The timing couldn't possibly be better for startup social network Diaspora*. Conceived by Daniel Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer, and Ilya Zhitomirsky, Diaspora* was founded on the idea that you should be able use a social network without compromising your personal privacy. It is open-source, and has raised over $100,000, much more than they thought they would, to help roll it out. Much of the fundraising is seen as a direct effect of users becoming frustrated with Facebook and throwing their financial weight behind a startup that seems to have at polar opposites as far as privacy philosophy goes.
TNW isn't going to buy in to the optimism. While they commend Diaspora* for starting something worthwhile and raising a truckload of money to fund it, they don't believe that this is ever going to be a success. For starters, says TNW, the whole platform is going to be too tedious and complex to set up for the average user. The entire idea behind Diaspora* is that all personal information is hosted on a personal web host, unrelated to the Diaspora* site. The only thing they offer is an interface to make connections between the hosted data (called "seeds", in the official vernacular). Users are responsible to hosting and upkeeping their seeds, in most cases paying for that service. Diaspora* will not have access to the information, just the connections between people. As Diaspora* puts it,
"Diaspora* aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly, will let us connect without surrendering our privacy. We call these computers ‘seeds’. A seed is owned by you, hosted by you, or on a rented server."
Now, many of you may be perfectly OK with setting up a hosted server, or just renting one. But if Diaspora* plans on siphoning off some of Facebook's losses, marketing a solution that requires the user to configure or purchase their own hosting environment may not be the best pitch for the not-necessarily tech savvy denizens of Facebook. If privacy comes at the price of technical complexity, people may back off. TNW also points out that allowing Diaspora* to alleviate the technical pressure by renting space on their own servers completely misses the point of the service. They put themselves in a hole by forcing users to host data. If they do it any other way, it will likely obviate the need for the service.
TNW isn't all doom and gloom, though. They do believe that Diaspora* has a great vision, and a great idea. If they can get the service off the ground in a way that doesn't alienate users, it could be the start of the next big movement in social networking.
Image courtesy of Diaspora*