I’ve seen a couple of people link to this, including EFF. Diaspora proposes to build a distributed, open source social network following a model that is very similar to WordPress and StatusNet. In fact the project, which is seeking funding with their proposal on KickStarter, makes an explicit reference to running a hosted service exactly like WordPress.com. I am a big fan of both of these existing projects for the fact that they provide both the open software for those with the means and inclination to run their own instance and a service for anyone else who trusts them to do that heavy lifting. Further, StatusNet is one of the most prominent projects using the AGPL, so it is the very definition of a high value, free as in freedom web service.
Diaspora will also be released, as it happens, under the AGPL so no one running an instance can make any of their improvements proprietary. More importantly, no one can use any modifications that would be hidden from scrutiny, changes that might threaten the security and trust the project is trying to build.
Each user will be able to host their own server, or seed, and all the end points will be able to share data securely, leveraging strong open source encryption, Gnu Privacy Guard. The core idea is to put identity and discretion in who to trust back in the hands of the user. I am all for this idea, even if it doesn’t gain as much traction as the existing proprietary systems, it at least gives us a choice. My experience of the community at Identi.ca, the original hosted StatusNet instance, makes me optimistic as the people on such open services tend to be much more dedicated to the underlying principles.
I will also be curious to see how Diaspora will compete with Facebook and others. StatusNet has played a very cagey game with Twitter compatibility that seems to be paying off. If Diaspora can interoperate with the applications people use with Facebook and keep the migration cost low, that could prove key. Facebook’s privacy depredations could fuel interest in Diaspora the same way Twitter’s early outages drove folks to alternatives, including StatusNet.
It is unclear if the team, four students in New York, will continue on some scaled down version of the project without funding. Right now, with just over thirty days to their funding goal, they are over halfway there. I pledged support, it is risk free (other than registering for yet another site). If they don’t reach their goal, none of the pledges are charged. Given the potential gain, it seemed worth it.