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

David was responding to some particularly nasty trolling with this comment, but I think the point he makes applies a lot more generally. Whether it’s due to cynicism, envy, or ageism, From the beginning, along with the excitement Diaspora *’s attracted a lot of negativity.

Of course just like any project, there are plenty of things that could be done better, mistakes that were obvious at the time, problems that still haven’t been addressed. But then again:

  • literally hundreds of thousands of people have signed up, and the software’s surprisingly robust — I don’t think I’ve seen system failure or crash yet.
  • the overall design is good enough that Google+ either copied it or came to the same conclusion independently.
  • despite being a tiny team, they’ve managed to implement some extremely useful concepts like hashtags and the “like” and “commented on” streams, that Google with their infinite resources still hasn’t copied.

So yes, there are some significant challenges; and to be clear, I’m not saying to sweep problems under the rug.  What I am saying is to give the team some credit, and focus on the positive aspects as well.

Be an ally, not a hater.

Earlier posts in the series: A crucial time for Diaspora*
and 4 Things Diaspora* can learn from Google+

For more on depression and startups, see Megan Krogh’s On Tech, Depression, and Startup Madness on Persephone, Foster Kamer’s The Hushed Dangers of Startup Depression on BetaBeat and the Hacker News discussion, and Ben Huh’s When Death Feels Like a Good Option