The worry, concern, and even downright anger with Facebook right now is palpable. It has even gotten to the point that the company has called an all hands meeting to discuss the privacy firestorm that has engulfed them. It still remains to be seen if this will be a closed door meeting or if it will be streamed on the web for us all to see.
Even this move by Facebook is being looked upon with some suspicion. I have seen some comments on Buzz suggesting that if it is streamed the meeting is nothing more than another PR move like the weekend post in the New York Times by Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s VP of Public Policy.
As this was all building news started to filter out about a new project by four university students called Diaspora. The intent of the project is to develop a complete profile management system that you control instead of relying on services like Facebook, or Twitter, or even Google to manage it.
Or as their one line pitch goes: the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network.
The more in-depth explanation goes like this
We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms. We think we can replace today’s centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network. Diaspora will be easy to use, and it will be centered on you instead of a faceless hub.
It’s a noble idea and it seems to be one that in light of Facebook’s recent screwing up an idea that is starting to get a lot of attention. As with any grassroots project though one has to wonder if anything like this would be even be able to get of the ground enough given that even people working at the grassroots level need t o eat and pay the bills.
Well the team at Diaspora came up with a unique idea – see if we can get the potential users to chip in. So using the service called Kickstarter the Diaspora team put together their pitch and posted it to the service along with a target amount of money that they thought they would need to see them get started.
The amount they were asking for – not much really … $10,000.00 … a pittance in the start-up world of social media.
With little expectation I would imagine they waited to see if people would be willing to put their money where their mouths were. They didn’t have to wait long especially once the New York Times Bits blog wrote up a post about the project. In fact they have exceeded the amount they wanted by a magnitude of 5 and they still have 20 days to go before Kickstarter marks the project as having met its target.
In fact between the time when I read the last post about the project and started writing this post – all of maybe 30 minutes – they have gone fro the $50,000 mark to $63,147.00 or in another way they are 632% funded and it doesn’t look to be slowing down.
So my hat goes off to the Diaspora team and everyone who has donated to the cause but as much as we all may love rooting for the Don Quixote tilting at windmills is there any real possibility that this project will see long term success?
Don’t get me wrong – I really want them to succeed and succeed big. I even wanted to donate money to the cause but couldn’t because of how Kickstarter handles donations (no PayPal support). However all this show of support doesn’t mean that the idea will even work beyond a small segment of the tech oriented Web?
The truth is that for something like diaspora to seriously challenge Facebook it needs to make using their service drop dead simple and at this point Diaspora looks to be anything but simple. With talk of things like seeds and your own server there is already a wall being put up.
Look Facebook succeeds because it is on the face of it extremely simple to join and there’s all kinds of things to attract people to it even if they are for the most part mindless. The fact is as well that the large majority of average Facebook users couldn’t care less about all this privacy uproar. Even if what Facebook is doing ends up costing them 10% of their user base that is literally a drop in the bucket.
Chances are as well that they would be cracking open the champagne in the process because the large percentage of that 10% would probably be the ones causing Facebook the most headaches. So in essence it would be a bonus for them.
But Diaspora on the other hand is facing a monumental uphill battle and it is a battle that they look to be fighting with one hand tied behind their back. What could work though is if they concentrated on building a hosted service first where people can sign up using a One, Two, Three Step type system. Make it drop dead simple. Hell use Wordpress.com as an example – it doesn’t get any easier than that.
Once you have got a good solid base of both knowledgeable and regular people using that system then you can think of offering a self-hosted option. Do it the other way around and I really fear you will be dooming yourself to failure before you even get started.
The pledge amount at Kickstarter – it just went up another $2,000.00