The Verge has a good article about Bluesky, an upcoming Twitter-inspired social media network. Similar to Mastodon and like email before it, Bluesky is a federated social network which means a person can have an account on a server they choose.
From the article:
The [AT] protocol is still in development, but Bluesky’s stated focuses for it are decentralized social networking, algorithmic choice, and portable accounts.
I imagine simple algorithms will eventually take over all of the federated space. The truth is that people enjoy simplicity, and no one wants to do the work to curate a list of people to follow whom they want to receive content every day. They just want the content! (Without much, if any, effort.) Take one look at the challenges average users claim to face in deciding which Mastodon server to join and it is not challenging to understand why the first good algorithm that surfaces content those same users want to see without putting in any effort will cut through the user base like wildfire.
Calling these people ’lazy’ is missing the forest for those sharp spikey balls that fall off trees and burrow painfully into your foot when you walk around. The bigger picture is that what the masses want, they find a way to get. And the people who build that solution for them will be the winners in the social media space. The key is making sure a solid foundation is built today to avoid the abuses that come from algorithmically-generated content!
Compare federated social media with email (another federated service!). I can bolt SaneBox onto my email account and it will automatically filter spam for me. SaneBox operates on top of the federated email platform to provide me a service I find desirable. It is not too hard to imagine that an algorithm attached to my federated social media feed could not also become a thing, and the mobile apps rolling out today already have features which extend the core underlying protocol - providing tools to filter and mute certain phrases on my feed. Heck, even Mastodon itself provides keyword muting.
Why would users not desire to add an algorithm that they choose on top of their Mastodon feed?1
Update 21 April 2023: The same is true for Composable Moderation2, which is another aim of Bluesky:
For moderation as well, there should be a basic default, and then many custom filters available on top.
The theme in all of this is “choice”. User choice about which server (and communities) to join. User choice in which content to consume, enabled and empowered by choosing an open-source algorithm. Admin and moderator choice in how those communities are governed.
The one thing I know nothing about here is how technically feasible this is. One pain point with federation is that my Mastodon server does not know about every other Mastodon server out there in the world. It knows about the people I follow, and it may get posts from the server on which those people sit, but I am only seeing 1% of the federated Mastodon traffic out in the world. An algorithm that finds what I want to see would be better if it could grab content from places I do not know about. Perhaps a use case for relays? ↩︎