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Be an ally, not a hater (part 3 of “A Crucial Time for Diaspora *”)

RIP Ilya

The past few weeks have been pretty crazy for us here at Diaspora*. It is unbelievably painful to lose such a close friend and collaborator as Ilya, and we want to thank our countless community members, friends, family, and professional contacts for all of your support as we try to take care of ourselves and plot a course for Diaspora*’s future. We are forever grateful to the amazing community of people who have stepped up to help us get things back in order.

– Maxwell and Daniel, Diaspora * is Back in Action

Diaspora * co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy’s idealism, passion, and vision touched so many people — even those who like me who never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. So many moving tributes have been written that there isn’t much I can add. My heart goes out to his friends, family, and colleagues.

“There’s something deeper than making money off stuff,” he said. “Being part of creating stuff for the universe is awesome.”

Ilya, quoted in the New York Times obituary

It’s gratifying to see so many people in the community reaffirm their commitment to the vision in such difficult circumstances.  Now that the core team is back in action, after a few weeks for grieving and replanning, it’s a natural time to step back and look at what’s next.

First, though, there’s something I want to get off my chest.

Ilya struggled with depression, and the stress of people like you constantly badgering him and pestering him and constantly making him feel like nothing he ever did was good enough certainly did not help his situation.

– Ilya’s roommate David Kettler, on Diaspora

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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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Time for a break

time for a breakI love social networks.

They’re how I follow the news, get different perspectives, stay in touch with friends — and make new ones. When people complain that online connections are just a poor substitute for “real life”, I just shake my head and tell them they’re doing it wrong. And as I’ve argued passionately in Cognitive evolution and revolution, The future of civil liberties, A grassroots social network activist’s perspective, and Freedom not fear, combining social network and real world activism is a great opportunity to regain our rights online and off.

But there are downsides as well. Facebook constantly changing its interface and finding new ways to violate my privacy, the arrogance and elitism of the guys running Google+ and their evil naming policy (along the incessant circling over the last few days), Diaspora*’s inability to edit posts or block obnoxious people … and the time I spend checking FB, G+, D*, Twitter, Quora, Dreamwidth, tribe.net, free-association and elsewhere.

So it’s time for a break from social networks.

See you in a week or two!

jon

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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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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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Why it Matters: Google+ and Diversity, part 2

Google+ in rainbow colors

Over the past 50 hours I’ve lost a lot of friends here, and all of my transgender friends and family and all the older gay activists I was sharing with have all quietly mothballed their accounts. They can’t have their “real” names out there – they work with human rights organizations and do HIV/AIDS activism, etc.

Violet Blue, in a comment thread on Google+

Just a few days before Google+’s doors officially open on July 31, Google’s latest communications from Vic (via Robert) and Bradley on the raft of account suspensions and “common names” policy seem unlikely to put the “identity crisis” to rest.   It’s certainly a positive sign that they’re engaging, and process changes like giving people with names Google doesn’t like a week to change their account name before suspending them are certainly improvements.  That said, the impression they’re giving is that they’re going to try to hold the line with the current policy even knowing that it targets transgender people, human rights activists, people at risk for stalking and harrassment domestic violence survivors, HIV/AIDS victims and caregivers, people with names that sound weird to Americans (or for that matter people in Hong Kong who would rather go by their English names) …

Hey wait a second, I’m noticing a pattern here.

So yes indeed, as I predicted a week ago in A Work in Progress, it’s a crucial time for diversity on Google+.  Given which it seems like a good time to step back and talk a bit about a couple reasons why diversity matters.  For me, it starts with some very intensely personal things.

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Google+ and diversity: A Work in Progress (part 1)

Google+ in rainbow colorsWith over ten million users in just two weeks, and plenty of rave reviews, Google’s latest foray into social networking is off to a great start.  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.

Unsurprisingly, I’ll start with diversity.

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