The open-source spinoff of Twitter, Bluesky, has released early code for a decentralized social network protocol. The technology is known as the Authenticated Data Experiment (or ADX) and is accessible for developers to test on GitHub, but Bluesky notes that it is still in its early stages. Since the project’s conception in 2019 and its incorporation in early 2022, it’s been one of the most significant windows into Bluesky’s operations.
According to Bluesky CEO Jay Graber, ADX will be the beginning of a semi-public development process. “We’re going to follow a middle route,” Graber adds, “publishing stuff before it’s finished but also giving ourselves time to brainstorm new paths early on.” An description of ADX’s aims and design, as well as some experimental code, are available on GitHub. “Have fun with it, but don’t use it to construct your next major social app just yet.” “Things are missing, and things will change,” Graber predicts. The code is released under the MIT License, which makes it open source.
ADX isn’t a singular, self-contained social network. It’s a protocol that allows social network developers to implement user-controlled “Personal Data Repositories.” It’s designed to allow users to transfer social media postings or interaction between networks without compromising the networks’ own moderating tools, among other things. “This data lives on the social network where it was produced on the web.” This information will be stored in the user’s Personal Data Repositories in ADX, according to the overview. Platforms can opt to index only portion of this material, separating “speech,” or the capacity to maintain data in the repository, from “reach,” or the ability to view that data on a certain platform.
ADX is launching a week after Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla and SpaceX, agreed to buy Twitter, and one of Musk’s ambitions is to “open source the [Twitter] algorithms” to boost trust in the network. However, Bluesky is a pre-existing effort with slightly distinct objectives. In 2019, Twitter’s former CEO, Jack Dorsey, said that the company will invest in research on a decentralized version of the service. Graber joined in 2021, and Bluesky was founded in February 2022 as a public benefit corporation dedicated to “large-scale adoption of technology for open and decentralized public discourse.”
Bluesky’s policies may be adopted by Twitter, but the two firms could alternatively go on completely different tracks, with Twitter having no direct control. “Twitter’s investment of Bluesky is not subject to any restrictions other than one: that Bluesky study and create technologies that enable open and decentralized public discourse,” the Bluesky team tweeted following the purchase announcement.
Bluesky has entered a sector that already includes various decentralized networking protocols, such as ActivityPub, which is used to power the Mastodon platform. However, the study’s authors have said that they are attempting to learn from and improve on past initiatives rather than merely replicating them. ADX is a long-awaited step forward — and a chance to discover if the promise lives up to its billing.