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The groundswell behind new social connection site Diaspora*

In concept, the walls of caves in Lascaux, France, and the human-body-as-canvas were (and are) social media channels well before there was electricity or that series of tubes known as the Internet. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. Or whatever Next Big Gig there will inevitably be.  The assertion of both individual identity and tribe has persisted—however fragmented and ever-changing it may be in our post-modern world.  In addition to the proclamation, “Here I am!”—we have always found “platforms” for the opportunity to fulfill the universal need to have answered those searching questions: “Are you there? Are you with me?”

Frankly, I am already hoping for that Next Big Gig that lures me and my 426 friends away from Facebook after learning that Mark Zuckerberg referred to his college friends as “dumb f**cks” for sharing so much of their personal information via his new invention.  I don’t think of myself as a “dumb f**ck.” Maybe I am. But I’ve turned off every conceivable default setting that would have automatically fed my profile information to unwanted entities (except Pandora, because I loved her long before I joined Facebook).

So for now, I’m an inconsistent devotee of this gathering place for soon-to-be 500 million users. That’s a mighty big campfire we are all gathered around to share our stories and connect. I’ve noticed a few folks have left—and not just my mom. Some of my friends. They’re done. They reconnected with high school friends, had a few moments of social media delight—and not so much do they feel the need to log on anymore. (I miss them.)

Maybe the Diaspora* project will bring us all together again via an open-source platform. The cerebral offspring of four self-proclaimed nerds—Max Salzberg, Dan Grippi, Raphael Sofaer and Ilya Zhitomirskiy—Diaspora* is one of several geeks-united responses to Facebook’s ever encroaching infringement upon users’ privacy and sharing decisions. The interesting difference is that this social platform is being funded by grants and contributions by potential users. On April 24th, they announced their plans and gave themselves 39 days to raise $10,000 with the help of Kickstarter. They met that goal in 12 days with only 3% of the funds coming from folks they know–and contributions continue to roll in.

As reported in The New York Times : The Diaspora* team intends to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. Raphael says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary. “In our real lives, we talk to each other,” he said. “We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”

I’m rooting for Dan, Raphael, Max and Ilya. I have to love a site that features a dandelion for us all to make a wish and scatter our hopes for open-source connection like seeds all over our world that is so small, after all.

4 Responses to “The groundswell behind new social connection site Diaspora*”

  • Interesting find, Kathryn. I’m a huge devotee of Facebook (especially on this the day that I’m getting birthday well wishes from everyone I’ve ever known), but I do think there’s a fundemental truth in that relationship that most people forget: Who are Facebook’s customers? They’re not us. The hundreds of millions of free members. We’re users. Their customers are their advertisers. Same challenge every media outlet has had for decades, but the first to battle it in a wide-scale participatory model.

  • I love the concept of Diaspora — open and distributed. But isn’t it somewhat of an exaggeration to call this interest in the Diaspora project a “groundswell”? The project is gaining momentum, yes, and has exceeded its fundraising goals. All of this is great. I just think the title of this post is a bit much. ;)

  • Happy Birthday Leigh! My gift to you is a dialogue-provoking question for your fabulous brain. How would our thinking about “users” or “free users” change if we conceptualize them (ourselves!) as “participators” instead? Not just about semantics. It seems to me that the words “customer” and “user” are losing relevance or at least their place at the top of our marketing lexicon. Had Facebook approached their decision-making processes thinking of their “users” as “participators,” they might have at the very least rolled out their privacy setting changes and other revenue-generating choices with more smarts, less arrogance? (But I admit I like the aftermath if it means more Diaspora-like projects!)

  • About that groundswell reference. True that the Diaspora* project may be just one ripple in the growing wave (to reference the ecological aspect of that term)–but I just opened my mailbox and discovered the May 21st issue TIME magazine with the headline: “facebook…and how it’s redefining privacy.” Subhead: “With nearly 500 million users, Facebook is connecting us in new (and scary) ways.” I get the selling advantage of a fear tactic in a magazine headline, but I’m feeling more than one ripple out there as participators start to catch up and understand the implications. I’m not sure where this is all going, but if mySpace and the banking industry offer us any lessons, it’s that nothing is too big to fail.(I could go on, but I have to go post birthday well-wishes on my brother’s fb site. ;)

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