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Bluesky opens up federation, letting anyone run their own server

Bluesky opens up federation, letting anyone run their own server

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Social network Bluesky, a competitor to X, Threads, Mastodon, and others, is opening up its doors with today’s news that the network is now opening up federation, following its public launch earlier this month. The move will allow anyone to run their own server that connects to Bluesky’s network, so they can host their own data, their own account and make their own rules.  This decentralized model of social networking is similar to the one that Mastodon already uses, but is underpinned on Bluesky by a different protocol, keeping the two networks separate for now.

The growing interest in federation stems from consumer demand to have more control over their personal data — something that gained more attention after billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter, rebranded it to X, and changed its focus to become an “everything app” with a focus on payments, creators, video shows, AI...and more lax moderation. That sent some former Twitter users in search of alternatives that were more sustainable, like Mastodon and Bluesky.

Bluesky, in particular, drew interest as it began its life as a project funded by Twitter under Jack Dorsey. It has since spun out as its own company, raising funding like a typical startup.

After a somewhat lengthy time in private beta, the company launched to the public earlier this month and now has over 5 million registered users, according to an official tracker. With federation, the network could continue to grow as those interested in self-hosting could set up their own server, or instance, to cater to their own needs or those of a particular community. An instance can send and receive posts from other instances, like the one Bluesky itself operates, but can also block others, if they choose, and set their own moderation guidelines.

This could be helpful for those who were hoping to make Bluesky a safer place to interact, unlike Twitter/X, but found themselves frustrated with Bluesky’s moderation decisions, which have been controversial at times.

While this model is similar to Mastodon, Bluesky uses a newer social networking protocol, the AT Protocol, while Mastodon and many other networks today use ActivityPub. Because the latter is a W3C-endorsed standard, it’s the one being adopted by Instagram for its X rival Threads.

There are some differences between Bluesky and Mastodon, as the company points out today in an announcement.

It notes that Bluesky users will be able to participate in the global conversation, instead of the one dictated by the community they join, as aspects of how your experience differs from others is in your control thanks to other features, like custom feeds and composable moderation. The latter means moderation is not tied to your server. While server operators can set rules around the content they host, communities can use blocklists and soon, independent moderation services, to introduce additional layers of moderation. That means there’s not as much pressure on server operates to block other servers (defederate) because of the content they host, since users will have their own tools to manage their moderation preferences.

Plus, Bluesky aims to make account portability easier than on Mastodon, allowing users to change servers without changing their username or losing followers or posts.

People interested in hosting their own service will need a bit of technical know-how. To get started, you can view resources across Bluesky’s developer blog, its PDS repo on its GitHub, and the PDS Administrators Discord. Initially, federation will be open to those interested in running smaller servers.

“There are some guardrails in place to ensure we can keep the network running smoothly for everyone in the ecosystem,” Bluesky’s blog post notes.  “After this initial phase, we’ll open up federation to people looking to run larger servers with many users,” it says.

Once alternatives are established, Bluesky will recommend its service as the default to new users, but they’ll be able to change to another at any point, without losing their data.

The article was first published here

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