Why Open Alternatives Are Bound To Challenge Facebook

by Ostatic Staff - May. 14, 2010

If you haven't been following the tale of the new open alternative to Facebook, you really must check in. In the wake of widespread dissatisfaction with Facebook's handling of privacy issues, four New York University students, who were already working on an open social networking solution, have raised over $115,000 in funding for their offering: Diaspora. While many observers are focusing on Diaspora itself, it's an unproven platform, and the real success that it has had is in illustrating how tired people are of Facebook's closed, privacy-invading policies.

In Wired.com's shout-out for an open alternative to Facebook last Friday, the world's most popular social network was described as out of control:

"Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dreams of world domination. It’s time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed."

The column from Wired.com does a pretty good job of dissecting each of the steps that Facebook has taken down the lane of privacy invasion. GigaOM's analysis, "Facebook Needs To Find Its Voice On Privacy," is also worth reading. "The relationship between privacy and Facebook is always going to be complicated," it notes, and that's true.

As Matt Asay notes, Diaspora is an upstart project that represents no threat to Facebook at this point. Among other things, he notes 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. Diaspora is unlikely to ever threaten Facebook's dominance, but the welcome it has received in such a short time shows how fed up people are with Facebook's policies. In the long run, Facebook will likely face more serious challenges from open alternatives to its service.