Tip of the Hat: Diaspora

There’s been a lot of con­cern about Face­book recently.  Beyond changes in aes­thetic design — which alone can cause mass protest from its users — Face­book has also imple­mented sig­nif­i­cant fea­ture changes that, to many, cause sig­nif­i­cant pri­vacy con­cerns.  I will only say that I am also con­cerned — not to the point of delet­ing my account (yet), but enough to make me think more care­fully about my expo­sure on that service.

The cloud” is a big buzz word nowa­days.  Like their phys­i­cal brethren, dig­i­tal clouds can take a vari­ety of shapes.  The form get­ting the most atten­tion is the Google and Face­book-type clouds.  You upload your infor­ma­tion to com­put­ers con­trolled by Google, and Google pro­vides the browser inter­face to inter­act with that infor­ma­tion.  You cre­ate a Face­book pro­file, write on the walls of your friends, make com­ments on pho­tos — all of this infor­ma­tion is stored on Face­book’s com­put­ers, and they pro­vide you with a web-based inter­face to manip­u­late it.

But really, the Inter­net itself is a cloud.  When­ever you visit any web­site, you are down­load­ing a copy of a file that is hosted on some­one else’s com­puter.  It may be a com­puter owned by a cor­po­ra­tion, it may be a com­puter rented by some­one in a dat­a­cen­ter, or it may be a com­puter sit­ting under a col­lege kid’s desk.  For this web­site, I pay about $80 a year to buy space from a com­puter host based some­where in Utah.  I uploaded the Word­Press blog­ging soft­ware to that space, and I access it remotely to cre­ate new posts and edit the blog design.  No com­pany owns my space, or my con­tent.  I do.

Dias­pora is a new project by four NYU stu­dents that seeks to move social net­work­ing away from the cor­po­rate hosted model and into the Word­Press model.  They put it aptly in their video (above):

In real life, we talk to each other.  We don’t need to hand our mes­sages to a hub, and have them hand it to our friends.  Our vir­tual lives should work the same way.

It’s so sim­ple, and so pow­er­ful.  Why indeed should I have to go through a third-party — a “hub” — to inter­act with other peo­ple?  If they have a ded­i­cated social space and I have a ded­i­cated social space, I would­n’t have to.  We’d talk to each other directly.

This par­a­digm shift faces many chal­lenges (among them, adop­tion).  Dias­pora (or its suc­ces­sors) won’t kill hosted social net­work­ing overnight.  It will likely go through a long period of early adop­tion that will see it crit­i­cized and mocked by more main­stream users and evan­ge­lists.  And maybe it will stay there.  Even a New York Times write-up and $100,000 (and ris­ing) in crowd-sourced fund­ing don’t guar­an­tee suc­cess.  But it sure is excit­ing to see them try and make it work, and that’s why I’m root­ing for them from the sidelines.

Team Dis­apora, go boldly.  I tip my hat to you.

(A quick reminder that all thoughts on this blog reflect my opin­ions alone, and not nec­es­sar­ily those of Google.)