Bluesky is funding developer projects to give its Twitter/X alternative a boost

Would-be Twitter/X rival Bluesky is looking to more directly invest in its developer community in order to foster growth. The company last week announced “AT Protocol Grants,” a new program that will dole out small grants to developers building on its new social networking protocol. Initially, Bluesky said it would release $10,000 in grants of $500 to $2,000 per project apiece, based on factors like cost, usage and more.

Interested developers can fill out a form to apply for the grants. There’s no deadline to apply but Bluesky will announce when the $10,000 has been used up.

Already, the company has distributed $3,000 of the $10,000 in a pilot program to developers behind two popular SDKs, including the AT Protocol Python SDK (by Ilya Siamionau) and the AT Protocol Dart SDK (by Shinya Kato). A third recipient is SkyFeed, a custom tool that lets anyone — even non-developers — build their own feeds using a graphical user interface. Noted Bluesky, more than 40,000 custom feeds have now been built using SkyFeed.

At Bluesky, the idea is to offer users the ability to personalize the service to their liking, by controlling their own moderation preferences and building or subscribing to feeds that present its data in different ways beyond the default timeline Bluesky itself offers. Users will also be able to join federated servers (beyond the one operated by Bluesky), which may have different moderation rules.

The concept of decentralized social networking has been around longer than Bluesky, however, with many projects, including Mastodon, Misskey, Pixelfed and others, backed by the ActivityPub protocol. Meta’s Instagram Threads plans to integrate with ActivityPub as well. But Bluesky is challenging these efforts with its own AT Protocol, which it believes is an improvement over the existing option for a variety of reasons, including its support for algorithmic choice. (A bridge between the two protocols may be built so, eventually, users won’t have to understand the differences but could talk to users on both networks.)

Bluesky says the projects receiving the grants can be useful to either developers or end users and will be paid out via public GitHub Sponsorships. The company also partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to offer developers $5,000 in AWS Activate credits to get their projects off the ground. These credits help to cover costs from cloud services, like machine learning, compute, databases, storage, containers, dev tools and more.

The investment in community projects lies in stark contrast with how Twitter, now called X, has treated developers under Elon Musk’s ownership. Twitter/X changed its API terms, putting many smaller developers, researchers and helpful bot builders out of business. Some have since turned their attention to Mastodon, as Tweetbot developer Tapbots did with the launch of Ivory. Bluesky has been far more collaborative with its developer community than X, seeing the value in a third-party ecosystem to grow its user base and engagement with its platform. That could be more helpful in the months to come as the bump that came from Bluesky’s public launch last month has since tapered off. The company now has nearly 5.18 million users, but growth has slowed in recent days.

The grants were announced last week alongside the launch of Bluesky’s app version 1.71 which added a polished hashtag view page, the ability for “mutewords” to catch quoted posts (but not your own posts), the ability to start hashtags with numbers and more.