A Look At The Diaspora Social Network
The Diaspora Social Network
Diaspora is an open-source alternative to Facebook (with, rather amazingly, some solid donations from Mark Zuckerberg himself!) that is currently in it's alpha stage of development.
The project rode the wave of the Facebook privacy crisis during the chafing summer of 2010, and sought to address issues such as transparency by offering an open-source framework. As the criticism and negativity regarding Facebook's privacy woes began to dim a little in the public eye, and critics began to take swipes at Diaspora's primitive framework, our budding social network began to lose some steam despite having reached almost $200k in funding.
What makes the Diaspora social network so promising and unique, is that unlike Google+ and Facebook, it is decentralized.
The term Diaspora refers to the scattering of people or cultures from their ancestral homeland. The reference is particularly apt given the decentralized framework of the platform itself.
A Decentralized Project
The Diaspora team call the project a "...privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network". The basic structural premise is as follows:
- Instead of entrusting the entirety of your data to a corporation, users can host their own pods (servers) thereby taking full control of how their privacy is handled.
- Think of Diaspora as a kind of p2p for social networking!
- Giving users the ability to customize and refine their own pods (the project is open-source), come a tentative October initial release, we can expect a healthy growth of modifications and addons to start enticing users.
- Selective privacy. Users will be able to control what gets shared with whom due to how the aspect system works (more on that later).
But Will It Work?
Despite addressing the growing concerns over centralizing private data, Diaspora has a number of ifs it needs to address, and in some cases, they are quite big ifs. Firstly, having to host your own server is expensive (and currently relatively complicated) and Internet users, thanks to services such as Google+ and Facebook have come to equate social networking with a freebie.
While for many, protecting their privacy will understandably come at a cost, I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of people will not. If the project is unable to entice a large quantity of people, people will stick with Facebook and co. simply because "hey, that's where everyone else is". I find it hard to blame them, a social network demands a large user-base.
My personal opinion is that the ongoing success of such a promising platform will depend largely on how the issue of hosting is simplified -- which leads to something of an ideological conundrum. If free hosts step-in to address these concerns, and services are offered to users to simplify establishing their new online presence, wouldn't the premise of a decentralized and corporate free platform be invalidated?
Technical Features And Aesthetics
Aesthetically speaking, Diaspora is a triumph of minimalism and strikes me immediately as the kind of social networking screen I could feast my eyes on indefinitely. Although bear in mind this is a primitive screenshot and things may change as final changes come closer to fruition.
Diaspora's main feature list is as follows:
- Both private and real time sharing of photos and status messages.
- Other social networking integration (I foresee legal issues here, but perhaps that's because I'm inherently paranoid).
- A twitter style API.
- Spam prevention tools (finally!).
- Aspects: The flexibility in assigning people roles other than friends or family.
- Taggable photos.
- A behind the hood administrative interface!
- Third-party services integration.
For an ever-updating list of features make sure to check the official Diaspora features roadmap page.
I find Diaspora to be a dream social networking platform that I pessimistically worry will never quite find the popular footing it deserves. While I would love nothing more than seeing the Internet masses move forcefully towards this platform, it is still, as yet, a little to complex to expect a meaningful migration.
Come October, an initial candidate release may unveil some shockers, as the developers have pledged to listen attentively to the community. Only time will tell where the project goes from here, hopefully it isn't all that long.