[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!
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