Diaspora Proposal: Open Source, Distributed Social Network

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.

5 Replies to “Diaspora Proposal: Open Source, Distributed Social Network”

  1. Hey Thomas,

    Maxwell from Diaspora here. Thanks so much for taking the time to write about our project, and if you didn’t check it out, http://joindiaspora.com has more details as to how we plan to proceed. We are excited to get a chance to work on something that so many people are passionate about.

    Thanks again,


  2. It’s awesome to see them get financial support for this project. Distributed social networking is an exciting arena and I really believe that the software being created to support these types of projects is the next evolution of the web. And it won’t stop with social networking. Distributed systems that communicate with each other are what’s going to make the real time web and internet of things a reality.

    We don’t have any financial backing, but we’ve built an app (alpha stage at the moment) that can be used for distributed social networking. It’s called 6d (http://get6d.com). It’s built on the PHP5/MySql stack, with HTTP and a RESTful architecture, under an MIT license, targeting commodity servers like shared hosting accounts just like WordPress. I’m grabbing my shorts, because this is going to be a hellova ride.

  3. I took a look at this. All they talk about is underlying technologies. Even when asked about features, they could only reply in technology. The only participants they want are extreme geeks. If someone wants to replace Facebook and its millions of regular people, it’sgoing to have to be easy and transparent to the user, and free. I could totally see a product that provides all the social interaction any social app does, unobtrusively ad supported, kind of like Google used to be. Still make a lot of money without devouring the privacy of it’s members. And for $5 per month add a few premium features and an ad free experience. Guarantee that privacy will never be changed for existing features without express consent of the users and people will poor over (all the while reporting on the privacy crimes Facebook commits on a daily basis.)

  4. There are approximately thirty “known” distributed social projects, and several more flying under the radar seeking VC funding. Mistpark appears to be moving much faster than Diaspora. It’s available today, has published specs, publicly released code (under the BSD license), secure and verifiable transport, atomic privacy controls, and apparently no funding.

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