Algorithms of social networks can do great things. They have the power to make or break careers, increase political polarization (Facebook, Twitter), make people do stupid things for clicks (YouTube), and allegedly promote the ideals of Chinese Communism to our children (TikTok, although that’s up for debate).
Blusky, however, tries something different: you choose them. On May 26, the platform’s developers launched My Feeds, a feature that lets people decide what they see. There are 50 such channels available on the platform, which is in beta mode. The options range from feeds that represent the most popular posts to those that specialize in showing only cats, nudes, lewd faces, or pictures of the Alpha puppet from sitcoms.
It’s a move that fits in with Bluesky’s decentralized vibe. In March, CEO Jay Graber said the company would replace the “primary algorithm” favored by its competitors with an “open and diverse ‘algorithm marketplace’.”
Currently, creating a feed requires some technical knowledge, but Bluesky developer Paul Frazee previously vehemently stated that it will become easier for users to create their own feeds.
As a regular Bluesky user who recently started trying out the platform, this is very good. In fact, perhaps it could shape a new era of social media where users, not platform managers, get to see what they want. Don’t want to see Elon’s fans? You don’t need to. Want to see every trending tweet that mentions K-pop? You could. “It’s very much a step in the right direction,” says Noah Gianciracuse, a professor who studies algorithms at the University of Massachusetts Bentley. “We need more flexibility and more user choice.”
That would be a stark departure from where Twitter is headed, where it’s getting harder and harder to find good posts among the blue ticks. Then there’s the algorithmically dictated selections, brought to you at the whim of Elon Musk’s ever-changing What’s New feed. In January, it was a man’s boyfriend; this week, the AI brethren ask what would happen if we augmented and degraded humanity’s finest works of art. In short, your Twitter experience probably isn’t what you want it to be.
That’s why Bluesky’s willingness to hand the reins over to the user seems so refreshing. “It’s like a marriage between Reddit and Twitter against this decentralized Web 3.0 background,” says Jess Maddox, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and an expert on Internet culture.
Maddox is one of the Bluesky users who added Cat Pics to her feed, described by its creator as “a feed of cat photos from around the web (and sometimes not cats).” She likens it to something akin to scratching a cat’s itch by subscribing to a cat subreddit and posting pictures of cats.
Maddox welcomes the opportunity to choose different flavors of Bluesky. While the platform still has its flaws, she says being able to choose feeds gives people more of a sense of ownership over what they’re seeing, which is refreshing. “People can be the masters of their experience and have a little more control over what kind of madness they encounter.”