The recent rise in popularity of the Threads app, created by former Twitter executives, has put pressure on Twitter’s potential rival Bluesky to rethink its approach to social media feeds. Bluesky, currently in development and funded by Twitter, aims to create an open and decentralized standard for social media. However, with Threads gaining traction through its focus on interest-based feeds, Bluesky has opted to take a different route by adopting personalized algorithmic feeds.
Threads finds success with interest-based feeds
Launched in 2020 by former Twitter VP of Engineering Mike Koss and Twitter Director of Product Management Joshua Harris, Threads has filled a niche for users seeking more tailored social media feeds. The app lets users follow interests rather than just people, curating content into categories or “threads” based on hashtags, keywords, locations, and other factors.
This interest-based feed has proven popular, with Threads announcing it has surpassed 1 million users in June 2023. Prominent tech investor Marc Andreessen praised Threads as “what Twitter could have been” if not constrained by a reverse chronological timeline structure. While Twitter still dwarfs Threads in size, Threads’ rapid growth and engagement highlights demand for more personalized feeds.
Bluesky aims to be an open and decentralized platform
When Twitter first announced Bluesky in 2019, it was envisioned as an open standard that could power decentralized social media platforms. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO at the time, touted Bluesky as a way to combat problems like misinformation, abuse, and algorithmic bias common to large centralized platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
Bluesky aims to allow third-party clients to plug into its protocol. This means competing apps could build on top of the same social graph and content. Users could also switch between apps while retaining their identity and social connections.
However, defining the specifics of how Bluesky will operate has proved challenging. Building open protocols is complex, spurring debate over issues like identity, how content reaches users, and moderation.
Threads’ success pushes Bluesky to personalization
The rise of Threads seems to have motivated Bluesky to accelerate development and hone its approach. According to recent updates from its team, Bluesky will pursue personalized feeds powered by algorithms that learn from user signals like follows, clicks, and dwell time.
This represents a shift from Bluesky’s previous aim to avoid personalized feeds altogether. While details remain limited, the decision acknowledges the demand for tailored social media demonstrated by Threads.
Some critics argue this undermines Bluesky’s goal of an open and decentralized platform. Algorithmic feeds could introduce the same issues that Bluesky originally aimed to avoid.
However, Bluesky contends it can develop recommendation algorithms that are transparent, impartial, and unbiased. Users will also retain control over what content they see compared to Facebook and Twitter.
What we know about Bluesky’s algorithmic feeds
Bluesky’s feed algorithms will leverage user data to curate personalized content. However, the team stresses it will take steps to guard against bias and abuse:
- Transparency – Bluesky plans to open-source its algorithms to the public. This allows outside audits to ensure impartial outputs.
- User controls – Users will decide what signals are input to recommend content. Options like topics, connections, and content interactions will drive suggestions.
- Fairness criteria – Algorithm design will incorporate “fairness criteria” to avoid biases, gaming, and harms like radicalization.
- Portability – Recommendations are transportable between apps built on Bluesky. Users can leave an app but retain their personalized feed.
Challenges remain for Bluesky to balance personalization with its decentralized goals
While Bluesky believes it can achieve personalized feeds ethically, significant challenges lie ahead:
- Preventing echo chambers and meaningfully integrating opposing views remains an unsolved issue even for tech giants like Twitter. Bluesky will need innovative solutions.
- Truly impartial recommendation algorithms are extremely difficult to develop, even with transparency measures. Unconscious bias can persist.
- For all users to benefit, most or all major social networks may need to adopt common standards developed through Bluesky. This presents a coordination hurdle.
- Decentralized content moderation that balances openness with safety continues to confound social platforms. Bluesky will need effective distributed solutions.
Conclusion: A challenging balancing act ahead
For Bluesky, the path forward will be a delicate balancing act. Offering users personalized feeds reflects the market’s demands. However, crafting those recommendation systems to be ethical and unbiased will require overcoming hard technical challenges and alignment among many stakeholders. As a Twitter-funded initiative, Bluesky’s choices also have ripple effects across the social media landscape. While success is far from guaranteed, Bluesky’s willingess to pivot demonstrates it recognizes the importance of putting users first.