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Bluesky now lets you choose your own algorithm

A future update will allow users to create their own within the app.

SOPA Images via Getty Images

Bluesky, the Jack Dorsey-backed decentralized Twitter alternative, has released one of its most significant updates to date: the ability for users to choose their own algorithms. The service, which is still in a closed beta, released its “custom feeds” feature, which allows people to subscribe to a range of different algorithms and make their own for others to follow.

In practice, the feature works a bit like pinning different lists to your home timeline on Twitter in that users can subscribe to multiple feeds and easily swipe between them in the app. But custom feeds, because they’re algorithmic, are also more powerful than simple account lists.

For example, there’s a feed dedicated to posts from your mutuals —people you follow who also follow you back. That may sound like a list, but unlike a Twitter list, the feed should change as you gain more mutual followers. And while Bluesky’s app stills defaults to the chronological “following” timeline, most custom feeds are not chronological.

Screenshot if the Bluesky app with custom feeds.`
Screenshot if the Bluesky app with custom feeds.` (Bluesky)

The feeds also provide a window into the different communities forming on Bluesky, as well as what’s trending on the platform. There are already custom feeds devoted to furries, cat photos, queer shitposters, positive thoughts and the hellthread. Early adopters have been able to experiment with the feature for awhile thanks to third-party apps, like SkyFeed and Flipboard, which added the feature before BlueSky’s official app.

For now, creating a feed for Bluesky is open to anyone, though it’s “currently a technical process,” Bluesky’s protocol engineer Paul Frazee said in a post. “In future updates we'll make it easy for users to create custom feeds in-app.”

The update could end up being a defining feature of Bluesky. Jay Graber, CEO of Bluesky, has said that algorithmic choice could address “backlash against the perceived algorithmic manipulation of people’s timelines.” It also offers a hint of what’s to come for the early-stage platform. Graber has outlined a similar vision for content moderation with users in control of the level of moderation and filtering they want.

“Our goal is to assemble a social media architecture that composes third-party services into a seamless user experience, because an open ecosystem is likely to evolve more quickly than a single approach to curation or moderation developed within one company,” Graber wrote. “By creating the interfaces for innovation in these areas, we hope to provide a dynamic and user-driven social experience.”

The idea of custom algorithms is one that’s long been embraced by Jack Dorsey, who floated the idea of allowing users to choose their own algorithms multiple times while he was still running Twitter. It also comes as there is industry-wide scrutiny on how social media algorithms impact users and whether the companies running major platforms are, even inadvertently, putting their thumb on the scale for one group of users. The appeal of custom algorithms is that users know upfront what each feed is prioritizing and can easily move between different experiences, most of which are not controlled by the platform.