Can ‘Diaspora’ Kill Facebook? It Doesn’t Really Matter Either Way

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There’s a little bit of buzz going around about an open source project known as Diaspora. While some have likened Diaspora to an “anti-Facebook” or “Facebook killer,” it’s not quite that simple.

The project was started by four students at NYU earlier this year, right around the time that Facebook came under fire for various privacy issues. The idea behind Diaspora was to create an open social networking system where users’ content and privacy were in their own hands and portable, not in the hands of a single company like Facebook.

The students looked to initially raise $10,000 in order to get the project off the ground; to date, they’ve raised over $200,000.

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And just recently, the team announced that the core functionality of Diaspora is ready. The underlying source code has been released to developers, and the team says, “This is now a community project and development is open to anyone with the technical expertise who shares the vision of a social network that puts users in control.”

So how will it work? Will you just go to Diaspora.com, start an account, and leave Facebook? Not exactly.

Per Diaspora’s blog:

“Diaspora aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly, will let us connect without surrendering our privacy. We call these computers ‘seeds’. A seed is owned by you, hosted by you, or on a rented server. Once it has been set up, the seed will aggregate all of your information: your facebook profile, tweets, anything.”

The most important part of that quip is, “A seed is owned by you, hosted by you, or on a rented server.” We’ll get to the limitations of this idea shortly.

On the plus side, though, when people inevitably stop using Facebook just like they stopped using Friendster, MySpace, and all the social networks before them, it won’t matter because everything they posted—every update, photo, video, whatever–since they started using Diaspora will be tied to their own personal “seed.” If Facebook shut down tomorrow, you would theoretically lose everything you ever posted to your profile.

The major challenge with this “seed” idea is that your seed needs to be hosted online somewhere. You can either set up a server on your home computer, leaving it connected to the internet and powered on 24 hours a day forever, or use a hosting company similar to the ones that host websites.

Using a hosting company may cost money and, if not, may come with certain strings attached—advertisements, bandwidth restrictions, etc.—while running your own server would require you to basically keep a desktop or immovable laptop powered up and connected at all times. Otherwise, your profile won’t be accessible to your friends if it’s offline.

The other challenge is that Diaspora is just the underlying technology behind “a distributed network,” meaning that you won’t just go to Diaspora.com and—boom—there’s your social network. Instead, there will be several (hundreds, thousands?) of new social networking sites using terminology like “powered by Diaspora.”

The plus is that no matter which Diaspora-powered social network you join (if you choose to join one at all), you’ll be able to connect to people in other social networks powered by Diaspora. And if you belong to a social network that’s not powered by Diaspora—Twitter, Facebook, etc.—, “your seed will keep pulling in tweets and you will still be able to see your Facebook feed.”

That’s kind of the whole idea. It’ll pull in all the information from whichever social networks you use and you’ll be able to take all your information to the next social network you join—or just make your own social network.

So will it kill Facebook? It doesn’t matter. Facebook will eventually die like all social networks die once people find a newer, better social network. The next time around, though, the idea will be that you won’t have to start from scratch. You’ll just tie your new social network to your Diaspora seed and all your previous updates, photos, and tweets will be intact.

More on Techland:

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