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Occupy Diaspora

The first and last time I visited Diaspora was back in 2010, when the social destination was still in it’s Alpha release. Although it had a reputation, as alpha releases do, of being buggy, I was surprised at how well it worked. It was impressive, a lot like Facebook but also quite different in its design. The problem was, there was nobody there. It was like entering an eighteen story highrise apartment building in which all the tenents had been evicted, hollow and filled with virtual echoes. So I ran back to the noise of the crowd on the virtual party that is Facebook.

I stay on Facebook for the same reason everybody else stays on Facebook – because all my friends are there. We’re not talking about the folks I hang with in Winston-Salem, who I can see anytime I like over at Washington Perks or Krankies. Nah, we’re talking about people that go way back, people I knew back in the 1970s when we were trying to ignore the coming of disco and, worse, Kiss, and pretend that we could keep the spirit of the 60s alive, like forever man. We’re talking about brothers and sisters who were gone forever from my life, who I was sure I’d never see again and who were already planted in the ground or turned into ashes as far as I knew.


But now we’re on Facebook, with gaps in our mouths where there used to be teeth, bare scalps that were once covered by freak-flag Jesus haircuts, and eyes that once always looked like crescent moons all aglow because we were so high on life and pot, but which are now surrounded by circles and wrinkles that announce to the world that we are on the cusp of no longer having to work for the man, unless they succeed in taking our Social Security away. I figure that’s bound to happen because I’ve always known that Nixon would win in the end.

I’m on Facebook because the only people who have ever meant anything to me are there and I’ve stayed all these years even though it’s no secret that the site sucks and that Zuckerberg is happily making deals for my soul, even though it’s not his to sell. His genius is that he’s figured out a way to put us all into a virtual ghetto from which we cannot escape lest we become all alone and without the people we love again. None of us wants that.

Which has given him a sense of entitlement that no person deserves. He feels free to change our privacy settings for just long enough to sell our identities to those we fear and hate until we can discover what he’s done and change them back, locking the door after the horse is glue. When we complain, he bats his eyes sincerely and tells us we have lost nothing, that we’ve always had the ability to roll back his changes, forgetting to say, “…after the damage is done.” And we have become so brainwashed, so fearful of losing our dear sweet loved ones again, that we believe him and tell ourselves that it’s his right because he offers us the wonderful service that is Facebook absolutely free. If not for Lord Zuckerberg we would be out of touch with everyone who has meaning in our lives.

But it’s not free. There is always a price to pay.

Richard Stallman was right when he wrote last July on Spiegel Online:

“Facebook’s users do not pay, so they are not its clients. They are its merchandise, to be sold to other businesses. If the company is in the US, or is a subsidiary of a US company, the FBI can collect this data at whim without even a court order under an un-American US law, euphemistically named the ‘Patriot Act.'”

So I change my settings back to where they were, get angry and fume for a while, then return to posting my meaningless radical platitudes as status updates, convincing myself that that I was upset over nothing, that Facebook really isn’t evil and that Zuckerburg is really not so bad for an overgrown frat boy.

And as soon as I have myself good and convinced, he goes and does it again. Fool me once. Fool me twice. Fool me a hundred times. A thousand. How much shame can I bear?

Like last night. I learned that every single one of us on Facebook had our email listings changed to ourname@facebook.com. This necessitated taking a minute and a half out of my “liking” and “sharing” to delete this account. Well, it seems that the account is actually undeletable. The best that could be done was to remove it from my wall.

So, for the upteenth time I had had enough and got angry over “nothing” again. For some reason, in this state, I dropped-in for the first time since that first visit in 2010 on Diaspora to prove to myself there is no alternative, that Camelot doesn’t exist in the online world anymore than on the non-virtual streets of America, that Diaspora is nothing more than an empty shell of functional software.

Firefox still remembered my user and password. I expected to hear the door creak from neglect as I entered what I assumed would still be an empty, lonely and creepy virtual cavern. But there were people there, lots of them, and friendly folks. And they were talking, holding discussions and generally having a good time – though it appeared to me they had mostly met on site. A suggestion was made for me to greet the newbies by commenting on their posts. “Say something about their likes and dislikes,” I was cautioned, “so they won’t think you’re a bot.” Nobody likes to be greeted by bots, be they of the virtual or Stepford variety, something else I learned back in the 60s.

What fun I had, welcoming people to Diaspora as if I lived there. It was like stepping back in time to a period in my life when my purpose was to teach people that we are all brothers and sisters in this family we call humankind. “I’m new here and I like the #Internet, #Apple and #iPads and #Samsung and #Cheese-Danishes.” “Welcome, friend. I like the Internet too. Don’t care much for Apple, but I know a lot of people do. And boy, a cheese Danish would be great right now, eh.” It was as if I was a harmonium in a cave on Mercury hearing from the other harmoniums “here I am, here I am, here I am” so I could reply “so glad you are, so glad you are, so glad you are.” And, indeed, glad I was.

On Diaspora, there is no advertising that I could see. Users own their data and their privacy. If you don’t like your information being on some public server, set up your own node on your own server, they’ll give you the software, then easily migrate all of your posts to your node, which will integrate into the whole kit and kaboodle. It’s the people’s Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or name-your-social-pleasure. There are no bosses or owners or people to tell you what to do so long as you mind your P’s and Q’s, which good people should do.

Today I’m going on Hootsuite and set up a daily post on my Facebook wall. “Come hang out with me on Diaspora. I’ll send you an invite if you like, or you can just go to the main page and get an invite yourself.” I’ll still hang out on Facebook, working undercover to do my best to convince my friends to make the move with me.

Diaspora has the potential to truly transform the social landscape. Facebook, on the other hand, is merely the establishment masquerading as anarchy, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux.

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12 comments to Occupy Diaspora

  • rev tim lovejoy

    Like Skype, the value of Facebook isnt in its interface or anything it does but in its address book. Its by having a closed AOL little world that it has any value.

    But having been doing this internet thingy about as long as you, I still have an app that is universal, that you dont have to give away all your info for the privilege of using.
    Its called email.
    You have a phone, a netbook, or are at an internet cafe, you can email me.
    one of the those emails has been around for over 2 decades (in which time I moved 4 times) as has my URL to which it is attached. The web page has changed a lot over the years: blog, forum,etc but type my family name in and you will find my business on page one.
    I have a fake Facebook account taht has none of my real info so Im not totally out of the loop but having been there-done that Ive seen new generations of people willingly give their privacy away for a few shiny trinkets (and lets be honest, Facebook is not shiny. its a dull lifeless, Stalinist era design. Minimalism rules and individuality isnt wanted (Myspace was the opposite in terms that everyone could do what they want and you had a lot of ugly pages but as well some truly amazing ones by people who knew what they were doing).
    My wife work has to do with identity theft and she just rolls her eyes when you say Facebook so shes not a fan either.

    My sister in law has an account and last year she was contacted by someone who used to go to class with her brother. How did she find her? Simple, my inlaw says where she works on her page. Long story short, the woman ends up being a wacko who has some delusional fantasies about my broinlaw and she kept harrassing her. She had to call the police.
    Needless to say, she closed her account.

    Diaspora could be ten times better, 100 times nicer and it would still have the problem all these closed universes have: it doesnt have the Facebook address book.
    And you know well that its extremely hard to get people to jump social media. Which is why I had ICQ, AIM, Yahoo, MSN and other IM’s (using Trillian and Kopete has made this mess manageable) over the years, people dont want to move from waht they know.
    Its not a better site that will draw them over especially when no one they know is on it.

    Ive had much better luck with Twitter>Identi.ca since you can basically roll your own but again, its signing up to another service (one hint to people, use a fere email service like Yahoo to open all these account and mailing lists and such. Do NOT use your main email address for these.)

    For work and sports teams, Identi.ca is much superior to Twitter with private messages and API taht can be integrated with SMS systems, you can create lists, send more than just plain text and links, you can make groups, share privately with those groups. as well as running it on your own servers

    Like I said, WAAAAAAY better than Twitter and you can run it yourself if you want. Still, its not Twitter. Not because its better but beacuse ‘everyone’ is on it.

    i want Diaspora to succeed as much as Identi.ca both because of the FLOSS behind it but also because of the protection it offers users.

    unfortunately, people are lemmings.

    You have to explain why you dont find some other way to communicate with people you care about. Youre in touch with them now, you have their contacts; Video chatting and email are very good. (And for the old farts, there is always IRC to get back to that BBS feel!!)

  • I agree with both of Mr. Hall and Rev. Lovejoy. Diaspora seems to be the evolution of the social network to a place of openness and local yet, distributed profile ownership and management. What I believe Diaspora lacks is proper branding and marketing. Is their tag line seriously “A creative way to mix up your world”?? It should be more along the lines of “You own you, offline and online”

  • mythsmith

    Well, every social network always seems impossible to beat untill it’s beated. Let’s hope Diaspora is the next social network. In order for this to happen, we should join and tell others to join.

  • Chere Abligeau

    The name is a turn off. Its seems like a combination of Diarrhea and Bacterial spores. Epic fail.

  • @ Chere Abligeau

    Look up the word in a dictionay.

    Diaspora (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaspora)
    A diaspora (from Greek διασπορά, “scattering, dispersion”) is “the movement, migration, or scattering of people away from an established or ancestral homeland ..

    It is an entirely apt name.

  • Aleve Sicofante

    AOL had the address book once. All these arguments around the fact that Facebook and Twitter and popular now fail the test of History. It tells us no matter how big, anyone can fall in the internets.

    It takes only a few of “find me on Diaspora or else” to start gathering attention. No marketing whatsoever. Friends that ask me “Why don’t you come to Facebook?” always get the same reply from me: “You can find it in Diaspora.” Some are starting to be in both, the same that happened (happens?) with IM services. We’ll see.

  • phred14

    I have a Diaspora account, but rarely use it. As I see it, with Facebook you have a “home”, your friends have their own “homes”, and you visit each other. There seems to be no “home” in Diaspora, rather it seemed to me to be more like Usenet with a different organizational structure. Discussions all over the place, find the right tags and go join one. But there’s no “home”.

  • Mats Svensson

    I don’t have any friends.
    So maybe ill give this Diaspora a go then.

  • [...] Occupy Diaspora The first and last time I visited Diaspora was back in 2010, when the social destination was still in it’s Alpha release. Although it had a reputation, as alpha releases do, of being buggy, I was surprised at how well it worked. It was impressive, a lot like Facebook but also quite different in its design. The problem was, there was nobody there. It was like entering an eighteen story highrise apartment building in which all the tenents had been evicted, hollow and filled with virtual echoes. So I ran back to the noise of the crowd on the virtual party that is Facebook. [...]

  • Aleve Sicofante

    @phred14

    This is really weird, you know. Both Facebook and Diaspora work exactly in the same way (except for technicalities). Maybe it’s your personal impression. Maybe you haven’t found similar interests or you’re just too used to Facebook. The thing is, both networks work exactly in the same way, regarding to what the user faces, so everybody has a “home” and you visit each other exactly the same you do in Facebook. No relation to the Usenet experience whatsoever.

  • [...] Article from http://fossforce.com/2012/06/occupy-diaspora/ Posted in RSS-Linux by admin. Bookmark the permalink. « KDE No Longer Competitive? [...]

  • Yonah

    tracyanne,

    Being apt isn’t good enough. A product or service name needs to be easy to say, easy to remember, pleasant sounding, and memorable just to name a few features. I could manufacture a brand of toilet paper and call it “Fecal Friend” and while the name is someone apt and fitting to the product, most customers would be turned off by the disgusting imagery the name inspires.

    Your comment shows that, like many in the FOSS community, you really have no idea how to property market a product or service. Diaspora, like GIMP, is a terrible name. Randomly sample 1,000 people and get their input. A majority will agree.