Saturday, May 15, 2010

Diaspora: Developing an alternative to Facebook

I'm still using Facebook, but I'm  at the point where I evaluate my account from week to week.  I have no doubt that given the backlash Facebook will modify this latest intrusion into the privacy of its users, but I also have no doubt they will regroup and try another run at its user base within a few months.  They can't help it.  It's built into their corporate character, and is an integral part of their business model.

The thing Facebook has going for it at the moment is the momentum of its success in attracting an amazing number of users.  Friends and relatives of mine who had been barely using computers are now addicted to Facebook.  I can keep up with High School classmates from the 1960s, people who share my various interests (both career and hobby related), relatives I haven't seen in years, and neighbors of mine, many of whom I interact with much more often on Facebook than I do in the neighborhood itself.

Of course this has to be weighed against the fact that Facebook is a relentless spam machine, is flaky and unstable, has deliberately awful documentation of features (particularly regarding their privacy settings) and seems to be run by people who would love to plant a tracking chip in its entire user base.

Enter Diaspora

After hearing a presentation by Eben Moglen  on the extent to which large social software networks have been eroding net privacy, four New York University students decided to develop software for an open social networking site which is privacy aware. They named this system Diaspora.    This New York Times article provides a decent summary.

They decided that if they could raise $10,000 in donations by June 1st they'd spend the summer developing the system.  They met this goal two weeks after they set up their kickstarter donation site and when I went to make a donation this morning they'd already raised over $149,000. This demonstrates the extent to which people are becoming fed up with Facebook. I'd encourage you to follow Diaspora, and if you support the concept donate some money to the effort.

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