Facebook, Done the Open Source Way

By  |  Thursday, July 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Four New York University students have mobilized to produce a decentralized and open source alternative to Facebook called Diaspora that they say will give users full control over their privacy.

Today, Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) general counsel Karen Sandler told me that Diaspora was inspired by a lecture that Eben Moglen, director-counsel and chairman of the SFLC, gave in February. The organization provides legal services to open-source projects and organizations.

During his talk, Moglen cautioned that cloud computing has moved control over privacy far out of users’ hands, and that privacy laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. “The architecture is begging to be misused,” he said.

Facebook soon became the target of privacy advocates in the ensuing months, and weathered a firestorm of outcry. It has since updated its user privacy options with more granular controls following an “all hands on deck” staff meeting.

Moglen struck the right chord at the right time, and more importantly, spawned concrete action. I was at Moglen’s lecture, and am surprised that a project formed so rapidly given what I perceived to be the crowd’s healthy skepticism that it could even be done. Many were more optimistic than I.

The Diaspora project has exceeded it fundraising goals, and has succeeded in raising tens of thousands of dollars, according to reports. The project Web site states that a prototype is nearly ready for release.

Many people are willing to sacrifice their privacy for the services and social network that Facebook provides, while some may not know any better. Anything less functional wouldn’t be a compelling enough alternative for users to make the switch. I look toward to trying Diaspora out.


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6 Comments For This Post

  1. Ryan Says:

    The problem with Diaspora is, it's faaaaar too late to the game. 500 million people are on Facebook, and 99% of those people don't give a rat's ass about privacy. I can't imagine getting my clueless friends and family members to switch. When everybody you know is already on FB, it's pretty much impossible to get all of them to switch over, and then all of THEIR friends, and all of their friends' friends, etc etc.

  2. Sam Says:

    Yeah that is a problem, and a big hurdle, and unfortunately every single service that tries to provide a better facebook will face this same problem, but it's but not insurmountable. You probably got on facebook because someone else did, so if you close your facebook account, someone might just follow, then someone else might follow him, and pretty soon you have the reverse snowball effect. I know because I've seen this effect only for different reasons, I've seen some friends get hooked to facebook, and made a conscious decision to quit, this started a mini snowball and left a 'dent' in my friends list, and I've been tempted to follow them, and once diaspora is ready, I will surely be canceling my facebook account.

  3. Dave Says:

    This about sums up my feelings as well. Not saying that it can't be done, but you need to bring more to the table than simply the privacy concerns. You need to win people over, people who only care about apps, status updates, and other non-technical things.

  4. Benj Edwards Says:

    The other problem is that “Diaspora” sounds like a STD.

  5. David Worthington Says:

    oh man… 🙂

  6. booya Says: