Diaspora*: The successor to Facebook?

To say that Facebook has been under a lot of flak lately is quite an understatement. After being criticized from every direction over its privacy policy and options, and even holding a company-wide emergency meeting to address the ways they're going to change things going forward, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is still under fire over his seemingly cavalier attitude towards the privacy of his user base.

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*

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Hulu shows off new player, no HTML 5

Next Story

Google overhauls Nexus One retail strategy

59 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

The simple fact that users will need to host (or rent) their own web space make it very hard to attract users from other social networks.

If they do come up with something to make this easier, maybe it will work.

Facebook doesn't tell you to upload every single photo you've got. Nor does it tell you to share all your personal information. It only shares what you feed it and that's something a lot of people need to take in account, I think.

Wannes said,
Facebook doesn't tell you to upload every single photo you've got. Nor does it tell you to share all your personal information. It only shares what you feed it and that's something a lot of people need to take in account, I think.

exactly, everyone on the FB is going nuts about all these things, but SERIOUSLY, if you have ACTUALLY private info, why the **** is it on FB? i have info that i dont mind people seeng or being shared about me, anything 'actually' private, isnt on there.

Yanno, I don't know if Facebook is really here to stay or not. For a lot of people, there's probably something fun about building a profile and finding/setting up friends and networks. Once it's all set up, you're just sort of done and it's not very different from tweeting/IMing.

If another new network comes along, and it's compelling enough, a lot of people might be eager to have the fun of setting the whole thing up again from scratch. It kind of reminds me of Pokemon, or MMORPGs. The whole point is building up your character or completing some sort of collection, but once you're all done, there's nothing left but pointless farming/fighting. But you're totally psyched to start all over again from scratch with the next release of Pokemon, despite it being the exact same process with the exact same inevitable result. Or in the case of MMOs, you make a whole new character and try a whole new play style, despite it being the exact same process with the exact same inevitable result.

Maybe, to some extent, this translates to the tedium of maintaining a social networking profile.

1. Its never going to take off in the mass market with a name like Diaspora....it sounds like a disease or something lol

2. And after having watched their video.....I'm convinced its going NOWHERE LOL

FB is all I use now...Got rid of Twitter, myspace, and all the other crap networks.

If your worried about your privacy don't post too much detailed info on FB or limit your friends group who can see it to TRUE Friends n Family only! How hard is it people ?>

dead.cell said,
Nothing with that kind of name is going anywhere, imo.

Yup it was doomed to fail as soon as they named it that lmao

Lamp0 said,
Always thought these social networking sites were a bit silly. Never really seen the point in it...

If you don't see the point in it, then you don't have friends. It is simple, really: You go on, add your friends, find new friends, type messages back and forth, meet new people... Hence the "social networking" part...

HeLGeN-X said,

If you don't see the point in it, then you don't have friends. It is simple, really: You go on, add your friends, find new friends, type messages back and forth, meet new people... Hence the "social networking" part...

I disagree: I have a lot of friends and meet with them quite regularly. Personally, and yes this is just a matter of personal preferences, I would rather spend a night out with my friends once a week that check their whereabouts on a web site that grab all kind of info you and them post.

HeLGeN-X said,

If you don't see the point in it, then you don't have friends. It is simple, really: You go on, add your friends, find new friends, type messages back and forth, meet new people... Hence the "social networking" part...

yeaaaa.... you didn't really highlight a point there, just told me how it works.

I have plenty of friends and meet new people almost every day. And I don't need some gimmicky site to publicize that fact as if my life is some kind of god damn soap opera.

At the very least its nice to see some possible competition coming for Facebook. It has been on a steady decline for several years now.

C_Guy said,
At the very least its nice to see some possible competition coming for Facebook. It has been on a steady decline for several years now.

And this is the whole issue. I don't want it to decline, I want it to grow. I don't give a ******** about which party is the largest, as long as there is just one party that is the largest.

Why you ask me? Because I don't want to manage 10 different sites and have 10 different applications interfaces to see what my friends are doing.

Facebook for president! Or MySpace! Or MSN Networking! Or Diaspora! Or Neowin!
---
And this is just exactly how 'normal' (non-IT related) people think. They don't give a damn about how the underlying architecture is fundamentally flawed: They just want a good platform to have their communications with. As long as it works, it works.

Edited by RuuddieBoy, May 15 2010, 3:08pm :

Just follow common sense and don't put super-personal information on your facebook page. Sure I put a photo or two of myself on my Facebook, but I don't put my phone number, address and everything else on there.

agreed
people just need to be educated.

too bad there aren't "like" buttons on comments yet, I would like this **** out of the one above

Azies said,
Just follow common sense and don't put super-personal information on your facebook page. Sure I put a photo or two of myself on my Facebook, but I don't put my phone number, address and everything else on there.
That defeats the purpose of a social network. I have a personal photo, my address, my cellphone, etc because I want people on my list to get in touch with me in the real life and viceversa. Thanks for FB I've been able to get in touch with people I last saw 10 years ago. If I (and my long-gone friends) thought like you, we wouldn't be in touch now.

The problem I have with Facebook is that I have to keep tabs with all the privacy changes because I don't want my very personal info (phones, addresses, photos) to be viewed by "friends of friends" or "everyone" every time they change their policies or add "features".

ajua said,
That defeats the purpose of a social network. I have a personal photo, my address, my cellphone, etc because I want people on my list to get in touch with me in the real life and viceversa.

Why don't you write on thier wall "Hey, what's your number? Inbox me." Done.

I've been tracking this project for a little over a week on kickstarter and I have a number of issues with it (I won't get in to too many details... or else I could be here all day haha)

1- who are these kids and why are people so willing to dump loads of money on to them? They are up over $135K in donations. Why are total strangers with no solid plan or proof of concept getting so much backing?
2- if you actually take the time to watch their other video as to "how it will work", other than being super vague - they contradict them self: "you will own your data" followed by "your node will scrap Facebook, Twitter and LastFM" - how is that "taking back ownership"? Or what about "we don't need a hub" followed by "we will provide node hosting for those who can't"
3- de-centralizing the social web? "social" and "share" go hand in hand. sharing will be broken if it's de-centralized and the data will becomes next-to-useless (and no, it can't be compared to bit-torrent... that's a very different type of data)

I'm not saying that there is not a problem with FB, but the real privacy issue is that the average user does not understand the value/importance of their data. Educate the general populous first (easier said than done....)

They have backing simply because someone tipped off the press, and it got published in a newspaper where stupid people read it.

Without legal protections from a registered limited liability corporation or charity, they could easily squander the money without a trace.

Three months is too short a period of time. Sure there are four of them, but that does not multiply to give 12 months of engineering house, probably more like 6-8 equivalent months of effort.

While it is noble, the model has several social failings which prevent it from ever gaining critical mass.

I could see host providers offering free shared accounts with banner ad support to make this happen. It's definitely a good idea.

the concept behind the idea is cool, however, i do not think that many people are going to do it for the simple reason of most teens that use social networks are too stupid to be able to install anything let alone configure it

littleneutrino said,
the concept behind the idea is cool, however, i do not think that many people are going to do it for the simple reason of most teens that use social networks are too stupid to be able to install anything let alone configure it

So? Wouldn't it be nice to have a social network where the only cost of entry is your time and willingness to learn? Not everything has to appeal to the mass market. There is room for smaller or more specialized networks. Just look at how forums are still popular for that reason.

neodorian said,

So? Wouldn't it be nice to have a social network where the only cost of entry is your time and willingness to learn? Not everything has to appeal to the mass market. There is room for smaller or more specialized networks. Just look at how forums are still popular for that reason.


99% of my friends are not very computer savvy, certainly not savvy enough to set up a web server, etc. The whole point of social networks is to communicate with friends. That's why I don't understand how these people think this new Diaspora thing will take off. To have a successful network you need to have people on it! None of my friends are ever going to use this, b/c they're not technologically knowledgeable enough to use it, and quite frankly, them and most of the other nearly 1/2 BILLION people on FB don't care about the privacy issues that the tech world seems to be making such a big deal about.

Jdawg683 said,
why do they have to be all shallow and pedantic with the * on the end?

I don't get it either, to me it seems dumb.

Jdawg683 said,
why do they have to be all shallow and pedantic with the * on the end?

"I agree. Shallow and pedantic."

Jdawg683 said,
why do they have to be all shallow and pedantic with the * on the end?

I think that means theres a catch lol, you know - join now without consequences but prepare for later surprises like fee or keeping your data on some crazy conditions. Or, asterisk here means that Diaspora is hidden sect that wanna rule your soul! O:

insanelyapple said,

I think that means theres a catch lol, you know - join now without consequences but prepare for later surprises like fee or keeping your data on some crazy conditions. Or, asterisk here means that Diaspora is hidden sect that wanna rule your soul! O:

LOL Best comment so far.

You have to remember though that if it's open source, people will come along and create more user-friendly ways to make it work. I think the best two ideas I've seen relating to this project are:

A) A solution like Dropbox. One centralized folder that syncs online, but is all controlled via a local folder on a hard drive or via an app on a smartphone.

B) Incorporating it into a piece of hardware like a Boxee box. Have it sit on your network running 24/7 with a certain amount of storage on it, and then it can double as a backup for important data as well.

This project has a lot of good potential in it. The biggest thing is, like I said, the fact that the doors of the project will always be open means that a lot of great applications of the idea/standards will come from it.

MarkusDarkus said,
Nothing is going to move Facebook unless they start charging. It's like me making a search engine and hoping to take over Google.

Ever here of this thing called "MySpace"? Five years ago, it was all the rage, it was one of the most popular sites on the Internet, everyone was talking about it, everyone was using it, there was simply no stopping MySpace.

Then Facebook came along, and now MySpace is hardly anything more than a footnote in Internet history.

Just because Facebook is large doesn't mean anything. If something that truly is better comes along, it will eventually overthrow Facebook. Nothing is invincible on the Internet.

Joey H said,

Ever here of this thing called "MySpace"? Five years ago, it was all the rage, it was one of the most popular sites on the Internet, everyone was talking about it, everyone was using it, there was simply no stopping MySpace.

Then Facebook came along, and now MySpace is hardly anything more than a footnote in Internet history.

Just because Facebook is large doesn't mean anything. If something that truly is better comes along, it will eventually overthrow Facebook. Nothing is invincible on the Internet.

true, but the issue is that this is not truly better :-p

morficus said,

true, but the issue is that this is not truly better :-p


It's better architecturally than Facebook as for security, but the major issue is that many, many people who use Facebook don't see the privacy problems as actual problems. If these people amounts to a crowd of big enough size, it'll be hard for even those with privacy concerns to pull out of Facebook due to the need to maintain their social networks. I think that's why this won't take off.

Northgrove said,

...If these people amounts to a crowd of big enough size, it'll be hard for even those with privacy concerns to pull out of Facebook due to the need to maintain their social networks. I think that's why this won't take off.

Sadly true.

WooHoo!!! said,
Then the $ signs appear and it's Facebook 2.0

Exactly. Wait til they have to worry about advertising deals and 3rd parties like Zynga trying to put their apps on the platform. Then they'll have to deal with those same privacy issues. I'll still with Facebook and just monitor my privacy setting to control who can or can't see my info. Who cares if Zuckerberg can see your pictures. Google keeps your emails forever.

Sounds like an opportunity to start up a free Diaspora* host that would make it simple for the average Joe to set up an account. Of course, a free host that ensures its users privacy. Then somehow profit

I can fill in eight boxes and have a Facebook set up. This sounds horribly complex, unless they find a way to greatly simplify it I don't see it working. Reminds me of how Cuil was meant to replace Google.

The Diaspora project just goes to show that the Facebook privacy issue is not just superficial, but it'll never take off.

I hope something does come along soon to replace it soon, though.