DIASPORA: Brimming With Potential

I recently read an interesting blog entry over at OpenBytes. In it, the writer raises some interesting points about Diaspora, winning the Facebook war, and much more. He arrives with the assertion that Diaspora is doing too little, and that by the time the project truly comes into fruition, larger social networks will have already squashed all interest. I, for one, would like to say that there’s more to it than infinitives such as “winning” and “losing”, in terms of user adoption.

First, a bit of a background. I’ve been wanting a FOSS social network for years that could replace Facebook in terms of functionality. We already have identi.ca, the nerd-heaven-equivalent of Twitter (many thanks to Evan and his wonderful staff at Status.Net for their continued contributions to the community.) For a while, there were a lot of different platforms: Crabgrass, Appleseed, Friendika, GNU Social/DaisyCha.in, GNUBook (based on Elgg), and several other projects. In the past year, interest has waned on many of them. I was pretty crestfallen to see that the GNU Social mailing list is now stagnant, come to think of it.

Then the code-drop came for the Pre-Alpha of Diaspora. It was clunky, buggy, and had all the visual appeal of a cardboard box. It had one feature: status updates with commenting. Oh yeah, and you could share photos, but that didn’t work half of the time.

And yet, I stayed with it. It’s an exciting network, and it’s an exciting idea. They set up an invite-only pod, and I helped start up an invite pool on identi.ca. In that time, the group grew a lot, and we probably moved close to 200 people onto the network. David Morley also contributed significantly by setting up diasp.org, which is open for anyone to join. He does a wonderful job, and I have to commend him for his continued hard work of contributing to the community.

If you look at all the contributions made by the developers (and it’s more than just the four guys), and the fact that the platform is evolving on a daily basis rapidly, it becomes apparent that Diaspora is not stagnant at all. On the contrary, it’s a very lively development community.

The real beauty of all of this was seeing how the decentralization took place. I was able to add and communicate with friends on Diasp.org from my joindiaspora.com account, even though the two installations were on completely different servers, hosting companies, and technically run by different entities.

There were a lot of hiccups at first, but the daily experience now is so seamless that you really can’t tell that one of your friends is on a different pod unless you look at their social address handle. There once was a time where even looking at a shared photo would result in horrific internal server errors. It’s now fairly seamless, and you can make friends across the multitudes of registered Diaspora pods out there (or unregistered ones, for that matter).

However, I would like to point out a common misconception about DIASPORA. Perhaps it’s just my own personal feelings about the project, but I think this needs to be said. Those inside the network are pretty familiar with this concept.

Diaspora isn’t about beating Facebook or Google+ per se. Sure, we’d love to be able to share a free and open social platform with the world that isn’t riddled in advertising and run by people that have no value for privacy. But, decentralization in terms of Diaspora is a bigger idea than just being on different connected websites.

Enter the SWAT0 draft. It’s still largely in the drafting stages, but it is a concept for a cross-platform communication standard for social networking. Eventually, the hope is that Diaspora users will be able to socialize with users on other platforms (such as Friendika) in as seamless a manner as they can communicate with each other on other servers. In order to “win” the war against Facebook and Google+, it is fundamentally important that not one single platform beats them, but that a collective of any platform can beat them together.

Furthermore, consider the possibilities of internal organizational work that could be handled with private pods. I’m currently in the process of migrating DeadSuperHero onto a different server, and in restructuring process, will probably provide a private pod for anyone that wants to work with me on some of the projects I’ve laid out. Using private pods for organizations could be quite useful, and would further the agenda of decentralization. It’s something I think everyone in the FOSS community should keep an eye on.

Sean is a guy from the middle of nowhere in Illinois who passionately supports Free Software, Free Culture, and decentralized communication systems. He serves as the editor of We Distribute, a publication dedicated to the development of the fediverse. In his spare time, Sean is a budding indie game dev, writer, web developer, and a musician.

6 thoughts on “DIASPORA: Brimming With Potential

  1. Thanks for the article. Nice. But the font makes my eyes bleed. Maybe you consider changing it one day. See you, CR

  2. Diaspora is just shamelessly copying facebook and g+ one feature at a time right now, but only to implement them a little worse than the “original”. They are distracted by google+ and are trying too hard to not be like facebook while becoming like facebook.

    1. Sony, can you name any features that are direct ripoffs, or how they’re essentially becoming Facebook?
      -Aspects predated Circles by nearly a year.
      -Neither really has hashtags that function like interest groups. It really just kind of functions like a hybrid of Twitter and identi.ca.
      -Last time I checked, status updates, comments, and a three-column layout with a picture on the left was totally copying Facebook?
      -There’s private messaging and drop-down notifications?

  3. Hi there! Great response. One of the most rewarding outcomes of writing articles is when someone takes the time to write a response. I agree totally with the points you make.

    The difficulty as I see it, if we look at Diaspora as a service alone, like any social network it requires users to populate it. I have friends/contacts who are both tech interested and not and see the general populas largely uncaring about issues such as ownership of data. If they were, we would have seen mass migrations away from Facebook the moment cracks started to show.

    I certainly would want Diaspora to appeal to everyone, not just because its a great project but because its ideals (whether the mainstream user knows it or not) are vitally important. Apathy is the biggest “enemy” of freedom and in my experience its all too common to see the mainstream user give up freedoms and follow the herd. I think a big victory would be if Diaspora as a social networking service did become a hit with the mainstream user, then just as Firefox introduced people to the concept you didn’t need IE, Diaspora would be the conduit that highlights how important its ideals are. Best of luck to the project and certainly it has my support 100%.

    Kindest regards Tim.

    1. “Apathy is the biggest “enemy” of freedom and in my experience its all too common to see the mainstream user give up freedoms and follow the herd.” Good point! 🙂

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