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Social Networking, Software

Diaspora – My Impressions Two Months In

I thought I’d give my impressions of the up and coming new social networking concept Diaspora, an open source peer-to-peer vision of social networking.  Personally I’m much peeved by the fact that Facebook claims all rights to *everything* you upload – pictures, video, text, everything.  Plus they obviously have no qualms about selling your personal data or making it generally available in order to attract investors or advertisers.  However, Facebook is way too useful a tool to just totally abandon!  So when I learned about Diaspora I jumped on the bandwagon toot sweet.

If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a little background on the project:  The Diaspora project is a reaction to all the Facebook brouhaha about user privacy, selling/leaking user data, etc.  They thought the end user should have ultimate control over their social data rather than some massive corporate interest easily capable of acting against the end user’s best interests.  Plus, the Diaspora team wanted to make it easy for a user to move around their pictures, videos, etc – something you can’t do with Facebook.  The group also wanted to make it easy for people to improve, customize and secure the social network on their own, as well – similar to how Linux development works.  You can see the group’s original Kickstarter presentation to get the full low down, or read Wikipedia’s brief summary too.

Since I was one of the original financial contributors to Diaspora I got to be an alpha tester (plus I got some swag!)   It’s still lacking anything but the most basic features, but given that it’s in alpha that’s hardly surprising.  What features they do have seem to be well implemented, and the user interface and experience is smooth and pleasing to the eye:


Diaspora profile screen shot

And Diaspora has already generated some controversy, believe it or not.  And over something I find ridiculous – a major blogger has objected to the fact that the gender field is not limited to male and female.  This strikes me as being pretty ludicrous, to be honest.  While the author has a point that for developers trying to integrate with the system might a simple m/f field in order to do things like correctly choose pronouns, etc I think that it would be no big deal for someone wanting to do that to add their own ‘sex’ field.  Especially since the modern every day definitions of sex and gender don’t match the “hard, linguistic meaning” that he prefers.  Making gender fluid shows a great deal of sensitivity to modern sociological issues such as transgenderism, etc and matches the modern every day usage of the word gender as well.  Sex, in contrast, now means what gender formerly did (as an example – does you driver’s license list you as having a sex, or a gender?  A sex, I’m sure)  Sarah Mei, the developer responsible, addresses these issues on her blog.

Enough of that – back to the coolness!  One of the things that makes Diaspora a lot more likely to succeed than, say, Google Wave, is that fact that while you only have five invites anyone you invite also gets five invites.  With Google Wave, once you had a very few people in your group on board, that was it, and none of your invitees could get anyone they might really want to be able to use Wave with on board – very limiting.  I’m convinced that that and the fact that there was no Gmail integration was what killed what was actually a pretty neat concept.  There just weren’t enough people to really spark a real social network.  Diaspora’s invitation strategy overcomes the problem of just not having enough initial user base to actually get any use out of it.  You’re more than likely to know some of your invitee’s invitees, and so your social base can grow pretty rapidly and make posting on Diaspora worthwhile even thought it’s still invitation-only.

Something that really demonstrates to me that the project is heading in the right direction is the fact that  you can post to both Diaspora and Facebook simultaneously from Diaspora.  This is definitely an important feature for those of us still on Facebook – who wants to post everything twice?  It’s this kind of attention to detail and consideration of the user experience that makes me think that the project has great potential, and I’m really looking forward to contributing.  Hopefully soon I’ll be able to host my own node for my friends and I in order to keep their data secure for them, and so that they can have a safe and secure alternative to Facebook with just as many options.  Here’s to the day we own our own data, and Facebook goes the way of MySpace, AOL and GeoCities!

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