Twitter’s bluesky project now has a leader

Another step towards decentralised social media

Twitter has appointed former Zcash developer Jay Graber to lead its bluesky project, the ambitious initiative to develop a decentralised protocol for social media.

Graber has been involved in the project for a while now, having authored a technical ecosystem review for bluesky developers back in January this year. Her review included suggestions for how to monetise the platform as well as contributions from open-source platforms that Twitter’s bluesky could emulate, albeit on a grander scale.

If you haven’t yet heard of bluesky, it’s a Twitter backed imitative launched in 2019 to create a decentralised social media protocol that would allow networks to govern themselves. Instead of one company exercising total control over everything to do with their own platforms, as Twitter, Facebook and many other social media platforms now do, individual platforms would come together but form a decentralised network.

If you think that sounds anathema to Twitter’s interests, it may not be, since it could solve some big problems that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has acknowledged exist within social media. One of those issues surrounds Section 230 of the U.S. Code that allows social media platforms to dodge accountability for what users post on their platforms.

bluesky will attempt to decentralise social media.Credit: Twitter
bluesky will attempt to decentralise social media.

According to Dorsey, the benefits of such a protocol would include doing away with the need for social media platforms to funnel users towards controversial and shocking content in order to keep them.

Instead, it would give users more control over how the networks recommend content. In Dorsey’s words, it would allow Twitter to focus “efforts on building open recommendation algorithms which promote healthy conversation.”

It would also make it easier for networks to remove hate speech and other abusive materials by taking action against these materials in a coordinated manner.

Details about how a decentralised bluesky network would operate haven’t been revealed, but ideas are emerging. One suggestion is that networks in the ecosystem could operate like email, in that individual social media platforms will continue to exist as separate platforms, but with the ability to communicate among themselves.

In such an ecosystem, Twitter would become one client of the network, responsible only for its own app, rather than the entire ecosystem.  

One almost certainty is that bluesky will require a decentralised currency. Dorsey is a fan of Bitcoin and has made no bones about the possibility of integrating some kind of monetisation, hence the need for Graber, whose portfolio of experience includes developing the privacy focused cryptocurrency Zcash.

There are already some online platforms that operate on a decentralised framework, and these were presented in February’s ecosystem review as models for bluesky. They include Mastodon, the open-source social network that many have referred to as the ‘decentralised Twitter.'

In Mastodon, users become members of individual ‘Mastodon Instances’ which operate together as a federated social network, but each has its own code of conduct, terms of service, privacy options and moderation policies.

Graber’s appointment is a small step forward for the bluesky project that has been slow to progress. It also shows a commitment on Twitter’s behalf to forge on with the project, which may yet take some time to develop.