The latest from Bluesky.
Algorithmic Choice with Custom Feeds
July 27, 2023
by The Bluesky Team
Bluesky is one of the first social media companies that has made algorithmic choice a reality. On Bluesky, anyone can create a feed — cat lovers, coffee aficionados, Swifties, NBA fans, and more. As a user, you’re given a few default feeds to start out with as you get settled into the app, but you can easily swap them out for one of the many feeds that others have created.
Welcome to a new paradigm in social media where users have more choice and control. Our implementation of algorithmic choice lets users customize one of the most important parts of their social media experience: their feed.
In May, we launched custom feeds, a feature that lets users choose between feeds and helps developers build them. Custom feeds allow third party developers to create entirely new feeds that users can install.
How Custom Feeds Work
Instead of using a black box algorithm that leaves users guessing how posts are ranked or how to get to the “top” of an algorithm, we provide an open marketplace of feeds and let users choose which ones they want to use.
This changes the game — for example, news publishers no longer need to guess what media format gets ranked at the top in order to deliver crucial information to readers. You can also think of these feeds as super-powered hashtags or lists. Whether you want to subscribe to a feed of only cat pictures or to posts from only your mutuals, this is possible.
For now, it’ll take a bit of developer familiarity to create your own custom feed. We’re still working on improving the search & discovery of custom feeds, as well as the developer experience, but the basics of what it looks like to have a customizable social experience are here. In the meantime, third-party developers have built tools like SkyFeed, which not only allows users to easily create their own custom feeds, but also provides a Tweetdeck-like experience where you can view multiple feeds in one dashboard.
What Can You Do With Custom Feeds?
The Bluesky team initially provided six custom feeds for users to subscribe to, but now, the vast majority of feeds on the network are built by independent third-party developers.
We asked our current users about how they’ve been using custom feeds:
- When Taylor Swift released one of her albums, Swifties created a custom feed to find each other and discuss the album
- Use feeds as superpowered hashtags to follow along with live events like sports games and TV show premieres.
- Use keywords to add your posts to topic-specific feeds. For example, any post with the test tube emoji 🧪appears in the popular What’s Science feed.
- Be intentional about when you consume news by subscribing to a feed specifically for news.
- Prioritize posts over replies and quote-posts by subscribing to a feed that contains only posts.
- Only see posts from your friends and their circles, instead of viral posts across the whole network, by subscribing to algorithmic custom feeds that prioritize your local social graph.
- Use custom feeds to advertise which artists have open submissions or stores that you can purchase their art from.
- Create novel algorithmic feeds tailored to your specific interests — for example, a feed that prioritizes posts from your mutuals with some network-wide viral posts sprinkled in, or a feed that priorities posts that received the most engagement.
This is still just the beginning of custom feeds, and we’re excited to see where the Bluesky community takes them!
Now that we’ve arrived at a stable first iteration of how custom feeds will work, we’re improving the default experience. Even though users have a wide variety of custom feeds to choose from, defaults are still powerful.
We’ve added Discover, a more complex feed that you can expect to evolve over time. Unlike our earlier iterations of simple feeds, Discover is customized for what you like to see, while still giving you a view into what’s trending in the network. The initial version of Discover mixes in a global view of what’s trending in the network with posts from accounts you follow and posts from accounts near your social graph. We’ll continue to improve this algorithm, with the goal of making a feed full of interesting content that refreshes often and takes your unique interests into consideration.
Our approach to making an algorithmic feed isn’t new. Most social networks take into account your interests and social graph to curate an unique feed for you. What’s new is our focus on algorithmic choice — letting you unpin feeds you don’t like, and discover and install new feeds that better suit your interests. If you don’t like our default Discover feed, you can simply remove it and replace it with any other custom feed. This mirrors our overall design philosophy: give users sensible defaults but leave them the option to fully customize their experience if they don’t like our choices.
If you have feedback on the updates, feel free to contact us via our feedback form here.
Last updated: August 17, 2023
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