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What Happened To Diaspora, the Facebook Killer? It's Complicated 215

Posted by Soulskill
from the migrating-half-a-billion-people-is-easy dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "Created by four New York University students, Diaspora tried to destroy the notion that one social network could completely dominate the web. Diaspora – 'the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network,' as described on their Kickstarter page – offered what seemed like the perfect antidote to Zuckerbergian tyranny. The New York Times quickly got wind. Tired of being bullied, technologists rallied behind the burgeoning startup spectacle, transforming what began as a fun project into a political movement. Before a single line of code had been written, Diaspora was a sensation. Its anti-establishment rallying cry and garage hacker ethos earned it kudos from across an Internet eager for signs of life among a generation grown addicted to status updates. And yet, the battle may have been lost before it even began. Beyond the difficulty of actually executing a project of this scope and magnitude, the team of four young kids with little real-world programming experience found themselves crushed under the weight of expectation. Even before they had tried to produce an actual product, bloggers, technologists and open-source geeks everywhere were already looking to them to save the world from tyranny and oppression. Not surprisingly, the first release, on September 15, 2010 was a public disaster, mainly for its bugs and security holes. Former fans mockingly dismissed it as 'swiss cheese.'"
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What Happened To Diaspora, the Facebook Killer? It's Complicated

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  • Fondue party! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by natophonic (103088) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:47PM (#41531431)

    > Former fans mockingly dismissed it as 'swiss cheese.'

    One has to wonder how cheesy the first few iterations of Facebook would have looked if their source had been open to all.

    • Re:Fondue party! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:54PM (#41531489)

      > Former fans mockingly dismissed it as 'swiss cheese.'

      One has to wonder how cheesy the first few iterations of Facebook would have looked if their source had been open to all.

      If I'm not mistaken, Facebook's beginnings didn't involve advertising all over the damn place and firing up a bunch of technology pundits before a single line of code was written. Facebook's code might've been (and probably still is) janky as hell, but the first impression they left on the world when Zucko started was a working product. That's the key difference here. The Diaspora people wanted media attention for their idea, and the lack of anything deliverable for years was the impression everyone had of them.

    • Re:Fondue party! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:01PM (#41531561) Homepage Journal

      I for one doubt that the problems are of technical nature. What they did well was to get a lot of people excited and start a well-sized fellowship of power users interested in hosting a dispora server.

      The problem is that it is a student project that intended to start from zero and kept largely to itself. That's fine for a student project. If you want to open up social networks to heterogeneous environments though -- like emails -- you have to connect to other programmers and entities interested. You have to settle one one or a couple of competing standards (like was done with RSS) used for interchange with wise designers, several servers should implement functions, code should be shared.

      Finally you have to have some killer application that draws users -- doing the same as Facebook but in a different color won't do it. And if it's just a game that's only available there.

      So the current status as far as I followed is that the communication format is settled (RSS based) and what's left is implementing many nice web servers that interact, have different awesome features, and also to get commercial players involved? It's hard work getting from a working prototype to a good implementation that is hackable (and ideally, not crackable).

      • by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:07PM (#41532151) Homepage

        It's almost like there's more to writing good software than throwing up a Kickstarter page and getting PR. Who knew that actual work would be involved?

        • I'm certain the people who started the project were well aware that work would be involved. You can't fault them for other people's unrealistic expectations.

          • by SomePgmr (2021234)
            Well, and one of the co-founders (who I believe were college buddies) died. I imagine that could take the wind out of your sails on a project.
            • Well, the project is still going strong. I've been keeping tabs on it from afar, waiting until I felt it was likely safe and reasonable to bring up my own seed.

          • by Pope (17780)

            The "unrealistic expectations" is what they hyped themselves on delivering to the world.

            • I disagree. They presented an idea of what they wanted to accomplish and where they wanted to go and why they wanted to go there. That idea resonated with a lot of people. Yes, they wanted to build a replacement for Facebook, but everybody else expected an immediate Facebook killer that everybody would immediately be able to jump to. The real world doesn't work like that. Even if their initial version was flawless it would still necessarily have had limited functionality (what can actually be accomplished i

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by timeOday (582209)

        The problem is that it is a student project that intended to start from zero and kept largely to itself.

        My theory of the problem is that a walled garden will always provide at least a little smoother experience than a decentralized, open, free one. Thus usenet gave way to moderated web forums, decentralized email largely gave way to centralized webmail providers and twitter, home pages gave way to myspace/facebook, and beowulf clusters gave way to EC2. Open standards and decentralized implementations ar

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          You could equally argue that proprietary standards have largely given way to open ones. For example any web technology or video codec wanting to become popular online will have to be open and free. Even Flash is dying in favour of HTML5 and SVG.

      • Re:Fondue party! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anrego (830717) * on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:25PM (#41532327)

        I agree with your other points, however I do think a lot of their problems were technical in nature.

        The submission nails it.. bunch of kids with limited real world experience. The whole execution was amateurish and it really showed.

        For instance, their problem with security wasn't that their software has some security holes, or a lot of security holes.. it was that the fundemental core design didn't take security into account at all. Good security creates a low level priviledged layer that you audit the crap out of, with upper layers limited (by a token based auth system for instance.. ), such that a bug in an upper layer is limited in what it can do. They just threw in some if statements and called it a day. A big selling point was supposed to be security.. but it was very clear to anyone who actually looked at the code that they didn't have a clue what they were doing. It is impossible to make an app secure the way they went. You can patch all the holes.. but the fundemental structure is insecure so new holes will be introduced constantly.

        As programmers, we all look at something and say "pff, I could do better". Maybe we do it less as we gain more experience in seeing simple stuff turn wildly complex. This seems a case of that where some kids did that, then got way more attention then they should, and ended up looking like idiots.

        • For instance, their problem with security wasn't that their software has some security holes, or a lot of security holes.. it was that the fundemental core design didn't take security into account at all.

          Mod this right up. If you want to design an open social network then the FIRST thing you do is design a protocol and get security experts to review it. Then you get two (or, ideally, more) teams to implement the protocol independently. Then, once you've identified the flaws in the specification, you have something that may work. Diaspora started with a crappy implementation where the protocol documentation was the code. The fact that their implementation sucked was made much more important by the fact

    • I haven't tried Diaspora, but while they did need to get the technology to be marginally adequate, so they don't alienate users, their biggest hurdle was going to be to get users to adopt it in the first place. The reason to join Facebook was never that it was technically cool, it was that it was at least marginally usable and half a billion other people were joining it, including your relatives and you actual in-real-life friends and the people you went to high school with and the people who you used to k

  • that was their own PR for their own use.
    don't do pr like that before you have the product. in this case they didn't even have the thinking for what the product would be, except that "facebook suxxor".

    seriously, if people cared they could go for telnet bbs's with message networking between the bbs's. but who the fuck would like that shit? and those who care are already running their own blogs on their own money, their own bbs systems for organizing, their own jabber servers... but most people just don't give

  • Facebook (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:49PM (#41531445) Homepage

    Ironically, its Facebook page [facebook.com] probably has more likes than actual users.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:52PM (#41531479)

    The only place I ever heard Diaspora even mentioned at all was right here on Slashdot.

    • by FauxReal (653820)

      The only place I ever heard Diaspora even mentioned at all was right here on Slashdot.

      Same here, and I forgot about it since it was a late night and just remembered when I saw today's article.

    • I've seen it mentioned a few other places. A maker space I follow debated hosting a Diaspora instance. A few other people I know have talked about it spontaneously.

  • by Anarchduke (1551707) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:55PM (#41531499)
    Have grandma and grandpa and cousin bob already on it. Facebook has all of them already and why bother going elsewhere when all the people you actually want to socialize with are already on one network. In an unrelated note, Google+ has 400 million users and about 1/4 of them are actually active on google+
    • by alen (225700)

      Since everyone with a gmail address is on g+ it includes my mom, father in law and wife who have no idea it exists

      By the end of the year I might even add my mother in law and wife's grandparents. Except with them they won't even know they have gmail. I'll use it just for iPhone contact management for them

      • by vlueboy (1799360)

        Since everyone with a gmail address is on g+...

        Not so fast! You have to explicitly sign up for G+ to use it, just like with Google Latitude's location sharing. Otherwise you're not searchable and they just consider you a non-member and keep urging you on here and there. I've never liked the model of joining a free service to increase visualization of details that are free anyway, especially within an account I already signed up for. You must sign up before you are able to replies to public profiles' posts, I believe, but I won't risk joining just to fin

        • Not so fast! You have to explicitly sign up for G+ to use it

          All new gmail sign ups are automatically signed up for G+ at the same time, there is no option to not enable it at that point.

          Once you've created the new Gmail account you then have to go back into the murky depths of account management and cancel your account to G+ if you don't want it.

  • Get with the times (Score:5, Informative)

    by Meditato (1613545) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:55PM (#41531507)

    This is a completely sensationalist and somewhat deceptive post.

    First of all, those security bugs existed in the first release, before Diaspora even went open-source. Discussing Diaspora's first bugs without mentioning its current project status is like complaining about the first release of Linux when Linux 3.6 just came out. The author is deliberately leaving out information about the current status of the project in a way that is intended to further a deceptive conclusion in the reader's mind.

    Second of all, check out http://diasp.org/ [diasp.org] because it seriously works.

    Third, Diaspora is still being developed by its community.

    Fourth, Diaspora had the equivalent of the "circles" feature before Google+ did. In fact, the first release of Google+ looked so similar to Diaspora that people started to talk. And acting like Google+ somehow made Diaspora irrelevant is totally stupid. Apples and Oranges. Big Data and decentralized social networking. They have different purposes and therefore can't be directly compared.

    Quit with the sensationalist tech journalism. I don't even use social networking much any more, but considering the friends I know who swear by Diaspora, I know its far from the idea of "a few young kids" creating a failure, which is what this stupid article champions.

    • by Threni (635302) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:07PM (#41531617)

      Is creating an alternative to Facebook a technical problem, or is it more the non-technical side which is more important? Such as making people aware it exists, encouraging people to use it etc. This thing may be great, but nobodys heard of it. What are its supporters doing to make people hear about it? There are people who use facebook who never email, hardly ever surf the web etc.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by toastking (2743165)
        I honestly forgot about Diaspora until I saw it on Reddit a few weeks ago. It is predominately a techie thing and may never catch on main stream due to its technical and open source nature. Non-tech people won't see its advantages and may see its open source nature as inviting "hackers".
      • by Pav (4298)

        I'm on Diaspora, and I'm glad it's there. The people are certainly much more eclectic and there are less of them - both plusses in my book. :-P Facebook didn't take off because it was open to everyone initially. It took me a while to score an invite. Still, it doesn't need to be a raging success. It just needs to host interesting creative communities, and to Be There if/when Facebook et. al. have a Chernobyl.

        Frankly, when the masses arrive small communities can lose their charm... loss AND gain. Le

      • by Eskarel (565631)

        Creating an alternative to Facebook isn't a technical problem, Google are probably better technically than Facebook, but they can't do it.

        Creating an alternative to Facebook which actually delivers even the tiniest sliver of what Diaspora was supposed to deliver(secure, decentralized and functional without requiring mom and pop to host their own) is a technical problem, probably an insurmountable one.

        So Diaspora essentially set themselves up with a technical problem they couldn't solve and a non technical p

    • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:10PM (#41531645) Journal

      I use Diaspora. I thought -- and think -- it's eerie just how much G+ looked like diaspora, and to some extent still does. They're both working off the same mindset about how networking should function. But once G+ came up, activity in my diaspora circles dropped to a standstill. It appears to me that most all the people who would use diaspora chose to spend their limited time on G+ because of the networking effect.

    • The author is deliberately leaving out information about the current status of the project in a way that is intended to further a deceptive conclusion in the reader's mind.

      When the current status is somewhere between "completely unknown" and "utterly forgotten"... the conclusion the author is intending to depict is an accurate one. Whether it's functional, or on version 3.0 or version Jelly Vanilla Gummy Bar - it's failed to perform it's intended function, let alone the that hyped into existence by the tec

    • by Animats (122034)

      Diaspora had the equivalent of the "circles" feature before Google+ did. In fact, the first release of Google+ looked so similar to Diaspora that people started to talk.

      If they'd obtained patents, Disapora would have had an edge over Google. Instead, they lost.

    • by buswolley (591500)
      I agree. I use Diaspora and I think the service is not too shabby for being relatively new to the game. Right now there is a good population of techies, and such there.
    • This is a completely sensationalist and somewhat deceptive post.

      There will always be plenty of this whenever an open source threat emerges to somebody's billion-dollar monopoly, and most people will buy into it without questioning where the memes are coming from.

    • If you're creating a distributed network for sharing personal information, you need to have security first in your mind. The original Diaspora had bugs that were so severe they showed the programmers weren't really capable of creating that kind of security.
      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        The first release showed that they didn't even comprehend the basic concepts of security. They were trying to paper over cracks the size of the Grand Canyon. "We'll add it later" was an epic fail in that context. Better to do nothing, than to do anything wrong.
  • Diaspora? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by udachny (2454394)

    By the way, the name, Diaspora, it also sucks. Oh, and I don't have an FB account either but it has a better name.

  • by Sanity (1431)

    The Tahrir Project [github.com] is trying to create an anonymous microblogging platform, similar to Twitter or Facebook. Google was sponsoring development on it over the summer so with any luck it won't prove to be vaporware like Diaspora.

  • G+ killed it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vlm (69642) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:58PM (#41531531)

    And yet, the battle may have been lost before it even began.

    No it was lost when G+ came out with circles, which was Diasporas main killer feature.
    The second killer feature being able to download all your stuff, which google ALSO does on "your account" "data liberation" page.

    Honestly when I first saw G+ circles I though the almighty GOOG had bought out the diaspora devs or something like that.

    the team of four young kids with little real-world programming experience

    It is/was a kinda-federated intranet scale website, OK? They're not writing a OS, or a compiler, or hand coding machine code. In the olden days, one young kid should have been able to do it, four is a little excessive.

  • LiberTree (Score:5, Interesting)

    by macraig (621737) <`mark.a.craig' `at' `gmail.com'> on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @04:59PM (#41531541)

    Diaspora has spawned other projects that attempt to carry on and refine the original goals. LiberTree [libertreeproject.org] is one of them, for instance. Just because the original team didn't succeed brilliantly doesn't mean that the original goals weren't worthy or attainable.

    • I am the most basic user here, only able to clumsily setup a php/MySQL script.
      I quickly read the how-to for all three LiberTree, Friendica and Buddycloud.

      Honestly, I am capable to install Friendica, and absolutely no other, would it be just because I only handle shared-hosted sites.

      Now, I don't know if this ease of install will be important for their success or not...
      H.

  • by phrackwulf (589741) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:03PM (#41531573) Homepage

    You need a good mix of introverts and extroverts in an online community. Linkedin has the introverts. Facebook has the Extroverts. Disaspore needs to define who their audience is before they build out the technology. Technology is nothing without the right people.

  • by gallondr00nk (868673) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:15PM (#41531709)

    We are being suckered into an immense data gathering exercise for the sake of a few pages which are "ours".

    Perhaps commodification is a better word. I sometimes feel that we have been duped into becoming a product rather than a customer or a user. Worse, this is becoming acceptable for many people.

    The thought is disconcerting. After all, what rights do products have? What ramifications does that have for the future? We rely on some misguided sense that these companies or our lawmakers are ethical or reasonable enough to provide safeguards and prevent abuse. That is our only defence, and I have little faith in the competence or ethical integrity of either.

    If our personal data is a commodity, as FB and Google and others seem to indicate by their business models, then its only a matter of time before systematic and serious abuses of that data mining become commonplace. Selling fucking personalised ads is the tip of an incredibly large iceberg.

    • "We rely on some misguided sense that these companies or our lawmakers are ethical or reasonable enough to provide safeguards and prevent abuse. That is our only defense, and I have little faith in the competence or ethical integrity of either."

      Agreed, that notion is inherent in the idea of a constitution, and theoretically should be part of a company's incorporation.

      It would certainly be nice to have an idea about the values of large companies and clandestine organizations like the FBI, Microsoft, or t
  • Vendor lock-in (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:20PM (#41531761)

    They're not idiots over there at facebook. They took a cue from Microsoft. They know their survival depends on keeping people's data in facebook, and locked-in there. Things go in to facebook, not out. Your site links to facebook, not the other way around.

    You would not need facebook if you were easily able to link up with other social networks, or worse yet your facebook friends were able to seamlessly link with your google+/Dispora/Whatever.

    • Uh... facebook does link out Your site links to facebook and it IS the other way around, unless you are stupid and didn't put your link on your site's facebook page, it is right at the top. And you can seamlessly connect MANY social network sites to facebook - ever seen that "sign in with facebook" thing? - some that I know first hand are twitter and pintrest. If you don't change the settings, every time you do something on those sites there will automatically be a post made on facebook containing a link to
  • In hindsight... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by multicoregeneral (2618207) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:22PM (#41531775) Homepage
    I think their biggest problem was setting up a kickstarter page before actually writing a prototype. Had they waited until the prototype was ready before starting the media blitz, they could have been humble about the current state of their code, and been honest about where they want to go. When it comes to software hype, capturing people's imaginations is key. They did that. But they didn't leave themselves any wiggle room. I've been there. Done that kind of thing. I totally feel for them, and what they went through. Everybody has to learn this stuff eventually.
    • by am 2k (217885)

      Everybody has to learn this stuff eventually.

      Yes, and those lessons are best learned with Other People's Money(tm).

  • It was stillborn. Honestly, they never had a chance. The only thing it ever created was a PR buzz. Most everyone that had any technical clue and then learned that the founders had no experience at all knew that it was never going to do anything.

    • by tobiah (308208)

      Ya know, it works. It got off to a rough start but the current software is stable. Whether you call it dead or not, it is still used and functional. It is alive!

  • Too complex (Score:5, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @05:51PM (#41532005)
    Out of interest, I tried to create an account. Way too confusing.
    Apparently, you must join a 'pod'. What is a pod, what are the differences between Pod A and Pod B, do I have to join the same Pod as my known friends, can I contact people in other Pods?
    Dunno.

    Input textboxes that don't 'act' like textboxes.
    Confusing uptime stats. (Is this Pod good or bad?) Do I care?

    If you actually want people, yo must make the initial signup dead easy. If all you want is a developer wankfest, well, I guess you have that. Actual users, not so much.
  • A sad tale (Score:3, Informative)

    by RaySnake (607687) on Tuesday October 02, 2012 @06:07PM (#41532149)
    Part of the reason for the slow failure of the project is the suicide [forbes.com] of one of the co-founders, Ilya. A death has a lasting effect on any project, particularly a small one by people new to the whole thing.
  • Remember Freedows, another all hat, no cattle project. Eventually ReactOS was developed in a more modest way and has long since achieved useful status. A good project needs a lot more than good ideas. Essentially all successful open source projects are lead by highly skilled coders.

  • Firstly, The founder capped [ibtimes.com] himself and Secondly, they're taking far too long on the product itself to get it to the open market.

    But under the circumstances of what happened to Zhitomirskiy, I think it's understandable.
  • It's open source software. Bugs can be squashed, security holes can be closed. Over time with enough effort the project can mature. If it doesn't there will be forks that use parts of it that are good and grow from there. That's the way the community and projects work.
    • by tobiah (308208)

      yup

    • by DerPflanz (525793)

      It's open source software. Bugs can be squashed, security holes can be closed. Over time with enough effort the project can mature. If it doesn't there will be forks that use parts of it that are good and grow from there. That's the way the community and projects work.

      Or: "It's open source software. Bugs will be left open for years to implement new features nobody wants (Firefox), over time more and more fragmentation will come because of forks and nothing really works. Also, when a project is finished to the original developer (aka "it works"), the whole thing is abandoned.

      That is also the way the community works.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @02:52AM (#41535319)
    Diaspora in the past has been buggy and slow but recent visits to the site have shown it has turned into a slick and intuitive experience. The problem now is not the software so much as the lack of users. Some small site is never going to be able to compete with the wallets or resources of Google or Facebook.

    Diaspora is designed as federated software where many servers can be part of the same network and users and content are shared across those servers in interesting ways. The problem at present is setting it up is very messy and that suppresses interest people have in using it. Therefore I think the best way of increasing its use is to make the setup easy to get it into the hands of as many universities, libraries, schools, businesses and individuals as possible. Make Diaspora a no-brainer to setup - Diaspora in a Box - a script or executable that asks few questions and has a node up and running. If they get to this state then it's likely that some dists might even pick it up or at least support it to some level.

  • First thing i tried on their demo installation: click login without filling out the form.
    Result? A nice error message? A white page telling me "wrong login"? No ... a exception! No wonder, no normal person would like this piece of software.

    Another problem is the concept of a distributed social network. This concept have to fail on the promises, because anyone can patch their own node, so it stores everything locally, once its retrieved. Who uses a patched node has advantages over people on normal nodes, but

  • Nothing at all

    womp womp

  • by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @09:11AM (#41537797)

    It probably already is, but forget about the source code that didn't happen and make it into an ongoing FOSS project.

    Get some enthusiastic and veteran programmers to take it over. There have to be more than a few uber geeks who don't like Facebook and who want something to replace it.

    Some Google programmers may even contribute some of their spare time as it will chip away at their rival.

  • by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday October 03, 2012 @09:20AM (#41537929)

    I have been programming a long time. I know how much work and how hard it is to make even something decent, but ordinary.

    I have to admit that I was offended by the hubris of the original Diaspora group. That some college kids, with no real world programming experience who haven't even completed their educations yet were going to pull something like that off.

    To be fair, I am still offended by Mark Zuckerberg's existence, that an ignoramus in his mid 20s who hasn't finished growing up is where he is.

    I saw both of these contributing to the bullshit expectations bosses and others have that programmers can just "whip out" something nice, useful, reliable, interesting, etc.

    Okay, I ranted my ugly rant.

    I wish the kids from Diaspora the best. Their heart was in the right place. They can feel good knowing that they stood up to Zuckerberg, which somewhere along the lines will likely inspire others to do the same. It is also much better to try and fail, then never to try. They will have no regrets, be happier and enjoy victories other people will not for not having given it a shot.

The trouble with opportunity is that it always comes disguised as hard work. -- Herbert V. Prochnow

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