In late 2019, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced that his company had formed a small, independent group of developers and tasked it with a single objective: to create a decentralized social media protocol that could serve as the bedrock of a new standard for online connectivity, free from corporate and governmental influence.
Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard. 🧵
— jack (@jack) December 11, 2019
Three years later, and after Dorsey’s own departure from Twitter, that team has emerged from relative silence to announce that it believes it has achieved its assigned goal.
On Tuesday, the Bluesky initiative launched a website for its decentralized social media protocol, which it’s calling The AT Protocol. It also opened a waitlist for the Bluesky app, which the team is framing as the ideal “browser” with which to access the AT Protocol network. The waitlist quickly filled up, requiring third-party intervention.
Bluesky is building a social protocol. We released “ADX” (the X stood for Experiment) in May. Now that the design is starting to solidify, we’re renaming it to the “Authenticated Transport Protocol” — the “AT Protocol.” https://t.co/Q0XUF8OhVD
— bluesky (@bluesky) October 18, 2022
“Since May, we’ve been doing protocol work in a public repository on GitHub, but we’ve mostly been quiet on our blog and Twitter,” the Bluesky team wrote today in a blog post. “This is starting to change.”
The AT Protocol, as a decentralized network, functions independently of the will of any single company. That independence, Bluesky believes, will allow users of social networks built atop the protocol to both protect their private data and avoid corporate algorithms that often promote controversy to keep users hooked.
“Algorithms dictate what we see and who we can reach,” the Bluesky team wrote today. “We must have control over our algorithms if we're going to trust in our online spaces.”
Fostering interoperation, or the mutual compatibility of different platforms across the same protocol, is also key to Blueky’s mission. Imagine TikTok working on Instagram, for example, and vice versa. The team has developed an interoperational framework called Lexicon that will facilitate connectivity between different apps and networks built on AT Protocol.
“The world needs a diverse market of connected services to ensure healthy competition,” the Bluesky team said. “Interoperation needs to feel like second nature to the Web.”
When Dorsey—who congratulated the Bluesky team today on their “foundational” achievement despite no longer being affiliated with the project—first envisioned the group’s potential, he stated that “the goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard.”
In the interim, Twitter’s ownership has endured a tumultuous saga; for months, the company has battled with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk over Musk’s one-time, then reneged, then re-proposed offer to purchase the social media platform and take it private.
Last month, court documents produced from Twitter’s ongoing lawsuit against Musk regarding the acquisition revealed that Dorsey had exchanged texts with Musk in which he lobbied the world’s richest man to operate Twitter as an “open source protocol, funded by a foundation.”
In those text messages, Dorsey made his case—the same case made when announcing the creation of Bluesky—about the dangers inherent to operating a social media platform on a profit-based model.
“It can’t have an advertising model,” Dorsey wrote to Musk. Doing so would give governments and corporations an access point to control discourse, Dorsey elaborated. “If it has a centralized entity behind [it], it will be attacked.”
The AT Protocol’s debut comes at a time when political polarization, among other factors, has led to the splintering and critique of social media platforms like Twitter and their policies. On Monday, controversial musician and public figure Kanye “Ye” West agreed in principle to acquire right-leaning social media company Parler, days after the entertainer was suspended from Instagram and Twitter for making antisemitic remarks.