Thoughts on Diaspora

It is no secret that I loathe Facebook, long time readers should know that I have been keeping a close eye on the Diaspora project, they seek to create a more open Facebook experience. I have been very excited for them to get this project going, right up and until this morning. This morning I had a revelation: Diaspora is already irrelevant. Sad because they haven’t even publicly launched.

No, I have no insider info saying that these guys are giving up, nor do I think that is the case – I do think they probably should stop and rethink though. What occurred to me is that Diaspora is creating a service that likely will only be used by really geeky types (like me) and few others. That limits the success the service can have, because news flash: not all geeks are friends with each other. Social networks that rely on people ‘friending’ each other need to be pretty main stream offerings, just ask MySpace. 1

No matter what Diaspora does they will not be more main stream than Facebook. Plain and simple.

Unless

I don’t think that all hope is lost though, I think that Diaspora needs to focus a bit on innovations that people will truly care about. Did anybody else see last week’s episode of ‘The Office (U.S.)”? One of the characters created a new web service called WUPHF which, though fake and amusing, solves a real problem that people have: too many inboxes. If you are a very social geek then you likely are using: Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Formspring, LinkedIn, Instagram, Gowalla, Foursquare, BrightKite, Flickr, and others. Plus you have email, maybe Basecamp, text messages, voice messages, Things/OmniFocus/Task Manager. You might even have multiple accounts at more than one of those services. In other words you got a lot of inboxes to stay on top of.

With that in mind what I think we don’t need is another inbox and the more and more I think about it Diaspora seems like just that, another inbox. Perhaps what we really need is something to help aggregate some of our data. I think Diaspora has an opportunity to help with that for both the person using the service and others that want to check in with that person.

When I left Facebook I worked on revamping my Profile page so that friends who visited it would be presented data in a similar fashion as Facebook does. The goal was to setup a site that never needed me to touch it, but was always up to date. I hard coded a few things which I hope don’t change (like my Wife’s name) and the rest I built with dynamic content. The end result is a site where I own all the data and where my friends and strangers can go to learn more about me – all without compromising my privacy. It pulls my tweets, photos, and RSS feeds from my blogs into one stream that is easy to skim.

Since I built that page I have maybe touched the code once or twice to tweak a few things – that’s it.

Diaspora with the brian power that they have could build something easily more robust. One thing that I never figured out how to implement is my Gowalla feed so that people could see where I am. Imagine if instead of just being another Facebook, Diaspora instead had the options to show this data to either ‘friends’ or the ‘public’ at your discretion:

  • Tweets
  • Blog Posts
  • Flickr Photos
  • Instagram
  • Check-ins
  • Relationships linked to other peoples pages

Then on the admin side it would somehow magically integrate all your inboxes for the services I talked about above. You could check @replies, DMs, comments, likes, blog comments, and so on.

This would be some serious API wizardry, but wouldn’t that offer us all a compelling reason to use the service? More compelling than Facebook?

Still not convinced?

Imagine being able to go to a persons Diaspora page and sending them a message, a message that then shows up for that person on a number of services they appoint: email, Facebook, Twitter, Text message, and so forth. Imagine the power of only having to tell someone your Diaspora name and not all your other Social ‘handles’ – that would be killer. Instead of telling people my email address and them hoping I check my email on Sundays when they really want to talk to me, I tell them Diaspora, perhaps Diaspora knows that on weekends I don’t check email, but I do check DMs so they DM the message. I am not saying this is WUPHF, rather than it allows you to sort messages based on what you prefer. Power to the user, ease for the sender.

Don’t think for a second though that this is not the path that Facebook is pursuing, creating an email service is just a baby step in that direction. Facebook though wants to own the data and not rely on another company. I don’t know where Diaspora will end up, but I do think that if they are only a more ‘private’ or ‘secure’ version of Facebook, then outside of us geeks they won’t get much of a following. Here’s hoping they give us a compelling reason to use Diaspora, otherwise I don’t think it will be anything more than a proof of concept.

  1. I am not going to write My__, that’s just dumb.
Originally posted for members on: November 24, 2010
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