an attempt to make Dorsey’s dream come true, but it’s not the only alternative to Twitter. He’s not even Dorsey’s favorite. In the early days of Musks Twitter, some users flocked to Mastodon, a tediously complicated social media platform also designed so that users control the service. Destination at work your Twitter competitor, and Dorsey tends to hang out more often on Nostr, another Twitter social network that also has his financial backing. Dorsey posts on Nostra about 60 times a day.
But for now, Bluesky is the most promising and easily the sexiest option when it comes to internet influence. The custom algorithms aren’t available yet, but the app offers some impressive innovations.
THE exhausting debate excessive verification e Elons Blue Checks it will never happen on Bluesky. If you like, you can add a line of code to your website to turn your Bluesky username into a URL (for example, the Gizmodos handle is @gizmodo.com). That way, Bluesky doesn’t need to decide that you’re important enough to verify because you verify yourself, and it’s impossible without access to your web domain. With a little extra code, an organization can also verify its employees in the same way. The dumbest thing I’ll ever be proud of is the fact that I was the first journalist to be verified on Bluesky with the username @thomas.gizmodo.com.
One of the other big differentiators is the fact that Bluesky is building a decentralized protocol, which is a word soup you may remember from the days when your more annoying cousin made and lost a fortune with Bitcoin. This basically means that Bluesky is making its code public and allowing anyone to build external tools and services that integrate with the platform. It’s nice enough. It means you can keep your Bluesky username and all your followers and friends when you switch to another social media service using the Blusekys code. It also means you can build your own social media service with it, if you’re a big dumbass.
This solves one of the problems of the reigning social media champions: Even if you absolutely hate Instagram or Twitter, it’s hard to stop because they’ve blocked your network. Bluesky offers a new flavor of online freedom.
And as Bluesky’s privileged users await custom algorithms, they already have some tools to optimize the experience. Bluesky has controls for content including pornography, other types of nudity, violence, hate speech, spam, and even people impersonating other accounts. It’s up to you whether you want to see this material or whether you want it to be hidden behind a notice or blocked altogether. This is more agency than you get on most social media sites.
During the live stream, Frazee crafted the custom feeds, carefully weighing decisions like where buttons should be placed, all the while asking users what they thought would work best. Right now, everyone seems to like him and his coworkers, but if their plan works, Bluesky will grow into a behemoth, and with power comes vitriol. People also loved Facebook once upon a time.
You can’t ask Mark Zuckerberg what he’s like, but Frazee is right there. I joined the chat to ask him if he thinks giving users more control will help keep the haters away.
I don’t know how to answer, Frazee said, laughing as he read the question aloud. Eventually people will have complaints, I’m sure. I hope people don’t end up hating us, but if they do, if they do it right, try to make sure we help as many people as possible. And I’m emotionally prepared for it. You can’t please everyone.
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Image Source : gizmodo.com