Diaspora: The Free Facebook Alternative?

I have been very clear to my friends and family that I do not have a Facebook and will not join Facebook. That is to say, I won't join them again. After using Facebook for about a week and getting suspicious, I decided to cut my ties and quit the social network. After struggling for about a week with Facebook to delete my account, it finally vanished from the digital web, if that is even possible. Throughout the years, I've met and reunited with some old friends and they've always asked me, “Are you on Facebook?” I would always reply, “No...” while feigning ignorance. “You see, I've been living under a rock for the past 5 years. Let me get your number instead.”


After inputting the number of the low-life(who I hated in high school) into my phone, I would always be tempted to rejoin. I wished there was a social network that was aligned with my moral compass.


Enter Diasphora

I've been following Diasphora for a while. It promises to be the Ubuntu of social networking. They promise to give you control over the things you want to share. Groups are called aspects. You are given control of the photos, messages, and other content you create with the aspects you choose. Ownership is simple. You retain ownership over everything you share on Diasphora. This includes messages and photos. An appealing factor of Diasphora is its simplicity. It promises to keep things private and doesn't make you read an encyclopedia to understand their privacy policy.


The Ubuntu Of Social Networks?

Its private nature and controls are some of the attributes I'm drawn to. I suppose the strongest reason Diaspora is attractive to me is its “Ubuntu-like” nature. Facebook hasn't been exactly getting good press. It has been heavily criticize for sharing/selling user data and modifying its privacy policy in order to promote a more open and public profile. I can't speak for everyone, but I value my privacy and I don't want Facebook, or any other company to own my information. I see lots of passive zombies on the web. They're known as trolls but I like to describe these particular groups as “zombies”. They are "yes men". Weak minded sheep that accepts the status quo just because it is normal. I am not normal. I do not accept the social network monopoly known as Facebook. I've rejected it for years and many have also. It wasn't easy for some, especially when everyone is on Facebook.


I am not on Diaspora at the moment. I am still waiting for my invite. Eagerly, if you will. The aplha is out. Like with all alphas, betas and pre-releases, there are bound to be bugs but hopefully those will get sorted out by the time it goes public.


"The bigger Diaspora gets, the better it becomes"

Being the new kid on the block, Diaspora has a long way to go before it can overtake Facebook if that is even possible. I don't think that is their goal. I think Diaspora is meant to be an alternative to Facebook much like Linux is an alternative to Windows and Mac. Being an open source platform, there are inherit advantages and disadvantages to Diaspora. A clear advantage to Diaspora that is also true to many open source platforms is Linus' Law. Linus' Law states, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” This basically translates into, “With enough beta testers, all bugs become more apparent and fixes are more obvious.” This inherent nature of open source software means bugs can quickly be identified with a large pool of beta testers. The bigger Diaspora gets, the better it becomes. Another advantage of open source is the flexibility. Anyone can modify and change Diaspora. Depending on the direction of the social network, the platform can continue or fork. Unfortunately, this can also be a disadvantages of Diaspora.


Splitting, Forking, Sporking?

Being open source also means people will not always agree with one another. When developers have conflicting missions and goals, the project may fork. This is natural in the Linux community and it happens often. The problem comes with the nature of a social network. A social network can be the best platform in the world but it will not succeed without users. When a project is constantly being forked and split, users have to decide which direction they want to go. This can result in having a community that is half as large every time a fork occurs. I see this as a bad thing. Having used Ubuntu for a few years now, I can speak from an objective position. I know what I like and what I dislike about open source. Fragmentation is something I hate. Fragmentation is another word for forking. Basically, there is no unity in the Linux community. No true standard. There is always a dispute on getting things done. For example, the default package installer for Ubuntu is .deb while the package installer for Fedora is .rpm. This problem will carry over to Diaspora.


Facebook Is Not Free

The obvious advantage of open source is it's free nature. Ubuntu and nearly all other Linux distros are free. This will translate into Diaspora. Some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute, I don't pay for Facebook.” You might not be paying a dollar amount to use Facebook, but it is definitely not free. When you join Facebook, you agree that whatever you post, belongs to Facebook. This includes messages, conversations, photos, and everything else you do on Facebook. They offer you their service, you pay a price. It may not be apparent, but Facebook is definitely not free. Whenever I bring up this argument, people always say, “Who cares?” People think I'm crazy. Let me ask you a question? How does Facebook make money? The same way Google makes money. They both sell targeted ads to advertisers based on your interests. You know that lengthy profile you filled out when you joined Facebook? You put that you enjoy snowboarding. Winter comes up and all of a sudden, you see advertisements on snowboards. This is just one way it makes money. It is quite possible that Facebook sells user data to other companies. Possible buyers are insurance companies and advertisement firms. This idea isn't as crazy as it sounds. In fact, Myspace was caught selling blocks of user data to the highest bidder.


Ownership

With Diaspora, all the content you put on the site is yours. All the photos, messages, conversations. Everything. They belong to you, not Diaspora. This creates a unique trust among users. People will trust Diaspora when they know their images won't be sold to marketing companies or data miners. They keep it simple.


In contrast, Facebook owns all the photos you uploaded into your profile. They can do whatever they want with it. Don't be surprised if Facebook sells a picture of yourself getting drunk to a tabloid.


Privacy

Privacy has been a big concern and Facebook have been getting lots of bad press from it. They have been changing and rearranging their privacy policy in order to promote an open profile. They want your profile to be public. This means others can search for you and see all of the posts on your wall. An open profile is a marketer's dream. Not to mention an invitation to stalkers. Now, you can hide your profile from searches as well as lock it so that only your friends can view your profile. You have to do this manually. The default privacy settings are public.


With Diaspora, they are inherently private. They realize how important privacy is and they aim to protect it. It's simple. You don't have to sift through pages of technical jargon to secure your profile.


Final Thoughts

Diaspora is the open source alternative to Facebook. While open source platforms have their flaws, I believe with enough support, Diaspora, will make a huge impact on the web. I hope it will do to social networks what Ubuntu did to the desktop. Right now, everyone seem to be hesitant in supporting Diaspora. It's understandable. Many people take a “wait and see” approach and that is fair. For me, there's no other social network I'd rather join. I believe in the mission of Ubuntu and I have strongly supported their platform. If Diaspora continues to stay true to their mission, I will support them too. I can see many Linux users aligning themselves with Diaspora but Facebook is just too popular. If more users continue to support Diaspora, we can build a truly free open source social network that works for us. The benefits are there. The users are not, for now. Thanks for reading. If I get into the Alpha, I will report back.


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