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On Diaspora's Social Network, You Own Your Data (businessweek.com)
116 points by gaisturiz 2039 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 89 comments

For anyone who missed it because it was at the very end: Diaspora just announced they're in YCombinator S12.

I am very curious to the business model Diaspora will pursue. any details about that already?

The AGPL licence and requirement for contributor licensing agreements means they can prevent people from making closed-source extensions (like for example if you wanted to tie it into your own internal authentication system), UNLESS you are willing to pay them to license it to you under a dual license.

Can they do that? The "Limitations on Diaspora, Inc." section of the contributor agreement says:

> Diaspora, Inc. will not distribute your Contribution to any third party under any license without also requiring that third party to also make your Contribution available to the public under the same license.

I'm not sure but it sounds like that might prevent them from closed-source dual-licensing arrangements. I suppose that doesn't preclude them from building their own proprietary extensions to the Diaspora software for their own hosted services, although the agreement also states:

> Diaspora, Inc. will distribute the Diaspora™ Software, as a whole, under version 3 or later of the AGPL.

If extensions are considered part of the software "as a whole" then they might not even be able to do that.


I know it's unfeasible (and incredibly selfish of me) but I'd like to see them go the Wikipedia route.

and very excited at that!

I know my comment is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but I can't help but expressing them here:

I really hope you guys "make it".

Either businessweek.com needs a new proof-reader, or I'd like to order a pair of "increasingly large security breeches", they sound hilariously comfortable. Although I might not be allowed on an airplane wearing them.


I was having a related conversation with a friend yesterday.

You can classify readers in two groups: those who get severely annoyed by (supposedly) "small" mistakes like this, and those who don't notice that a mistake exists.

If this is true, then as a professional, you should always make sure to fix those mistakes. By any stretch of the imagination, Businessweek probably considers itself to be a professional publication; it'd do them well to have a more thorough editing process.

(this reminds me of when I wrote a paper on the Hindenburg disaster in college, and instead of air ship, I wrote air shit. The instructor was merciful.)

Also, I don't consider your observation to be a nitpick at all. A nitpick would be to urge someone to avoid using "lorry" in a sentence because the publication is aimed towards a non-British audience.

Does anyone else think that the name "Diaspora" is downright terrible for mass-marketing a new social network? It has a dark connotation for those who know what it means, it's a bizarre word for those who don't, and neither case is particularly "cool", at least to your average joe. And if Diaspora isn't trying to go Facebook-big, what's the point?

All that said, I'm still rooting for their core mission. Social networking deserves to be an open protocol, not a closed service.

I don't sense any dark connotation for the word. I've seen it used most often in a pretty value-neutral way to describe any group of people living outside their country of origin. These days most diaspora are composed of economic emigrants who have left their homelands voluntarily in search of opportunity.

It's also the title of a very good science fiction novel that I would say treats the word without negative connotations.

I have a bond with naturally occurring English words as product names. I don't think they should apologize, or feel bad for having a name that people don't know.

I would HOPE that people would learn from it, and end up with a slightly better vocabulary, and be thankful for it.

On the flipside, it's NOT a commonly used word, so SEO for it (at least for the name) should be drop dead easy. A search for Diaspora should contain either a wiki link to a disambiguation page, or an article about them. That's about as good as you can hope for, SEO wise, though I obviously have to concede that the name fails the obvious pronounceability test, but as more and more of our interactions are relegated to clicks, that's becoming less of an issue than it used to be.

Amazon probably seemed like a ridiculous name when they started out... why would you name an online bookstore after a South American river? But I think they've done okay.

Though this only really works if you're doing something orthogonal to the original word and build enough of a brand to make it stick.

And we all remember the reaction when Nintendo announced that the Revolution's official name was "Wii". I still think it sounds silly, but it's no longer weird.

According to Bezos' biography he was looking for a name that started with 'A' to rank high in the web portals of the time and also he liked the idea of being 'big'.

Could you explain this dark connotation? Having seen it used in publications of varying quality, I have sensed no such thing.

It has pretty common connections to the Jewish Diaspora during and after World War II. While it's not as common a usage as "the Holocaust", among many folks (especially those with a little knowledge of 20th century history), "the Diaspora" refers first to the Jewish one.

The definition I'm familiar with for Jewish Diaspora (which is corroborated by all the Google hits on the first page) is the dispersal of the Jewish people starting in the 6th century BCE. Where do you get the connection to World War II?

I wonder to what extent this is actually true, and to what extent it's a meme that's grown around (the social network called) Diaspora. I've spent a fair amount of time with people who are part of the Jewish and Zimbabwean diasporas, and I've never picked up on a "dark" vibe to the word. And, as decode points out, the Jewish diaspora refers primarily to the ancient Jewish exile and dispersal from Palestine, not to 20th century history. I see the word more as a part of Jewish culture and tradition that's if anything celebrated, but Jewish readers are welcome to tell me I'm being crass and culturally insensitive.

Sadly, every time I tried Diaspora, not only it was an empty wasteland (I could understand that), but it was feature-wise years behind Facebook and/or Twitter plus it was really slow and buggy.

Now I understand that my experience is just not that statistically relevant, but that's what I remember the most from the site - not being able to actually use it is not a good user experience

If they're six years behind Facebook on features, that's perfect.

I'm actually glad they are continuing on and fighting the stigma of the "best social network that never was".

I have used Diaspora's site for a while and prefer it to Facebook and Google+. The problem is trying to maintain three separate social networks. Since most of the people I like to keep up with are on FB and G+, my use of Diaspora has slowed down over the past year or so.

What kind of people use G+?

Only times I visit is when linked, and it's often some OSS-guru who has written something there but I dont ever use it, nor does anyone I know, not even remotely.

We have 50 employees in 3 offices - and have found it to be a really useful internal communication tool.

Each person has a 'private' G+ (apps) account; we share stuff, have threaded conversations, etc - it's WAY better than email for a variety of things, and all the conversations remain limited to people from our organization.

It's totally not what G+ was intended for, but it works well.

would be interesting if G+ ended up being a Yammer competitor instead of a Facebook competitor.

Do you trust G+ enough for that? It doesn't encrypt your data.

> What kind of people use G+?

Google Hangouts, while being buggy as hell and locking up constantly (at least on OS X), are still unrivaled in the video chat / desktop sharing space.

G+ is ideal for me. I live far away from my family and using Google Picasa I upload photos that I only share with my family.

I don't trust Facebook with my photos. At any moment they could make a deliberate privacy change and expose private family photos to the Internet.

I value that privacy, and although Google might one day make a mistake and accidentally open a security hole, they don't have a history of deliberately reducing users privacy without their express consent.

All my family are signed up, so G+ is no longer an empty ghost town for me. My 'friends' on the other hand are still all on Facebook. I'm just a lurker now on FB.

I have a group of 20 or so friends who all use it because we've got them using it. Every Friday we start a thread and it gets up to several dozen or even hundreds of comments.

These are average, non-technical men and women in their 20s and early 30s mostly.

I have a a couple huge circles of tech and science people that are quite active on G+. It allows for more intelligent posts and conversations than twitter and that's how I primarily use it.

I visit most days. It's like long-form Twitter, so more depth to the discussions. I have some friends on there, but it's mostly to read and lightly interact with industry or interests.

That depends on your contacts. I use just Diaspora, and not Facebook or Google+.

I don't get the fascination with Diaspora. StatusNet is distributed, open, easy to set up, established, and extensible, and already has a large number of users (e.g. on identi.ca). What does this bring to the table? Newness?

It's sad, but (relative) newness is a pretty big feature; it gets attention, and attention gets users.

The web has no attention span. You're either brand-new and hyped beyond realism, or ancient and boring.

On the one hand, I get that. On the other hand, many of the people who frequent the site where this is getting prominence use Vim, which is (admittedly indirectly, via vi) a 30-year-old product at this point. I'd hope that we could rise above newness when appropriate.


At least near as I can tell without signing up.

Not really. StatusNet has (private, if desired) groups, photo uploads, events, URL sharing, and (on a local install, not on identi.ca) arbitrary-length status updates. I guess it's closer to the defunct Pownce than either Twitter or Facebook, but that puts them closer to Facebook than Twitter at this point in the game.

> StatusNet ... already has a large number of users (e.g. on identi.ca)

I know a tiny number of geeks who are on identi.ca, and a small but larger number of people including both geeks and non-geeks on Diaspora. Maybe I'm atypical?

There's also the Appleseed Project, which also predates Diaspora.


I thought this was an open source project run by volunteers, I was aware of the kickstarter donations, but did not think there was a business structure that had been set up? Is that the case? Otherwise what does this have to do with yc? (why investors if there's nothing to invest in?) And if there is an investable business there, what exactly is the revenue stream? Honestly curious, can someone explain?

They've discussed this from the very beginning of the project -- third party hosting.

The goal of diaspora is to make it so that you can run it on your own server, but they assume most folk won't want to do that.

The project is run and was started by the team asking for backing on Kickstarter. The article hinted at various ways they could make money. I think the most promising would be to allow advertisers on the servers they run, and let them have whatever data their users choose to share. Just because users own their data doesn't mean they will always choose to hide it from advertisers.

Interesting to see they're still pushing on.

The redesigned profiles seem a little full-page-bokeh-background, Path-circular-profile-image, Pinterest-masonry heavy.

Not bad styles in their own right, but it feels as if borrowed from the other hottest sites around.

In other news, Business Week is two years behind.

Also, what's the deal with the fake-vintage effect on the pictures? Is it their lame corporate way of attempting to be "hip"?

It's called Lomography. It's basically a trend that involves shooting photographs using old soviet cameras and expired soviet film:


It's not fake vintage, it's neo-nostalgia. It's not pretending to be old, it's inviting the user to feel old-timey.

Actually the Vintage effect isn't fake, the photographer only used vintage film cameras.

our photographer (aimee) is actually a fashion photographer by trade and would refuse to use digital during the shoot.

give her some love for being awesome! http://www.aimeebrodeur.com


It captures the awkward expensive less functional nature of the product.

Still AGPLed and requires a contributor license agreement before submitting patches? Yeah sorry, but I'm not interested in doing your work for you so you can dual-license it and sell it to companies while I can't make my own proprietary extensions for it.

Oh well, back to Facebook.

How is Facebook different?

Eliminating the middle man is important to the future of the web. Having a small group control super large groups is usually a disaster. Diaspora reflects the real world, where you do not need permission from someone to talk to your friends.

Looks like they're coming to YC. That should give them a positive boost.

"They wanted to raise $10,000 to create a new kind of social network, one that lets people, not companies, own their personal data."

Are Google, Facebook, Twitter users really concerned about this? I know people make a noise about privacy and data protection - but would this make you change platform?

I think they are. Just not to such a degree that they're willing to walk away from what's currently working for them or put in the extra effort to manually manage privacy settings of every update.

Frankly, when you 'fix' Facebook's privacy issues, much of what people like about it doesn't work anymore.

e.g. People love to look up and keep tabs on old friends and flames on facebook. But you can't really do that with privacy settings that hide location, history and profile pictures by default, nor with 'groups' that allow those old friends/flames to share their updates/pictures only with their current friends/flames.

Higher-privacy is almost self-defeating for a social network with Facebook-style use.

Though it can be pretty key for things like Linked-In, where updates are less frequent, you don't have overlapping levels of formality between 'contacts', privacy is more-valued in that context, etc.

When it's finally released the plan is to change the name right? Diaspora sounds like horrible disease.

It's actually a great name, but it seems that they overestimated the vocabulary of their audience.

Contempt for your users always ends well.

Not to anybody with a little knowledge of history, Judaism or the Greek language.

This. Can you picture someone telling someone about this site in a conversation? How would you even pronounce it? They need to fix this before moving on to anything else.

If you don't know how to pronounce something - you can fetch a dictionary and look it up: http://www.howjsay.com

I have been on Diaspora for a while. At first it was interesting. A mixture of tumblr facebook and twitter. I really enjoyed having a facebook style community with GIFs.

Then nothing happened. The user base stagnated. I am unsure if it was because the site was glitch ridden. Or people just do not care about privacy. Words are one thing, but actions speak. Many of my facebook friends will post anti-facebook privacy news links. Yet, they have not joined Diaspora or have left facebook.

It is interesting that they are in YC though.

> Many of my facebook friends will post anti-facebook privacy news links. Yet, they have not joined Diaspora

I've noticed quite a lot of people tried to join Diaspora, but were stuck on waiting lists. Not sure if that's still happening, but I think it constituted some serious self-foot-shooting. If anyone's still having this problem, I think diasp.org will let you sign up.

Most people don't get the idea that Diaspora has lot's of available servers, and some of them can be filled up (thus you'll have to wait if you want to join those). But no one stops you from joining others which have spare capacity. That's the point of Diaspora - it's decentralized. See: https://github.com/diaspora/diaspora/wiki/Community-supporte...

On the contrary, I see a constant influx of new users joining, and lot's of active very interesting topics. Diaspora can be an interesting place, or look like a stagnated wasteland depending on how you use it, and your skill in applying hashtags.

I'm sure it has been discussed elsewhere, but does FB actually earn $5.11 per user? That's amazing to me - I rarely use the site, but even when I am on I don't recall ever clicking an ad. In fact, I don't know many people that have either.

TV makes ~$.20 per user-hour and no one ever clicks an ad.

Great point - thanks, that makes a lot of sense. Wasn't thinking about it like that.

Not yet they don't...

How is the security now? I basically gave up on Diaspora after their first code release proved to be pathetically insecure and showed that security was not even vaguely considered from the start (Outside of encryption between pods).

It's like giving up on something that's released for pre alpha testing :) The point is not to "give up" on it, but to test and to file bugs. Security is much better now.

The Diaspora model is what something like Microsoft Health Vault or any other electronic personal medical records should be like. Same with Fitbit and all the other self-quantify products. I should own my own data. Its personal!

With a critical quote from our very own patio11.

[Edit] Softer tone.

Does anyone else find this style of headline odd?

I've noticed it a lot lately; mostly in the NY Times.

The NY Times has a habit of running themes of headlines for a while; I've noticed this one too. The other big one from about a year ago was the, "X is the Y, except when it's not" - they had (what seemed to me like) one article a month like that.

Yes this is such a NY Times style headline - I don't know exactly how to classify them but they seem to always run headlines which fit this mold. I find them extremely odd.

NYT has been doing this for years. It is their way of making their audience feel smart without thinking deeply.

On Diaspora's Social Network, nobody hears you scream.

How do they plan on monetizing their efforts?

Most social activity generates no revenue. It's tragic that we are moving towards a society which sees every relationship as mediated by economic utility.

That's reading a bit much into it. We are talking about a business here, even if their product deals with social activity.

It shouldn't be a business. It should be a sustainable project. The moment you make it a business, it looses its core value - "by users, for users". That said, the project needs to sustain development and growth of course. The difference is in the goal. Business' goal is to make money, and it's driven by for profit reasons. Such kind of project's goal should be to make a good (user oriented, privacy protecting and so on) social network, and it should be driven by that reason.

And yet almost all businesses/organizations that facilitate human social activity extract some sort of profit: the postal service, telephone companies, ISPs, bars/pubs, and churches (for the cynic), to name a few.

Maybe selling boxes to run at home, and an encrypted backup and proxy service tied in? (proxy for larger data like videos to share with peers)

By begging for more donations, just like last time they burned through what was it, $100K, without anything substantial to show for it?

If they can get wide adoption, they could easily monetize tools and services, even if the standard is open, and anyone can run his own server.

examples include: email. web. voip. etc.

Diaspora is actually looking pretty good, I'm pleasantly surprised but am I the only one a little disappointed that they made it with Ruby? Probably. But looking through that jungle of code I wonder how far along they'd be if they had used Drupal and let that army of developers contribute with separate modules.

I'd love to tinker with it but I know whatever I do will probably break it when they update their code.

I wish it was Python, but am rather glad it's not PHP. Ruby is a perfectly reasonable choice, even though it's not the same horse I backed.

What's wrong with Ruby? It's a great language.

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