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Road trip! Bringing the #privchat community to Diaspora *

#privchatIt’s hard to believe but #privchat — the Tuesday morning Twitter Privacy Chat — has been going on for almost a year. CDT, Privacy Camp, and EPIC have done a great job moderating, and the attendees are a great cross-section of the privacy and civil liberties community: non-profits, privacy-focused startups, academics, privacy professionals at large companies, and activists (hiiiii!).

So let’s build on that success with a road trip, and bring the same kind of social networky goodness to Diaspora *!

If you’re thinking that you don’t have time for yet another social network, I feel your pain; the plan I’m suggesting only requires an hour of your time. Before we get there, though, I want to talk a bit about why I think it’s worth doing.

Why Diaspora *?

Diaspora* logo variant by GiorgioDiaspora shot to prominence last May, as four NYU undergrads raised money on Kickstarter for a distributed open-source privacy-friendly social network project just as a Facebook privacy storm kicked off. Good timing!

Eighteen months and $200,000 later, Sarah Mei and Yosem Companys have joined the core team, and there are dozens of public installations with tens of thousands of Diasporans. Liz Gannes’ Diaspora Prepares to Launch Open Source network on All Things D and Not vaporware, not a Nigerian prince on the team’s blog give an idea of the current status: an engineering team focused on getting to beta, a growing community, another round of fundraising in progress. Hanging out on Diaspora a lot for the last month, I’ve had interesting discussions with interesting people from across the world.

And one thing everybody that I’ve run into so far has in common:

They care about their privacy.

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In chaos there is opportunity (part 11 of Diversity and Google+)

Google+ in rainbow colors

I’m flashing! Back in 2006, the Ad Astra project proposed a strategy for Microsoft to outflank Google by leveraging its employee base and social technologies. One of the key insights: social computing technologies allow a company to tap into the combined energy of employees and their networks. This can be a huge asset — and one that potentially grows non-linearly as a company grows. Alas, Microsoft took another approach, investing in algorithmic search to compete with Google head-on, and ceding the social market to Facebook, LinkedIn, and others..

Five years later, it’s Google in the role of a large company trying to use its size as an advantage against a more nimble competitor. If Google’s 20,000+ employees can work together effectively and are sufficiently motivated, they’ll be a huge asset in the “battle for social.” Tying bonuses across the company to success gets everybody to focus on the company’s priority. From a strategy perspective, a great move by Google.

Which doesn’t mean it will work.

— me, in a comment Prisms, Kool-Aid and Opportunity April 2011

One way to look at Google+ through the lens of what Robert Scoble calls the game of all games: the battle between Facebook, Google, and “own identity on the internet.”  In that context, it was a brilliant move against all the other big US-based corporations run and owned primarily by white guys who are fighting over who can profit from mining our personal information and selling our eyeballs to advertisers.

And in a lot of ways, it’s worked out quite well:
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The Trend is in the Wrong Direction: Reflections on the Field Trial (part 10 of Diversity and Google+)

Also published on We Get Google Plus, Diaspora *, and G+

Google+ in rainbow colorsFor the past 12 weeks we’ve been in field trial, and during that time we’ve listened and learned a great deal. We’re nowhere near done, but with the improvements we’ve made so far we’re ready to move from field trial to beta, and introduce our 100th feature: open signups.

— Vic Gundotra, Google+: 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99… 100.9/20/2011

Many aspects of Google+’s field trial went extremely well. Hangouts are clearly G+’s “killer app”.* It’s been remarkably reliable for such an early stage project: no “fail whales” and (at least for me) a lot fewer bugs than Facebook. G+ has a lot of momentum with social media experts, photographers, and 20-45-year old guys; and most of the reviews have been positive.

From a business strategy perspective, Google+ has been a huge win, highlighting how many people want an alternative to Facebook. Facebook’s fighting back, copying and improving on many of G+’s features and completely reworking their profile page. But with so many users sick of the constant changes, declining software quality, and postponing the IPO, they’re in a difficult — especially with Google’s far greater resources. Advantage Google.

But there are a few flies in the ointment …

It’s beginning to look a lot like MySpace

Every time I post a photo of me or a female friend, the photo gets all sorts of

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Talk about a hostile environment (part 9 of Google+ and Diversity)

also posted on G+ and on Diaspora*

Google+ in rainbow colorsI feel very let down by Google’s behavior. I had hoped to escape the heavy-handedness that is Facebook, but that is not to be.

I’ll have a presence here; I have to, professionally. But the joy is gone.

— Kathy Gill, Google+ As An Identity Service Is Bait And Switch

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4 Things Diaspora* can learn from Google+

Part 2 of A crucial time for Diaspora*

Diaspora* logo variant by Giorgio

This weekend I received an invitation through Facebook to join Diaspora. I had tried to join Diaspora last year when I learned about their Kickstarter success while writing my book on crowdsourcing, but I couldn’t get in. So of course I was curious and went immediately to sign up.

And then I was puzzled. Diaspora looked just like…Google+. Or did Google+ look just like Diaspora?

— Aliza Sherman, Google+ meet Diaspora – or maybe you know them already?

Yeah really. Dan Tynan, in Will the real anti-Facebook please stand up?, comments that “Given that G+ emerged some seven months after Diaspora went public, I’m guessing Google was taking notes.” Sure, the basic idea of having Aspects (in Diaspora) or Circles (in Google+) to organize your acquaintances isn’t new,* but G+’s web layout sure looks a heckuva lot like Diaspora’s.

What’s that they say about the sincerest form of flattery?

And conveniently enough, a large corporation has just spent millions of dollars on a “field test” that offers plenty of learning for Diaspora*. Thanks, Google!

So last week I started asking people what they thought Diaspora* could learn from Google+. Since then Kathy, Helena, Greg, Amy, Stephen, Gretchen, Dan, Paul, Andreas, David, Cindy, Geeky, powlsy, Drew, Terry, Sylvia, Edward, Anne, Hrafn, Shiyiya, Cavlec, Wiring, Madeleine, @PRC_Amber, @blakereidm, Arvind, Dan, and many others came up with new suggestions and refined the list in discussions on Google+, Dreamwidth, Diaspora, Twitter, earlier draft, and email. Thanks to everybody who got involved! As usual, the majority of the good ideas came from others; all of the clunkers and mistakes are mine.

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A crucial time for Diaspora*

Diaspora* logo variant by Giorgio

Although we’ve been quiet for a while, it’s because we’ve been working hard, head-down.

We’re thrilled to say we’ve built the first stage of a new social web, one better than what’s out there today: a place where each of us owns our own information, where each person controls his or her own privacy, where no-one is a product, and where we all control our own destinies.

— Maxwell, Daniel, Ilya, Sarah, Yosem and Peter, Diaspora* is making a difference

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Suggestions from Last Year’s Hackathon Winner (part 7 of TechCrunch, Disrupted)

TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2011

J’aime Ohm won the TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon as a solo hacker with a personal safety iPhone app.  WiseDame’s tag line is “making safe living easier, one application release at a time”. It takes basic safety practices – letting friends or family know what time you expect to be home,  leaving a note about your plans for the day – and makes them better, faster, and easier.  Brilliant.

And a great case study in agile software engineering, too. J’aime started with an idea for a product she wanted and a set of use cases based her own experience. Next she talked with a bunch of potential early adopters who were variants on a target persona (”women who go out”) and had enough information to build a prototype. Which she did, and iterated rapidly continuing to get feedback, all in less than 24 hours.

— me in Now *that’s* what I call disruptive, October 2010

What a difference a year makes!  Last year’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco took place in the aftermath of the the Arrington Kerfuffle and Angelgate, and wound up with AOL acquiring TechCrunch.  This year, it’s in the midst of an ugly breakup, involving “tense severance negotations” between AOL and former editor Michael Arrington.   Pass the popcorn!

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What can Diaspora* learn from Google+?

At last year’s Blue Hat conference, I gave a short talk on What Diaspora* can learn from Microsoft.   Now, I’d like to do the same kind of analysis with Google+.

Ten weeks into the G+ experiment, what are the key learnings for a privacy-friendly distributed social network.  Here’s a few early thoughts.

  • Diaspora’s on the right track.  Google+’s “circle” concept and page layout look like they’re based on Diaspora’s work — and imitation is the sincerest form of flatter.
  • Diaspora’s current functionally + longer posts + easy link sharing + video = enough to get people excited
  • The estimated 40% of people online who prefer “screen names” or pseudonyms are a really good target audience right now.   Geek Feminism’s excellent list of Who Is Harmed By a “Real Names” policy could be the basis of a great go-to-market plan for Diaspora
  • Gender is a text field, but corporations run by cis guys still don’t see it that way

Your thoughts welcome, either about these ideas or new ones!
jon

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Still a Ways to Go: the Suggested Users List (part 7 of Diversity and Google+)

Google+ in rainbow colors

Google Plus launched a “suggested users” list yesterday. I’m not on it, and I bet you aren’t either, particularly if you’re an educator — because, well, there aren’t any educators on the list.

— Audrey Watters, Personal Learning Networks and the Google+ “Suggested Users” list

The Google Suggested User List reads like the typical San Francisco Bay Area tech firm’s view of the World: most of the “interesting and famous people” are white, and if they’re black, they’re male rappers or athletes. Hello, Snoop Dog, Chamillionaire, 50 Cent, Dwight Howard, and Floyd Mayweather!

A couple of weeks go, Google community manager Natalie Villalobos asked for feedback on why people’s friends weren’t staying on G+.   One of the things that came up was that it was often very hard for new users to find people the thought would be interesting to follow and engage with.  There are a lot of creative ways to approach this, for example Ardith Goodwin’s suggestion of a welcoming committee.  Instead, Google+’s decided to take the same approach that worked out spectacularly badly for Twitter two years ago.  Will they fare better?

The early returns aren’t encouraging.  Dave, Robert,  and others immediately criticized the idea of a “suggested users” list and Bradley’s outreach to the Twitter elite.  After Bradley responded in Dave’s comments, and then  shared more details Saturday morningRobert asked to be removed from the list.  Bradley responded again in Robert’s comments.  And the discussion rages on.

Vic Gundotra: We value diversity. Including diversity of opinion

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Anxious Masculinity Under Threat: Google+ and Diversity, part 6

Google+ in rainbow colorsGoogle+’s naming policy isn’t failing because it’s poorly implemented, or because Google’s enforcement team is stupid. It’s failing because what they’re trying to do is (1) impossible, and (2) antisocial.

— Bob Blakley, Google+ Can Be a Social Network Or The Name Police — Not Both, Gartner Blog Network

I wonder what folks at Google thought of Chairman Eric Schmidt’s description of Google+ as an “identity service” which requires people real names? So friendly! So out of sync with what they’ve been telling the media! So … creepy!

It’s hard to see this going over well in the rest of the world, where everybody is sooo eager to share their personal information with a US company so that it’s subject to the PATRIOT Act. And here in the US, Gartner is only the latest to point out how destructive this is for Google+.

Despite its imperfections Google+ was on track for being a grand slam, taking a big chunk of audience from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and yes even Quora.* And now? The joy of the brilliantly-executed launch has dissipated. Passionate early supporters are now so anti-Google that they’re switching to Duck Duck Go and even Bing.

“Data-driven”?

“Operational excellence”?

How embarrassing.

Anxious masculinity under threat

Basically, any situation in which a group of less privileged people makes critiques or observations of the dominant group in a way that threatens to upset the dominance of that group, to change the established order somehow, or to at least make the established order seem less virtuous, normal, and inevitable, is a situation in which the tone argument gets pulled out.

Sheila Marie on “the tone argument”

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The double bind of oppression: Google+ and Diversity, part 5

Google+ in rainbow colors

Ever since it launched, I’ve spent most of my online time on Google+, and so far am very impressed from both the software engineering and business strategy perspectives. I think it’s on track to be a big success, so expect me to be talking about it a lot.

— me, in A work in progress, July 16

Google+’s first few weeks were incredibly exciting. It was social network magic, an updated version of my best experiences at places like Usenet, ezboard, tribe and free-association.  My stream was filled with visually gorgeous photos and art, great discussions, and interesting new people.  It’s got incredible potential from an activism perspective.*  Professionally, while it discombobulated the plans for my nascent startup qweries, it also presents huge opportunities.  Exciting!!!

And then the nymwars started.

Privileged much?

“I am a pseudonymous user in many, many [online] services. I appreciate the ability to go incognito and anonymous at times”

— Google VP Bradley “Bro” Horowitz**, quoted in Juan Carlos Perez’ Google Feels the Pain of Users Who Can’t Get on Google+, PC World

Bro’s boss, Vivek “Vicki” Gundotra, doesn’t go by his real name on Google+, so presumably also appreciates the value of pseudonymity.   But you wouldn’t guess it from their actions.

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