BlogAlgorithmic choice

Algorithmic choice

Mar 30, 2023

by Jay Graber

image generated by Midjourney
image generated by Midjourney

Recent advances in AI have opened up new challenges and opportunities for social media. As content-generation costs drop, algorithms to help people sort through information must evolve rapidly.

At Bluesky, we’re approaching this challenge from a marketplace perspective. Our goal isn't to create every algorithm in-house, but to enable the developer community to bring new algorithms to users swiftly and effortlessly. In this blog post, we’ll provide an overview of our motivation behind creating a system that enables composable, customizable feed generation, and embraces third-party development.

Owning your attention

Your attention is an invaluable resource. A social platform's algorithm is responsible for curating the content in your feed. The algorithm, more than the content type or the app's appearance, is the core of social media because it directs how you spend your attention there.

Unfortunately, there’s usually very little transparency into how things are selected or why content is being shown to you. While you have the choice to open or close a social app, you often lack control over the content you see while using it. You might have some control over their feed through choosing who to follow or selecting a chronological feed option, but your ability to truly customize your experience is limited.

Due to the backlash against the perceived algorithmic manipulation of people’s timelines, some people say they really just want a chronological feed of who they follow. A feed of content from the people you follow ordered only by time is also an algorithm (albeit a very simple one). This should be an option if you want, but we think there are also many more ways this could work. The problem isn’t “algorithms” — the problem is a lack of transparency and control around how algorithms are used to direct your attention.

A Marketplace of Algorithms

We want a future where you control what you see on social media. We aim to replace the conventional "master algorithm," controlled by a single company, with an open and diverse "marketplace of algorithms."

With the AT Protocol v1 launch around the corner, we can confidently share our vision for this marketplace. Algorithms in ATP will act as aggregator services, similar to search engines. Users will be able to find, share, and add algorithms to their clients. Our UX design allows users to swipe between favorite algorithms or view a multi-algorithm feed.

Here’s how we’ve started building towards a world where users have control over what they see:

  • Developing APIs for feed generation: These APIs will be architecturally separate from the rest of the system, allowing for custom feed and moderation systems to be created as independent services.
  • Designing interfaces for third-party algorithm selection: We’re developing a feed selection system that enables users to explore third-party feeds and access them as effortlessly as their home timeline.

For developers, an open marketplace of algorithms will provide the freedom to experiment with and publish algorithms that anyone can use. Recent advances in machine learning will make it easy and exciting to experiment with new ways of structuring content.

For users, the ability to customize their feed will give them back control of their most valuable resource: their attention. Life is made up of all the little moments you spend your time on. We hope that the future of social apps is a framework that allows you to express your agency over how you spend your time.

While feed algorithms and search are the primary focus here, we’re using a similar approach to address reputation, misinformation labeling, and moderation.

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. By creating the interfaces for innovation in these areas, we hope to provide a dynamic and user-driven social experience.

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