The open source spinoff of Twitter, Bluesky, has released early code for a decentralised social network protocol. The technology is known as the Authenticated Data Experiment (or ADX) and is accessible for developers to test on GitHub, though 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 while also giving ourselves time to brainstorm new paths early on.” A description of ADX’s goals 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 posts or engagement between networks without compromising the networks’ own moderating tools, among other things. “This data lives on the social network where it was created on the web.” This information will be stored in the user’s Personal Data Repositories in ADX, according to the overview. Platforms can choose to index only some of this content, separating “speech,” or the capacity to maintain data in the repository, from “reach,” or the ability to see that data on a given 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 would invest in research on a decentralised 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 decentralised public conversation.”
Bluesky has joined a sector that already includes various decentralised 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.