Social media algorithms can do wonderful things. They have the power to make or destroy careers, increase political polarization (Facebook, Twitter), get people to do stupid stuff to click (YouTube), and supposedly spread the ideals of Chinese Communism to our children promote (TikTok, but that’s up for debate).
However, Bluesky is trying something different: you choose them. On May 26, the developers of the platform introduced My Feeds, a feature that allows users to decide what they see. 50 such feeds are available on the platform, which is in beta mode. Options range from feeds showcasing the most popular posts, to feeds that specialize in showing only cats, nudes, personal information, or pictures of sitcom doll Alf.
It’s a move that fits Bluesky’s decentralized vibe. In March, CEO Jay Graber said the company would replace the “master 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 has previously indicated that it will become easier for users to create their own feeds.
As a casual Bluesky user who has only recently tried the platform, it’s pretty awesome. In fact, it could usher in a new era of social media where users, not platform managers, have the power to see what they want. Don’t want to see the Elon fanboys? No need. Want to see every popular tweet that mentions K-pop? You could. “It’s a step in the right direction,” says Noah Giansiracusa, a professor of algorithm research at Bentley University in Massachusetts. “We need more flexibility and more choice for the user.”
It would be a marked departure from Twitter’s goal, where finding the good posts under the blue ticks is becoming increasingly difficult. Then there are the algorithmically dictated choices that Elon Musk’s ever-changing “What’s New” feed presents to you at your whim. In January it was menswear; This week, it’s the AI brothers asking what would happen if we made mankind’s finest works of art bigger and worse. In short, your Twitter experience probably isn’t what you want it to be.
That’s why Bluesky’s willingness to hand the reins to users seems so refreshing. “With this decentralized Web 3.0 backdrop, it feels like a Reddit-Twitter marriage,” said Jess Maddox, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama and an expert on internet culture.
Maddox is one of the Bluesky users who has added Cat Pics, described by its creator as “a feed of cat pics from around the network (sometimes not cats)” to her feed. She equates it to something similar to scratching the cat’s itch by subscribing to a cat subreddit and adding cat pictures to the mainline.
Maddox welcomes the opportunity to choose different flavors of Bluesky. While the platform still has its weaknesses, she says, the ability to choose feeds, giving people more control over what they see, feels refreshing. “People can be masters of their own experiences and have a little more control over the kind of weirdness they encounter.”