Upon Diaspora's Debut, Let's Keep An Open Mind
While it first began to generate buzz months ago, Diaspora--an open attempt to create a social network, featuring an open development model, is now available in a developer release. According to the Diaspora site: "This is now a community project and development is open to anyone with the technical expertise who shares the vision of a social network that puts users in control. From now on we will be working closely with the community on improving and solidifying Diaspora." Here is why this is a budding social network worth watching.
Dana Blankenhorn notes that "the press is in love with Diaspora." That's true, but it's true for good reasons. One of them is that there is a desperate need for open alternatives to the walled garden social networks that currently dominate.
As Matt Asay has noted, Diaspora is an upstart project that represents no threat to Facebook at this point. Among other things, he noted that Diaspora introduces unnecessary levels of complexiy to social networking. It's also worth noting that Identi.ca has been pursuing open source social networking for a long time, but has a tiny fraction of Facebook's audience.
Still, as we've noted before, both Facebook and Twitter suffer from the fundamental problem that they are closed systems. They harken back to the early days of email, when you had to be on, say, MCI Mail, or CompuServe, to send another computer user a message. Facebook and Twitter are walled gardens that don't allow users enough control over their interaction with others. Just look at the huge hairballs related to privacy that Facebook is constantly giving birth to.
According to Diaspora's developers:
"We live our real lives in context, speaking from whatever aspect of ourselves that those around us know. Social tools should work the same way. Getting the source into the hands of developers is our first experiment in making a simple and functional tool for contextual sharing."
This particular social network is going to be very interesting to watch, and we shouldn't write it off as it comes out of the starting gate, especially not just because it has gathered press coverage. Social networks are buzzworthy, and an open one is an interesting idea.
Let's see exactly where Diaspora heads. If nothing else, perhaps it can challenge the purveyors of today's very closed social networks to rethink their models.