Remembering Diaspora*: The Open Source Social Network

All the social network news fit to upload this week is about Google+ and perhaps the new features announced by Facebook. There is another social network out there which, from the start, emphasized the classification of your connections into different groups, each with their own realm of discussion. Just as Google+, without any need for users to beg and protest, makes it easy to download everything from your circles to your profile and stream data through its “data liberation” panel, this other social network lets you download your photos and other data (xml).

Unlike both Google+ and Facebook, however, this competitor lets you not only restrict status updates or photographs to a limited number of  “aspects” (like  “circles” or “friend lists”) but also, with a simple click, easily share your postings beyond the platform through your linked accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Also unlike either Google+ and Facebook, this project is 100% free range Omega-3 open source; mostly written by a couple of guys (with at least some help from over a hundred total contributors) who raised a good chunk of money through their fundraising effort at Kickstarter last summer. That project is Diaspora*.

After they put some code together over the summer many of us dove in, set up a profile and created our aspects for Friends, Family, Work and Annoying Acquaintances. We poked around, we said hello to the other half dozen or so people we knew who also got invited to the party, marveled at some of the promises made on their roadmap and, a few days later, most of us went right back to griping about Facebook.

Well, Diaspora* is still around. As this graph shows, they continue to plug away at that code and build a better network. Though I didn’t make much of an effort to rebuild my social graph on it or proselytize among the heathen, I have kept my eye on Diaspora* because I think we still need them.

I believe that the (weakening) corporate culture of openness, support for data liberation, and a genuine commitment to the preservation of the Internet found at Google helps make Google+ a lesser evil than the Facebook that has long plotted to replace the Inter-net with its own walled Intra-net, but we would all be fools to trust it. As I saw quoted recently, Mike Elgan put it well when he reminded us that, from Google’s perspective, we are not the customer, we are, or rather our attention is, the product that Google sells to its real customers, advertisers. It is my sincere hope that a project like Diaspora* (or others, such as the open alternative to twitter will not lose momentum. Even if they never dominate the field, their decentralized approach and rallying cry to “take back your network” may help maintain a sustained pressure on the Googles and Facebooks of the world.

Have you ever given Diaspora* a try? Are there other open social network platforms and tools under development worth keeping an eye on?

[Creative Commons licensed photo by flickr user Care_SMC]

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