Looking forward to Diaspora
August 6, 2010, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m really excited about the Dispora project, which is due to have a beta release ready by September.

Things that are awesome about Diaspora (I’m just going by the Diaspora blog):

  • Screen-scraping: Facebook makes it hard to move your friends list, photos, old status updates, etc. to another social networking site, which locks you into Facebook. Facebook claims that they (at least sort-of) own your data. Screen-scraping is kind of like sneakily stealing your data back out from under Facebook’s nose, which is an idea that makes me smile.
  • I wish I knew more about how Diaspora’s open standards will actually work, but I take it that once your data is in Diaspora, you can easily export it to anywhere else. I like the idea that lots of different open-standards social networking sites will pop up (or perhaps a bunch of different front-ends for Diaspora, or just one super-configurable site) to cater for everyone, whether they want their social netorking site to look like Twitter, or like LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, or like Facebook, or whatever.
  • Diaspora will be like an awesome, secure, privacy-controllable storage container for data. So even if you are still using Facebook it will make sense to put stuff on Diaspora and link to it, so that with your Diaspora privacy settings in place you will still control who sees the content.

The one really less-than-awesome thing is that (as far as I can tell, reading the blog) there aren’t any plans yet to offer free Diaspora hosting, so to use Diaspora you will have to either pay for it, or install it on your own server. To me this kind of takes away the point, since Diaspora is about having control over your data, and thus having the important freedoms of privacy and free expression – but these freedoms are only meaningful if everybody has them, so I really hope that Diaspora doesn’t turn out to be some sort of elite thing that’s only used by upper-middle-class people, and geeks, (and upper-middle-class geeks). I would love to see Diaspora being run as a free public service with users asked to make an optional donation (running a server does cost money, but it doesn’t cost very much money, and so I think this kind of model would actually be feasible.

The other issue here is that it’s very hard to get people to slowly trickle away from Facebook – people stay on Facebook even if they hate it, because all their friends are on Facebook. You really need to get a critical mass of people all leaving at the same time, and I think having free Diaspora hosting available would be a prerequisite for getting that critical mass.

What I’m really hoping is that Diaspora will help bring about a change in the way people think about online privacy. At the moment it’s simply accepted that we don’t control the content that we ourselves have created and uploaded. The media is full of stories of people who (for instance) complained about their job on Facebook, and then got fired, and it has become common sense that you shouldn’t write anything online that you don’t want all your potential future employers to see. But, goddamn it, we SHOULD be able to complain about our jobs online, that is a fundamental right! And we should be able to control exactly who can see the post. Social networking has become part of the fabric of our daily lives, and we shouldn’t have to become good little corporate robots that only say things the boss would approve of. Of course there are more important examples of why we need to have control over our data – examples that come to mind are activists living in oppressive regimes, people fleeing domestic violence, and trans people who might face violence if their identities were revealed. But the little stuff matters too – we should be able to gripe about work, write an angry political rant, or post a photo of ourselves drunk senseless and bent over the toilet dressed only in a pink tutu and a toilet plunger, if that’s what we want to do. So I’m hoping for a shift towards having the same expectations of privacy in our online lives, as we would have in other areas of life. Lots to hope for! At any rate it’ll be really interesting to see how things go once Diaspora is released: not just the software itself, but who uses it, and how it’s used.


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