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.)