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

It’s a crucial time for Diaspora* right now, in a way that anybody who’s been involved in a startup can really appreciate. The initial money’s run out and they’re still in alpha. Everybody was hoping progress would be faster. Communications have been intermittent. There are a lot of questions about security.

And now a major corporation with deep pockets is introducing a somewhat-similar product that’s much easier to use.   The responsiveness and addictiveness of G+’s user experience, and the ability to edit your posts after you make them, raise the bar on user expectations.* With Circles giving better control over sharing (and Facebook once again trying to improve the usability of their “friend lists” in response), Diaspora’s functionality advantage has largely disappeared.


There’s good news too

D* wants to enable you to own your own data and enjoy the open web in a social way. It’s not about killing G+ or FB. It’s about enabling users to own their own social data and have the choice to use any service they want, which will force the walled gardens to provide better services, lest their users leave and take their own data to other services online that provide these for them.

— Diaspora * “Chief Evangelist” Yosem Companys

Fortunately, Diaspora* isn’t trying to compete with Google. Robert Scoble’s blog post on The game of all games outlines how Google, Facebook, and Salesforce are carving up the social world … Diaspora* and other open source distributes social networks are for the increasing number of people who are sick of being treated like a piece of meat.

And there’s plenty of good news too. Diaspora’s early users are enthusiastic. Communications have picked up with Yosem joining the team, and Sarah Mei kicking off a series of technical blog posts. And the nymwars and Eric Schmidt’s creepy characterization of G+ as an “identity system” has spotlighted the need for alternatives, so more and more people are signing up.**

For those who care about Intellectual Freedom … making this happen for a such a critical piece of infrastructure should be a compelling goal…. We are the logical early-adopters for this technology, and I think it’s time we started adopting it. If we want a free future for the social web, we’re going to have to support it.

— Terry Hancock, Why You Should Join Diaspora Now, Like Your Freedom Depends on It

A common theme underlying all of my suggestions is a belief that the community is the key to Diaspora*’s success — and that in the right circumstances people are ready to step forward and help. There are plenty of people (including me!) who are passionate about what open-source distributed social networks mean for intellectual freedom. And just as importantly, there are plenty of people (also including me!) whose social networking needs aren’t being met right now.

If Diaspora* can reach out to these people, get them interested, make them feel welcome when they join and appreciated once they start contributing, listen to their feedback, and find ways to get them more involved … then Google’s army of programmers, zillion-dollar marketing budget, and busloads of “social media experts” lining up to praise the next big thing won’t really matter.

Some ideas about how to do that coming up in the next installment, 4 things Diaspora* can learn from Google+.  Stay tuned!


image from Giorgio * via Diaspora*

* I know, I know, many social network sites and discussion boards have the ability to edit posts … but most people’s social network experience has been with Facebook, MySpace, and various forms of IM, which don’t allow it.

** while the main site at http://joindiaspora.com remains invite-only, quite a few “pods” have open signup. podupti.me and Pod Up have directories of dozens of pods.