Can Diaspora overtake Facebook?

A lot of us are by now more than familiar with social networks like MySpace, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. These networks impact a great deal on how we communicate with our friends or peers online. However, critics are getting increasingly wary of how platforms like Facebook could use (or abuse) all the intelligence they build up about us and our personal networks; will Facebook take over the control of our lives?

Diaspora (pronounced “die-as-poe-ra”) is the first social network that intends to hand control back to its users and address this growing concern around social network privacy. Diaspora’s main aim is to allow its users to organise how they share personal content and who with.

Even though Diaspora has not yet been opened up to general usage (the underlying code was released to developers only 2 weeks ago) it looks like “seeds” and “aspects” will be the key elements of the new platform. It’s not very clear what shape or form these seeds and aspects will take but I guess it will all be about “contextual sharing” with users being able to control which “aspect” of themselves they wish to share.

Another thing I learned about Diaspora is that it’s “open source”. This means that the code used to create the Diaspora platform has been opened up to developers to run with. The features that Diaspora are currently trying to implement concentrate very much on “data portability” (with users being able to control what data to move around and whereto) and “public publishing” (i.e. integration with public platforms such as Twitter and Facebook). This functionality would come on top of what’s already there; the ability to share status messages and photos privately in ‘near real time‘ and functionality to manage your friends online (across the different platforms, I presume).

In bullet point-format, I feel that the main things to know about Diaspora at this stage are:

  1. Noble aspirations – Diaspora’s ultimate ambition is to enable the user to (re) gain control over his personal data.
  2. It’s open source – How Diaspora will work (or not) will ultimately depend on the inventiveness of the developer community Diaspora has released its code to.
  3. It’s early days! – Until Diaspora launches its alpha version later this month, it will remain a question how the platform will work and what its tangible benefits are.

Will Diaspora (eventually) pose a serious threat to Facebook? Will it appeal to a large, mainstream audience or just to tech-savvy users? I’m pretty sure we’ll all know a lot more as soon as Diaspora opens up to the wider public later this month. At this moment in time, I am not convinced that Diaspora will provide enough of an incentive (and scale) to drag people away from Facebook. But maybe, I will be proven wrong and users will turn out to be more than happy to use both Diaspora and Facebook.

Main learning point: the main promise in Diaspora lies in its aspiration to allow users to control and manage their personal data online. At this point in time, there are still quite a few question marks around usability and (mass) appeal, which I will keep you posted on!

Related links for further learning:

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