Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web

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[Be sure to read my follow-up post: More on Diaspora* and I’m Weeding My Garden]

I’ve posted about Diaspora before.  I’ve been following their progress for a while.  They had some hard times with security issues and they’ve spent a long while in a state of alpha testing that was buggy enough that it was really only worthwhile for developers.

That is changing.  Invites are starting to go out to general users.  The only contribution necessary is that you give feedback, and you don’t even have to do that (though it will only make the experience better).  Diaspora is still in alpha testing, but the developers are talking about new features coming online and migrating to official beta testing soon.

Diaspora has been covered in abundance over the last few weeks.  It’s not a social network, it’s a new open social web.  It’s not an advertising platform, it is the commons that joins each person’s digital social presence.  It is not a Facebook/Google/Twitter killer, because it is a different type of entity all-together.  This is all essentially marketing rhetoric repeated ad nauseam by most of the outlets that are running stories on D*.

I want to talk more in-depth about the way Diaspora works, how it’s different from those that have come before it, and what that means for the future of the connected social web.  Feel free to chime in with questions and comments, corrections and criticisms, or to just share this with your connections and spread the word of Diaspora.  I’ll update this post to address feedback.

To begin, let’s look briefly at how Diaspora works.  The platform is focused on giving users ownership of their data.  Your data, including your profile, your posts and pictures, extensions and applications you’ve connected to D*, are all your seed.  Your seed is located in a pod, which is just a server.  So far this is all just like Facebook or Google+.  The difference is that there are many pods within Diaspora.  You can host your own, in fact.  Or you can just create a seed on a friend’s server-pod.  Or there are public pods you can join.

It’s actually quite similar to the way WordPress works.  My blog is hosted on WordPress.com.  Other people use the WordPress platform, but they host their blog on their own servers or they pay for hosting on someone else’s servers.  Your Diaspora seed is your personal social space on the web and you can keep that information wherever you want.

So that is how Diaspora is built and implemented, but how does it work in the larger scheme of the web?  Diaspora is eagerly integrating other social networks.  You can already post to Facebook and Twitter from your D* page.  Your contacts on D* are organized into Aspects, which are more functional versions of G+’s Circles.  This extra functionality allows you to make Aspects public and you can even follow someone else’s Aspects.  Or you can keep them private.  D* has also implemented hashtags, à la Twitter.  But users can follow hashtags just like people and be part of a conversation across all of Diaspora.

One of the major advantages of Diaspora is that users control and own their data.  For many, this may seem like a contrived issue.  I know when I first joined Facebook I felt in control of my data; privacy to me meant that I control who sees my information and posts.  But Facebook and Google have built their empires on the solid foundation of our data.  They allow us to control how we use our data, but not how they use our data.  With Diaspora your data is hosted locally, or on a trusted pod, and you know your data is being shared with only the people you approve and never with third parties, unless, again, you specifically give it to them.  Your online behavior is not tracked by Diaspora algorithms.  Your Likes are used only to share content with your contacts and not to advertise to you.  At anytime, you can take your data out of the web, confident that since you are only sharing with people you trust, nothing is retained anywhere.

This is getting close to marketing the product again.  It’s easy to drift into a sales pitch because D* is doing so many things right.

A key part of the Diaspora platform philosophy is open source and open web.  The open source part is highly advantageous for a distributed network, and I’ll talk more about that in a few paragraphs.  Long-term, though, the open web idea is going to be one of Diaspora’s biggest strengths.  Users of Diaspora won’t have to worry about another “game changer” coming along in three to five years and feeling pressured to migrate to yet a newer, shinier social network.  D* is not trying to get FB and G+ users to abandon ship either (header image notwithstanding).  D* is building a bigger idea, a deeper foundation.  Rather than isolated, though immense, online communities, D* hopes to foster inter-connected social networks that talk to each other.

Right now, a Twitter user cannot comment on a Facebook user’s post.  A Google+ user cannot +1 a Tweet.  There is no way to send any communications between these isolated networks.  That is frustrating to me personally, because I use all three.  It is less than ideal for anyone, really.

Diaspora is chipping away at the walls of its garden, aiming to one day create a space where the entirety of the internet community can cultivate relationships and connections.  Right now you can post to Twitter and Facebook natively within a Diaspora post window.  You can’t yet see your Facebook and Twitter friends’ posts, replies, and comments.  But Diaspora is already weaving itself to be the fabric underlying social networks.  It is bigger, more fundamental than a single, isolated social network.  It can pervade them all.

This means that you don’t have to join Diaspora.  Eventually you’ll be able to interact with those that do join.  Though, I do hope you give it a try and ponder it’s potential.  The more support the D* team is given, the better the end product and the faster it can get here.

Diaspora itself can spawn different social networks, though.  The product is open source.  All of the code is there if you want to start your own pod.  Plus you can modify the code as well.  Want to make money selling people’s information just like Facebook and Google?  Build that into your specific Diaspora pod.  But then watch how many people join.  On the other hand, if you want to build in user-oriented features, like a daily featured user of your pod, well you can do that too.  And that might actually attract some users.  If you have an idea to revolutionize the way we interact online, well build that on top of your D* pod.  Users can join, migrate from other pods, and not worry about being disconnected from their contacts on the previous pod or network because it is all still a part of the Diaspora web.

This is the short-term bridge to D*’s long-term promise.  And if the D* team were to develop a social web protocol of some sort, well, they could standardize posting updates, commenting, Liking, re-sharing and other essential social network activities.  Such a protocol could deliver on the abandoned promise of Google Wave.  Then future networks wouldn’t even have to use the Diaspora platform.  So long as it complied with the protocol standards, it too could be a network fully connected to the social web.

Ultimately, that is the future implication of Diaspora.  Even if D* is not the “next big thing” for social interaction online, it is planting seeds for what will be.  It will germinate the pervasive idea that the web should be connected as it was always intended.  Ultimately a new technology will come along that Diaspora cannot integrate well because of some technical limitation.  But, the idea that it must be connected to existing forms of communication will be fundamental because Diaspora has shown that it is possible in general.  Once we have experienced a social web where your home network does not dictate who you can connect to, why would we ever go back?

I don’t want my mom to have to switch to a new social network.  She likes Facebook and it took long enough to get her on there.  I want the ability to talk to her and interact with her even if I’m not on Facebook.  That is why I support Diaspora, it has the potential to make that possible.  For now, though, I must interact on both networks separately.

If you want to check out Diaspora for yourself, let me know your email address and I’ll send you an invite.  Want some more information about the project?  Here are some resource links:

Do you think I’m overestimating Diaspora’s potential and promise?  Maybe I’m over-playing Facebook’s and Google’s data-sharing.  It’s possible.  Whatever your thoughts, share ’em.  This is worth a discussion.


I’ve posted a follow-up to this post: More on Diaspora* and I’m Weeding My Garden.  Check it out and find out how to get in without an invite!

Did you enjoy this blog post?  Let me know by clicking the Like button below.

Tell me what you think by leaving a comment or contacting me.

You can also click one of the other buttons below to share this post.  That’d be cool.


59 thoughts on “Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web

  1. I wish I could say I understood everything you’ve sketched out in this post.

    I think what’s happening is that I’ve been brainwashed by my use of the other existing social platforms–drive a Ford and it may be hard to understand why some folks like Honda…

    I want to understand Diaspora’s potential because I intuitively like it and what I feel it means for social communication and sharing on the Web.

    Gotta work on turning that intuition into practical knowledge of how to use it :-)

    • When all else fails, follow your instincts, right?

      I think that feeling you’re talking about is a big deal. It just feels better to use Diaspora. It feels like it is not commercialized. With the alternatives, you can always sense that there is something going on in the periphery.

      I’m glad you’re on Diaspora and I’m glad you’re liking it. Make sure you share anything that excites you about it, because that might be just the thing someone else needs to hear in order for them to try it.

  2. Frankly, this is a stellar overview and I think it nicely sums up all the reasons (and then some) why I am now a happy Diaspora user (even with it being in a rough alpha state). Thanks for the time and effort!

    • Thank you very much, Bonnie. This post has been stewing for quite some time, actually.

      Diaspora is about us, the users, and not them, the creators/revenue receivers. That means we have to spread the word. I like your site, especially your post about anti-social networks.

      Thanks for the re-share too.

  3. Pingback: Diaspora « Strange Realms' Blog

  4. Pingback: Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web | Verses and Discussion ... | DiaspoRant | Scoop.it

    • MasterEmit,

      Thank you for linking to Friendika. I had heard about it, but I have not checked it out myself. Browsing their site for a moment shows that they have the right idea. They are doing their best to shore up the weaknesses inherent in isolated networks.

      I’ll include this in the update I post.

  5. Pingback: Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web | DiaspoRant | Scoop.it

  6. Thanks for your overview. I *think* you’ve captured it, though I’m new enough a D* user not to know for sure. The GUI is intuitive enough not to require much of a help manual…though I’ll be grateful for your links, I’m sure. For now, I’m trying to avoid “rampant aspect proliferation” on my part (creation of more aspects than my pea brain can handle) and placing lots of folks in “Acquaintances”. Looks like great fun.

    • Thank you. I’ve been following D* for a long while now.

      I agree, their interface is very usable from the moment you sign up. But some of those sites have nice little tips, plus new features are being added and tweaked all the time. Such is the nature of a product in full-testing. Keep playing with it and don’t forget to send feedback on things that don’t work quite right or features that you love. Also, share your experience with the world.

  7. Thank you for sharing this. It really cleared up a lot of questions I’ve had about D* since I first heard about it last year. Since then, I have been eagerly waiting for D* to be available to the public. At that point, I plan to delete my Facebook or what I can and use D* exclusively. Hoping others will follow.

    • I’m glad I could help. I think I will be on Facebook for quite some time into the future, just because so much of my family is on there. But, maybe Facebook will open their network and allow for outside communication. The future is a strange and mysterious place and unexpected events are bound to happen.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  8. Please send me a D* invitation.

  9. Excellent summary Ryan. Been desperately waiting for that Alpha invite! Never liked Facebook. Google+ is cool but very distracting. Excited the invites will be coming!

    • Thanks for the feedback. I wanted to really address Diaspora’s potential and not just market it like a lot of other blogs are doing.

      Do you need an invite? Let me know and I’ll send one your way.

  10. Nice article, and I appreciate your effort. The article got a little long for me, and I wouldn’t expect someone else to read it all if I sent it to them. Is there any way you could reduce it (50%?) and still have it say the same thing?

    • So, basically summarize it? Yeah, I could do that. I’m going to post an update soon and I’ll work on making a more succinct version if you think some people would like that more. Thanks for the feedback and the suggestion.

  11. I think autonomy is progressive. I appreciate that you’ve used the WordPress analogy, as Blogging has always been a strong area for individual participation in net culture – with that in mind Diaspora seems promising. Integration wise, I’ve always thought syncing is essential, and if each node can participate with other networks it will provide a cultural shift in networking, as most Blog platforms can stimulate each other through feeds, comments and widgets across multiple platforms – meanwhile still giving the user the autonomy of creating community and space (‘Creating’ being the operative word).

    On a purely aesthetic level, the name Aspects is a bit awkward, considering what its purpose is. I’d go far as to suggest terms like ‘scenes’, ‘modes’ (As in nodes and modes), units, even traces. However this is just a nugatory fickle.


    • Yeah, I definitely hear what you are saying about ‘Aspects.’ It is supposed to reflect the aspect of your personality that you share with that group of people. I think when given enough time, it will lose a lot of its connotation and just become its function.

      To address your first point, the net is always headed towards autonomy. It never starts out that way, though. We have to be given something before we can have it, but then it becomes easier for us to discover how to make it for ourselves. It’s digital entropy.

  12. Pingback: Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web (via Verses and Discussion from R. Brockey) « Real Atomsk's Blog

  13. Thank you for sharing this.
    Please send me a invitation.

  14. Thanks for this post. I just want to mention, I really love the idea of diaspora and am monitoring their progress for a long time as well. Now that I installed my own pod, I’ll hope to dig a bit deeper into this topic.

    But there are a few things I’m unsure about, maybe someone here has an idea how to work that out…

    “But users can follow hashtags just like people and be part of a conversation across all of Diaspora.”
    That is great, but wouldn’t it be only all across my pod, instead of all of D*? I mean how is another pod from someone I never (virtually) met going to notify my pod that there is a new post with the #diaspora tag? Or how is my pod going to ask? Sure there could be central servers to index that kind of stuff, but that goes against the decentralized approach, doesn’t it? (I have the same problem with finding other people ATM, since my pod is only used by myself (which isn’t bad, maybe even the way I want it) and I don’t know how to find people on other pods without an account there.)

    Another topic I’m unsure about is this: You are suggesting that maybe I can communicate with my facebook friends through my D* account and the other way around. That would be really great, but isn’t that something I wouldn’t want to do? If I want to give facebook my data, their social network is so much better (measured through the most important part of a social network: number of users I want to interact with.) Or is there some way I’m missing so that facebook doesn’t get ahold of my data?

    Again, I like the idea and I really hope it works out. On the other hand, my XMPP/jabber accounts are still so empty. I really thought after google came with google talk and opened their servers for s2s communication, my jabber roster would be full. But most my friends that use IM, are still only on MSN or ICQ and the new star at the proprietary horizon: WhatsApp.

    • That’s so awesome that you joined by starting your own pod.

      To address your first question, your information is stored locally, and you choose how publicly to share it, but your pod is a local network that is connected to the other pods via the web of Diaspora. If you choose a tag to follow, your pod should query the other pods and pull that information into you. Same thing with people on other pods. You have to find them, but once you do, and you start following them, that information is pushed from their pod to yours.

      As for your second question, right now Diaspora will only push your D* posts to Facebook (or Twitter or Tumblr). And then only if you choose to connect those services. It won’t import anything from them, though. It just makes it easier for you to update multiple social networks all at once. As far as thereby giving your information to Facebook, well, if you have a Facebook account for D* to send posts to then they already have it. Forever. Such is our curse.

      If you want more specific answers, more technical explanations, check out some of those links I posted at the end of my blog. Of course, thanks for reading and thanks a lot for your great questions.

      • All right, I thought you would use the facebook API to read the messages in your stream as well, but if you only post as you already do with twitter with the little icon, thats fine with me.

        I found out how to find other users now, that needs to be streamlined in some way though: I had to search for their ID, but since my server didn’t know them, I had to search again a couple of minutes later. :/

        But it all looks good so far.

  15. I would like an invite aswell, please.

  16. Please send me a D* invite. Much thanks :)

  17. Thanks for the explanation Ryan. I’ve been folowing D* news since the dudes asked for money in the crowdsource. I have a great experience with “elgg.org”, but their idea is more a social network tool than a real social network. I believe D got all the concepts toguether. Could you send me an invitation? I am eager the help it grow. Cheers from Brazil!

    • Glad you liked my post. Your invite is sent.

      Elgg looks cool. A great tool for organizations. I wonder how well it allows cross-pollination between the various networks? (Damn, that is a metaphor I should have used in my post!)

  18. Please send me an invitation for D*, somehow feels like this needs hands-on testing.

  19. Pingback: Pointer to Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web | Verses and Discussion from R. Brockey « In brief. David Ing.

  20. Thank a lot for your share! I will try it

  21. I would like to try out D* and explore it and the people in it and behind it. If you have more invites to spare, please send me one.

  22. send me an invite please… ;)

  23. Pingback: More on Diaspora* and I’m Weeding My Garden | Verses and Discussion from R. Brockey

  24. Have been looking forward to D* for a long time. Do you still have invites to give out?

  25. Pingback: Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web | DiaspoRant | Scoop.it

  26. I enjoyed your thoughtful and thorough post. I’ve been looking forward
    to joining D* since their big splash in Spring ’10. I don’t follow any blogs but I may be checking back to read yours. Thank you in advance for the invite.

    • Stop in from time to time. I’m sure I’ll end up posting more about Diaspora as it develops.

      Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  27. Pingback: Diaspora – Germinating a New Social Web | DiaspoRant | Scoop.it

  28. This blog convinced me to give it a try and create a diaspora account.
    What you describe, is exactly, how facebook should have been in the first place. Since it isn’t I am glad to see an alternative. IMHO, the single, most important point for long term success is the bridge to and from other major web2 networks. If I can enjoy the benefits of diaspora while still in touch with my facebook/twitter/google+ friends, it will be a winner.
    Thank you for sharing your insight!

    • I’m glad you liked my post.

      Diaspora has the potential to become something truly great. It’s not there yet, but it is definitely building towards something different and in many ways better than anything that has come before it. Keep in mind when trying D* that its integration with Facebook and Twitter only goes in one direction right now: outgoing. That means you can’t see your other streams within Diaspora.

      What pod did you join?

      Thanks for reading, and thanks a lot for your comment.

  29. man, thanks for this. i have been convinced to join facebook years ago, by some American Students in a summer school I have worked for. I thought I’d just do this to be able to keep contact with them and, if there is no contact anymore us, stop using facebook. I did mostly loos contact, but I am still on facebook and they are still my friends. fb has become some part of my life, it just happened… i have been thinking for a while to close my fb account. but i am a filmmaker and some of my work contacts are entirely via facebook! in our conversation history there is things i look up later sometimes! Now I am kind of afraid it will be getting more and more difficult for me to quit facebook. I was thinking of opening my own blog and just copy the email adresses of those people i need to talk to. but this feels like a step down from the great possibilities social networking can offer. for example, i am preparing to crowfund my next documentary. well, blog and email wont be enough for this!

    the problem I have with facebook is not only the fact that they save lots of data about me, that they can potentially use and misuse these information etc., although clearly this is a major issue. with facebook i also feel i am not as free as i want to be to do the kind of social networking i want to do. sometimes it fells like all i can do is to like things or not. ah yes and there are a few smileys at my disposal. I want a networking structure that leaves me to be creative and build the kind of social interaction I want to do. I am not yet sure this is what D* will offer, but I have hope. and: please send me an invite, I really want to start exploring!


    • Invite sent, Ben.

      It is incredibly difficult to leave Facebook. For many people it has taken the place of email for all of their non-professional interactions. Give Diaspora a try. It is pretty feature-sparse right now, but it is getting better every week. The crowd on the pod I invited you to join is really great, with diverse interests, but all valuing the freedom represented by D*.

      Thanks for reading and a big thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  30. Very cool, I’m a total Facebook addict!

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