DIASPORA: Brimming With Potential

Some people argue that decentralized social networking projects aren't doing enough, and will get crushed by Facebook. But, I'd prefer to look at things differently...

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.