Diaspora still trying to reinvent social networks with open source

Most people won’t have even heard of it. Diaspora is an up and coming social network which is getting a lot more attention in some circles in the wake of Google+’s ‘real names’ policy.

Users are climbing on board after being tipped off that there’s a network just like Google+, only without having anything to do with Google, where you can be who you want to be, how you want to be, and still retain full ownership of everything you put there.

Currently invite-only and in alpha, preparing to roll out beta, Diaspora is an open-source social network. It’s run on free software that anyone with a little bit of coding know-how can get involved in developing. The community involvement in running the site is huge. From spreading the word to community support, it’s all open for volunteering.

Unlike Facebook and Google+, company-run businesses which aim to get as much data from you as they possibly can, the guys behind Diaspora take a completely different view:

“With Diaspora you decide what you’d like to share, and with whom. You retain full ownership of all your information, including friend lists, messages, photos, and profile details. You own your pictures, and you shouldn’t have to give that up just to share them. You maintain ownership of everything you share on Diaspora, giving you full control over how it’s distributed.”

Everything you share continues to belong to you, completely.

It’s also a de-centralised architecture, run on a number of different servers who are owned by no particular person or company. If you have an inkling of knowledge, you could even run your own, hosting your own profile, those of friends, or even open it up for the public to jump on board if you have the services. These servers then communicate to form the social network. No one person or company owns it.

It has a lot of the same functionality of Google+, including some of the things that Google has been praised for, most notably the ‘circles’ feature. On Diaspora you have ‘aspects’ and they work in pretty much the same way. Diaspora did it first in November last year.

Much like G+, you don’t have character limits to your posts like you do on Facebook or Twitter, making sharing long posts easy. Unlike any of the major social networks, you also have ‘markdown’, a way of formatting posts, using bullet points and a lot of other things which allow for added creativity.

It is an underdog. People are wondering how it’s going to get anywhere if it’s facing a fight with not just Facebook, but Google. And this is where it gets interesting. There is no fight.

Diaspora is not trying to steal users away from other social networks.

Firstly, Google in particular is pushing users away perfectly fine on its own with the nymwars, a battle against Google’s strict enforcement of ‘no pseudonyms’, and Facebook isn’t far behind by insisting it has so much control over all of their content.

Secondly, it doesn’t consider itself to be a rival. It has nothing to do with the current players, and is forming its own path in the social world online.

In the last few days Diaspora HQ, maintained by the students behind the project, reshared a post from one of the users on the site, adding the comment ‘Diaspora is not about killing Facebook or Google+. It’s about reinventing the social web’.

The post likens Diaspora to the walled in AOL services a number of years ago to the WWW, and how AOL was forced into bringing the walls down and allowing users open access. It insists feverishly that the intent is in no way to rival the current giants.

“D* wants to enable you to own your own data and enjoy the open web in a social way. It’s not about killing G+ or FB. It’s about enabling users to own their own social data and have the choice to use any service they want, which will force the walled gardens to provide better services, lest their users leave and take their own data to other services online that provide these for them.”

Whether it succeeds in its plight is anyone’s guess. Robert Scoble, one of the more prolific social network users, has dismissed it completely. With the community support that it’s already receiving from its alpha users, people taking it on themselves to lend a helping hand, and that number of users increasing, it might be worth watching to see what happens.

Could a free, open project like this make Google and Facebook bring down their walls? Probably not, but we’ll see.