DEAL OF THE DAY at TigerDirect

Categories

Why Not Diaspora?

“Why we don’t all switch to Diaspora I will never understand.”

My friend Ross made this remark on Facebook Thursday as introduction to a link to a petition by Demand Progress, a progressive political action site. The petition addresses Facebook and privacy issues, making some rather disturbing accusations. Although the text is short on siting sources, the accusations still ring true. The claim is that every time something is typed into a comment box but then not posted, Facebook keeps a record.

“Turns out, Facebook has been monitoring, tracking and interpreting our unposted notes, comments and statuses this entire time, using even what we don’t say as metadata to pass on to spy agencies like the NSA or advertisers from Groupon to Mastercard.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Again, there are no sources quoted here, so I’m reluctant to jump on any bandwagon. But I wouldn’t put it past them. In the past they’ve done just as bad, perhaps worse. They’re not a company to be trusted, which lends legitimacy to Ross’s wonderment that his friends haven’t moved away from Facebook.

Why not Diaspora as a replacement for Facebook?

Diaspora logoI was recently on Diaspora, the free, open source and user owned social network. It’s improved greatly since I last logged-on, which was at least a couple of years ago. Even back then I thought it showed promise, although the one Facebook friend I convinced to try it found it “too geeky.”

It’s not nearly as geeky as it was, but it might still offer some challenges for Facebook users as it makes extensive use of hash tags. Twitter users would be comfortable there, not so much users of Facebook, even though in most ways it’s a lot more like Facebook than Twitter.

However, it’s not geekiness that’s holding Diaspora back and it never was. When it comes to social networks, Facebook exercises the power that Microsoft had over consumer computing in its heyday. Just as Windows owned the home computer market in the days before tablets, smartphones and Chromebooks, Facebook pretty much owns the social networking scene, at least as far as the everyday computer user is concerned.

It has the people and a mainstream social network is nothing without lots of people.

This poll is closed! Poll activity:
start_date 05/03/2014 14:37:06
end_date 27/03/2014 10:59:58
Poll Results:
What computing devices do you own? (Choose all that apply)

When I go on Diaspora, I don’t know anyone nor do I have any chance of catching up with anyone from my past. On Facebook I have hundreds of “friends,” many of whom I hadn’t seen since 1975, the day the music died in Toronto. A few years back we started finding each other on Facebook and beecause everyone was already there, finding them was easy.

Unfortunately, Facebook isn’t an ethical company, meaning it has more in common with Microsoft then merely the monopoly thing. In its quest to turn a buck, the company conveniently misplaces its moral compass when it comes to privacy issues. While it’s true that Zuckerberg is always responsive to user unrest, it’s never in a way that directly addresses user concerns but by use of convoluted and confusing “opt-out” systems.

Diaspora really could be the answer. It’s open source, it’s decentralized and it has Aaron Swartz in its DNA. Its security people are answerable only to the community. Because it’s decentralized, there’s a node or “pod” element. Different servers offer users slightly different experiences, sort of like neighborhoods within a city. This is much different from Facebook where everything is the downtown business district.

Diaspora could be the answer, but I can’t see how. How do we get the average online Mary or Joe to make the move? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The following two tabs change content below.
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.

Latest posts by Christine Hall (see all)

10 comments to Why Not Diaspora?

  • Mike

    A name change would help. When I see that word my first thought is always ‘bowel problem’.

  • tipo de incognito

    Nice Facebook button, but I don’t see any Diaspora*/pumpIO/GNU Social button. Maybe you should use more the practice and less the theory.

  • Computer H

    I would have to agree, where is the FOSS force presence on Diaspora*?

  • mad4linux

    I’m a linux user with some experience in setting up web, mail and file servers on linux, altough not a pro. After your last post about Diaspora, I’ve actually tried to set up a diaspora pod on my virtual server running debian.
    It is still not working. The installation instructions on the diaspora page are in some crucial stages very limited (e.g. how to set up redirection properly) and the whole setting with a separate web server running only diaspora is not well described.
    In short, if diaspora should spread, a lot had to be done to allow the general interested linux hobbyist with a virtual server on the web to actually get it running. Because there is no company behind diaspora, after all. So you would need a multiplier. What would be better then hundreds of people telling their friends to join them on their own pod?

  • The previous commenter mentioned that it’s still hard to get Diaspora* running on Linux. I’ve done it before, though not terribly recently, and it was both a mess to get running and a pretty big memory hog just for the basic install – if you have 5 users on your pod, you still can’t run it on a 256MB VPS from lowendbox. Okay, that’s less a big deal, but it leads to my next point.

    Diaspora* has already been populated by the ‘first tier’ geeks who were running Gentoo a while back and yadda yadda. But I do think having more casual pod operators would help, because those operators would bring their friends in. But it needs to be easy to set up and run. The code still, though a lot nicer in terms of web UI/UX, is pretty beta quality. It is often not a “install package, edit config, go” situation and it needs to be.

    Of course, who’s going to do this? I don’t know how much dev support Diaspora* has. One parallel is Bitcoin. Compiling bitcoind is one of the absolute worst software installations I have experienced since compiling whatever cranky bleeding-edge software I had to still compile by hand in 2000. This is a piece of software which is involved in billions of dollars of transactions, and the docs aren’t just bad, they’re often WRONG. (Look at bitcoind –help sometime. Don’t take it all as truth.) The compile is a nightmare, even on common Linux distros. I’d hate to see the actual source.

    Just a bit of perspective. I am a big champion of decentralizing EVERYTHING, because if it’s centralized, power and money can (and usually will) ruin it. But there are practical considerations.

  • BTW, the other problem is one of Facebook having mindshare. It’s like a combination of Comcast and the hometown a lot of your high school friends never managed to leave – everybody hates it, but it’s good enough, and they’re busy, so other options aren’t explored.

    I say this due to my personal experience leaving Facebook and attempting to get friends to join me on other, better social networks (which, admittedly, have much less of a ‘find old friends with whom to be advertised at’ focus) and it is like PULLING TEETH. People are just too busy, and think everything is going to be crappy like MySpace and Facebook, and don’t have any desire for another migration.

  • A lot of users feel frustrated when they start using Diaspora*, because they expect it to be a carbon copy of Facebook and it’s replacement for their common usage patterns. It’s not. As you pointed out:

    > When I go on Diaspora, I don’t know anyone nor do I have
    > any chance of catching up with anyone from my past. On
    > Facebook I have hundreds of “friends,” many of whom
    > I hadn’t seen since 1975, the day the music died in Toronto.

    One has to adjust expectations when using Diaspora*. It’s not for finding your old contacts and friends (Facebook wasn’t like that either, and won’t be like that in the future by the way – a lot of young people don’t use it – such kind of social networks come and go in waves). Diaspora* is for finding ideas and discussions. More than often those come from unknown people. I have may be 1 – 2 contacts on Diaspora* whom I knew from before. Everyone else I communicate with there are people whom I never knew, but with whom there can be something interesting to discuss. There are tons of deep topics in D*, and using hashtags plays a key role in their discovery.

    If one approaches Diaspora* the right way, then there wouldn’t be so much frustration.

  • I finally went on Facebook a couple of months ago… Firstly though, I tried Diaspora. The biggest problem for me is not only is no one on there… but the few people I know for a fact are on there were difficult to find. It turns out you also need to know what pod they’ve joined up with. I gave it a couple of hours and then gave me…

  • No One

    … and its not like Google+ (or whatever they’re calling it) is any real alternative either.