“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?
I 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.
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.