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. ((I am not going to write My__, that’s just dumb.))
No matter what Diaspora does they will not be more main stream than Facebook. Plain and simple.
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:
- Blog Posts
- Flickr Photos
- 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.