My November, 2010 Missoulian InBusinessMonthly column
The Diaspora Project has come alive with the first code release as of last month, and programmers are fixing bugs and testing code and building in new features. And the feedback is mostly good.
What’s the Diaspora Project? It’s a project envisioned by four New York University students and software developers to build an alternative to Facebook.
Yes, that’s a tall order. Facebook, the ubiquitous social network that everyone and their dog is on, recently passed the 500-million user mark and is still growing fast. And Facebook recently became the most-visited website of all, averaging 570 billion views a month.
The students are not under the impression they will take down Facebook with their Diaspora Project.
But their goal isn’t to take down Facebook or other social networks. Their idea is to build a social network like Facebook, but one that addresses critical shortcomings in the Facebook model – and hope that users see the difference, feel more comfortable with having more control over their privacy and begin to use Diaspora.
Facebook’s privacy shortcomings have been all over the news in the last few years, and they primarily have to do with privacy and access to personal information.
Facebook has suffered bad PR from arbitrarily deciding that personal information is really public and hiding those changes in privacy policies and complex account settings. And the company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has gone as far as to say that people want to be more open and share their information in this age of the Internet, assuming his role of arbiter of what is personal and what’s not and what he sees as a cultural shift in privacy.
Many social networks – like Facebook – are primarily “opt-out.” That means everything you post is automatically shared across the network and Internet, by default. To opt out and not share information, you have to find your account settings and make sure they are set the way you want.
Opt-in privacy means nothing is shared unless you allow it. Opt-out means everything is shared unless you decide not to share it.
While Facebook decides how you can control your personal information, Diaspora differs because it lets people decide their own privacy settings. Privacy on Diaspora is always “opt-in,” not like Facebook, where it is mostly “opt-out” by default.
Another aspect of Diaspora that is important to privacy is that there is no central business in control of the network or personal information. There is no private company behind Diaspora to arbitrarily change privacy policies and release information without consent.
And the Diaspora Project is open source, which means the code is free for all to view and work with, unlike the code of a private company, which would be mostly secret and protected by intellectual property rights. The Diaspora developers hope this will share the confidence they have in the network.
One problem is that Diaspora is not “point and click” to set up. If you want to use it, you will need to set up your own “seed” server on your home PC or on web hosting space, or find another seed to use.
This is going to be a problem when compared to Facebook et al, where it’s easy to open an account and use the service within a few minutes. Let’s see if Diaspora can make it nearly as easy as other social networks.
Read more about the Diaspora project at markratledge.com/link/diaspora