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Diaspora Will Now Be A Community Project (diasporafoundation.org)
116 points by arrrg 604 days ago | comments


rosser 604 days ago | link

TL;DR, "After years, and hundreds of thousands of your dollars, we couldn't do it. Can you code it, too?"

Don't mistake me; I'm a huge fan of what they were trying to do. I'm just really, deeply disappointed in their execution.

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nostromo 604 days ago | link

When is the last time you took on Facebook and won?

I applaud these guys -- at least they tried to improve the world in some way.

I don't think HN should stigmatize failure.

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flatline3 604 days ago | link

To take on Facebook they would have had to implement something that worked. They didn't, and couldn't, because they were way out of their depth. These were just recent graduates with almost no experience.

The blame lies in small part on them, for setting naively optimistic expectations, but in large part on the mainstream media and technology media that trumpeted them, for validating those ridiculously optimistic expectations.

It also lies on people like you, speaking in ridiculously epic proportions about them "taking on Facebook" and giving serious credence to the idea that a few extremely junior programmers had the skills and wherewithal to produce a distributed social network, much less take on Facebook.

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nostromo 604 days ago | link

Facebook itself was started by a "few extremely junior programmers."

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noblethrasher 604 days ago | link

Zuckerberg was pretty far from "extremely junior" when he started facebook. He had already produced a product that had the interest of both AOL and Microsoft before he had even graduated highschool [1].

[1] https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=synap...

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trafficlight 604 days ago | link

What Facebook needed to be in 2004 is a far cry from what Diaspora needed to be in 2012.

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saraid216 604 days ago | link

Facebook was not taking on Facebook.

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18pfsmt 604 days ago | link

I think we are going to need some seasoned vets because idiots like me won't be able to follow along otherwise. The only problem is that there isn't enough revenue in these systems currently.

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mgkimsal 604 days ago | link

so have dozens of others with their own federated/distributed social network projects. diaspora seemed to ignore these projects/people, even though technically many were ahead of what diaspora put out after several months (things like, most other projects didn't have fundamental security flaws that could be found in any webdev n00b book in 10 minutes).

Diaspora go the hype via kickstarter - they got the drama - but they just tried to build another rails app. And burnt through a lot of money building 'yet another rails app' instead of using that money to build a community/protocol/standard on top of some of the work of the existing players.

Yes, true, perhaps behind the scenes they approached every other player in this space, and were privately rebuffed, but I don't think so. I think they took (and we encouraged) all the support and money on Kickstarter to be an endorsement of them personally (look, 4 college dudes! it's the perfect movie sequel to "the social network"!) instead of an endorsement of the idea, and a charge to act wisely.

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s_a_m 600 days ago | link

+1. Nowadays there are zillions of alternatives to Diaspora: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_social_network

I believe that to overcome Facebook we should not build just an equivalent, with similar features but free/open & distributed. "To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete" (R. B. Fuller) Personally I think we should eventually swift, in the social networks arena, from communication to collaboration... as they do in http://kune.cc

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weego 604 days ago | link

They failed before they started. They were a group of developers who thought they could solve and sell a non-technical problem to people who didn't realise they had a problem with a purely technical solution.

Privacy and data-retention issues are an education and engagement problem, not a technical one. There was no effort to engage anyone on any level with education of the problem they were trying to solve. I'm not sure I understood how they were solving it and I was following what they were doing.

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LargeWu 604 days ago | link

Saying these guys "took on Facebook" is a bit of a stretch. Did they even make available a beta version? I don't think so. Talking about taking on Facebook is very much different than actually doing it. I think they are getting a lot more credit than they actually deserve.

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uptown 604 days ago | link

"Did they even make available a beta version? I don't think so."

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/diaspora-open-faceb...

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LargeWu 604 days ago | link

That article is from 2 years ago, and what from what I understand, it was a barely-functioning prototype.

As recently as March of this year, they updated their roadmap. The second heading is "The Road to Beta". It also includes the line, "After these features are tackled, we feel that Diaspora as a platform will be Beta". It's pretty clear the founders themselves never even considered it to be a beta product.

See: https://github.com/diaspora/diaspora/wiki/Roadmap

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shinratdr 604 days ago | link

Requiring users to have the resources, time and technical expertise to set up the server themselves is hardly making a beta version available.

Most "beta" web services are still hosted.

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dredmorbius 604 days ago | link

It's also not how Diaspora works. Setting up a server is possible but not required.

Get your facts straight much?

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shinratdr 604 days ago | link

Sorry, where did they host the Beta?

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Argorak 603 days ago | link

joindiaspora.com

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rd108 604 days ago | link

What? I USE diaspora. it's awesome.. I actually prefer it to Facebook because there's less noise (my interests are not the same as the 400 friends I made while living in college dorms.)

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shinratdr 604 days ago | link

> When is the last time you took on Facebook and won?

How is launching yet another failed social network and executing it so poorly that it ends up immediately abandoned "taking on Facebook"?

All they did was destroy what little confidence people had in the concept of a crowd-funded online service. That's not a positive, or something to be proud of. It actually sets everyone who is trying to do the same thing and execute it well back quite far.

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gojomo 604 days ago | link

It's not clear that people started with "little confidence" in the concept. If that were true, they'd not have been funded at all. Plenty of people had plenty of confidence, self-evidently.

It's also not clear that confidence in such a "concept of a crowd-funded online service", generally, was 'destroyed'. App.net just got funded for much more money. Other online services have also been funded since for less (such as Hypothes.is).

People might not fund such a young team as Diaspora at such an early stage again. The undiscriminating enthusiastic community now knows better what to look for -- it's learned a little the hard way, like any investor must.

Diaspora proved there was interest and tested a longshot idea. Their fundraising success inspired a lot of other Kickstarter campaigns. We all now know more. That's progress to be proud of even if they and their backers were over-optimistic and over-ambitious.

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shinratdr 604 days ago | link

> It's not clear that people started with "little confidence" in the concept.

IMO it's pretty clear. Find the 20 nearest people, ask them if they would pay for a social network. I would be amazed if one said yes. Just because through the power of Kickstarter and heavy word of mouth on blogs they managed to scrape together enough people interested in the concept to hand their money over doesn't mean people in general have a ton of confidence in an idea like this.

A small group of technical users had a lot of confidence in the concept or too much extra money. Do people in general? No. It's like asking them to pay for a browser or a search engine, simply unheard of. If you don't believe me, consider how many gullible users distribute those "they're going to make us pay $5 a year for facebook spam this wallpost a million times to stop it!" things even now.

> App.net just got funded for much more money.

Do you honestly think we won't be here on HN a year from now, discussing the exact same story but with App.net in place of Diaspora? I don't see this as a positive either, handing unqualified people with no plan huge sums of money multiple times doesn't fill me with joy. It makes me nervous, like the millions flying around for crowdsourced video games.

> The undiscriminating enthusiastic community now knows better what to look for -- it's learned a little the hard way, like any investor must.

You do realize that con artists use the exact same excuse, right? You live, you learn? It's a pretty terrible justification for mismanaging a project into the ground.

I also feel you'll quickly find out that without the "undiscriminating enthusiastic community" these projects will go mysteriously unfunded. I would think twice about happily burning your biggest bridge if I were you.

> Diaspora proved there was interest and tested a longshot idea.

They could have left that task to someone who was going to execute well, too. Also, not a positive. This would have happened the moment anybody competent launched the same project. Also, they wouldn't have helped breed distrust amongst the few people that are willing to fund this sort of thing.

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joe_the_user 604 days ago | link

The Diaspora authors were heroes.

At least in a media-lensed view they were the closest thing you could find to modern Davids taking the Facebook Goliath.

However, what I think we here should do is make plain how the combination of simplified ideas of Facebook's problems, simplified ideas of development processes and simplified ideas of heroics all combined to make the effort entirely impossible and rather negatively impact the people involved.

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freshhawk 604 days ago | link

I was a huge fan until the first code release. Then the reality of how out of their depth they were hit me and I wrote it off. Did you actually try it out?

I can't decide if I'm a fan of what they did because they just went for it and made a big splash or if I'm annoyed that they took all that kickstarter money for something they could never deliver with their skillset. No one else can crowdfund a similar project for a long time after this public meltdown.

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gojomo 604 days ago | link

No one else can crowdfund a similar project for a long time after this public meltdown.

Huh? App.net is similar in many dimensions and just got funded for way more.

Yes, people will be justifiably wary of a very-young team with very-lofty technical goals, without a demonstration of a better plan and code. But that's as it should be. They tested a longshot idea fairly efficiently; the market (of funders and adopters) has now learned a lessen at not much cost.

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freshhawk 604 days ago | link

True, I meant a facebook competitor. The success of App.net is a good sign that the damage to trust wasn't wider.

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joe_the_user 604 days ago | link

This result was pretty much foreseen from the start (at least here, maybe someone can dig up an old thread?).

They were attacking the wrong problem ("lack of privacy on Facebook") and had the wrong plan ("build webserver software that will host your data with someone else you'll have to trust") and were likely the wrong people (five inexperienced college students).

The main thing though is that all these problematic aspects were also what got them attention and money. It seems like a modern parable.

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smacktoward 604 days ago | link

It seems like a modern parable

A geek tragedy.

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opminion 604 days ago | link

Sam€.

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ChuckMcM 604 days ago | link

And this is the single biggest weakness of the Kickstarter model. Ideas are 'easy', execution is 'hard.' That is why investors are very diligent in vetting the team behind the idea, since ultimately the best idea in the world is not worth the napkin it is drawn on, if the people responsible for it cannot realize it.

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potatolicious 604 days ago | link

This isn't a weakness in crowdfunding, at least not intrinsically.

Validating the team has always been important, but the general mainstream internet doesn't realize that yet. They will, after at least one highly public meltdown where millions disappeared down a drain for little to none of the promised deliverables.

(I hate to be negative, and I want to be wrong, but my money right now is on the Ouya - unproven team out of their depth promising an extremely complex product delivered at unprecedented low cost and unprecedented fast schedule)

I suspect soon we will see a redirection in crowdfunding and more focus on the ability for funders to assess the competency of a team, and I suspect we will see more credibility-building on Kickstarter projects than we have seen thus far.

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ChuckMcM 604 days ago | link

That is a better way of phrasing my concern. I'm wondering if there is a way to build a system along the lines of a web reputation type thing which could identify people who could execute well. I could imagine something like:

  This team has:
         delivered 3 kicstarters (a, b, c)
         failed to deliver 1 kickstarter (d)
Of course that information will get accumulated and used but I'm thinking of a formalized way of doing that like ebay seller feedback or something.

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ajross 604 days ago | link

I'm not sure I follow that. Is it a weakness of the model to fund "bad" projects from money that in the previous regime would never have gone to "good" projects? It's not from Kickstarter's point of view, obviously; they get paid. Ditto for the projects themselves.

The members of the public who are "investing" are obviously accepting risk. And I think it's reasonable to argue that the per-dollar risk is higher for these projects than traditionally funded ones. But that doesn't seem to be deterring anyone, so I'm not sure it constitutes a weakness of the model either.

Honestly, I think the only way to interpret your point is sort of uncharitable: the people in the most danger from the kickstarter model are the existing investor class, who risk seeing some of their likely prospects get money from elsewhere. I'm not sure that's really a bad thing.

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ChuckMcM 604 days ago | link

Sorry, I wasn't clear. The challenge is that people who often invest (either as Angels or VCs or even large charity donations) learn through experience that the team that is going to execute the plan is the 'high order bit' or most important part of the equation. People who don't invest a lot, or are new at it, get caught up in the idea part of the pitch and imagine a world where that idea exists.

Inexperienced investors invest in the idea.

Experienced investors invest in the team.

The Kickstarter model opens up a source of funding for lots of new people, and it enables people who could not (or had not) previously invested in those people. That creates an environment which is exceptionally prone to failure. The education process will be a harsh. Because people rarely blame themselves for not thinking about the problem correctly they will start blaming Kickstarter, or the teams, and some of those people will do great harm to the system that is helping people do stuff they couldn't do before. That is why I think it is a weakness of the model, it doesn't surface the root causes of failure easily.

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forgottenpaswrd 604 days ago | link

"That creates an environment which is exceptionally prone to failure. That is why I think it is a weakness of the model, it doesn't surface the root causes of failure easily."

Why are you being so negative?. Kickstarters give normal people the capability to invest in -fund other people and that is amazing. People will make mistakes, but real investors make mistakes every single day. Venture Capital is called that way because they accept risk and most of the projects they invest in don't make it. They get by with those that do.

It seems like you prefer people not being able to spend their own money in order to "protect" them. Maybe you have personal interest in that.

I funded a lot of KS projects, some of them with over thousands dollars and I am extremely satisfied by ALL of them. With video you have so much information and clues about someone to know if she will comply.

The best way not to fail is not to try, but good things in life come from trusting people and risking too.

PS: It was clear from the start Diaspora was going to fail. Too abstract "pie in the sky", like someone telling you he is going to do a diet versus the same person giving clear message of how, when, where and what is going to eat in order to improve his life.

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apu 604 days ago | link

Forgive me if this was not your intention, but I feel like the way you phrased this (and the fact that it's currently the top comment on this story) is symptomatic of some of the negativity that's recently been rising on HN.

The first sentence is snarky and a put-down. The second sentence is a quasi-apology for the first line. The third sentence disparages the work done by people who, in all likelihood, worked very hard, had good intentions, suffered through horrible events, and were at least reasonably competent.

Also, there is no indication that you have any inside information about this, and you did not elaborate on why you were "deeply disappointed in their execution" -- do you have anything to suggest that anyone else would have executed better, given the circumstances? Isn't it better to give them the benefit of the doubt? Couldn't you express disappointment that the project isn't complete without putting down the people who worked on it?

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rosser 604 days ago | link

My biggest disappointment with their execution is that they made pretty much zero apparent effort to coordinate with any of the other federated social networking projects, of which there are many. Had they done that, and from early on — or at least built things in a way to make that easy, and proactively worked with projects as they appeared — everyone could have leveraged the network effects of all those networks, and they probably wouldn't be handing their rewrite off to the public while they move on to bigger and better today.

Yes, they support OmniAuth and Salmon, but integrating with another platform is someone else's responsibility. Maybe I'm wrong (I actually hope I am), but that feels to me more like wanting Diaspora, itself, to succeed, and not federated social networking in general. To an extent, that's to be expected; we all want to succeed at what we're doing. But particularly in something like federated social networking, the rising tide of interoperability lifts all boats much more quickly than everyone else having to dredge channels into your little estuary. Yes, that isn't quite a walled garden, but it's a lot closer than the rhetoric they slung to sell the project would suggest.

I'm also a little concerned for how much their lack of success might have hindered other software projects from being successful at funding themselves via sites like Kickstarter, but that's much better addressed in the other comments in this thread, so I'll leave it at that.

Those aren't my only complaints, but, again, they've all been addressed, and far better than I have time for or interest in rehashing, else-thread.

Yes, my tone was harsh. But Diaspora left a very bad taste in my, and many others' mouths. However unkind my tone may have been, I genuinely don't think some degree of derision is unwarranted. Net, I honestly think the project did more damage to the cause of federated social networking than it did good. Sure, they put the idea that it was possible in a lot of peoples' heads. And then they demonstrated that it probably can't be done, because if a bunch of whiz-kids (whom the public can't distinguish from Zuck, except that Zuck was successful) with hundreds of thousands of dollars behind them can't pull it off, then who can?

The thing is, I don't agree with your characterization of their competence. Yes, they're probably all very smart people, and I'm sure they've learned a great deal over the past couple years. Being smart is not the same as being competent, however. They were utterly unprepared for what they asked the world to pay them to do. I'm generally in favor of diving in headfirst and trying to learn to swim, but not on someone else's — let alone thousands of unsophisticated (at least in terms of investing in technology projects) people's – dime. That's not competence, in my book. It's irresponsibility.

EDIT: For the record, I agree with you that my comment is characteristic of a growing negativity on HN. I'm actually genuinely saddened that it's the highest-rated thing I've ever said here. It was intended to be a glib, throw-away comment, and was admittedly laden with snark. I stand by my position, though, however much my delivery might have warranted some softening.

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thirdhaf 604 days ago | link

It seems like everyone is ignoring or has forgotten the death of Ilya, one of co-founders. Be as disappointed as you like but the psychological toll of this probably has more than a little bearing on the situation.

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rd108 604 days ago | link

They haven't failed. The project is alive and running-- I mean, I USE Diaspora. Check out the github page-- this isn't a period in Diaspora's story, it's a comma leading to better things and even more community control.

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stonefroot 604 days ago | link

What would you have done differently? (I'm serious. I'd like to know.)

One of the tough things for anyone aiming to replicate Facebook is that Facebook used some devious methods to get up and running. Zuckerberg misapproprited hundreds of photos of his classmates and their personal information, and then sent them provocative emails that would cause most students to check on what's been posted about them, or what's been posted about others, i.e., they would visit the site.

It's like the story of the YouTube guys posting some of their own videos to get things started. Then they eventually had to upload some copyrighted content. They took a risk.

Then there's the story of Bittorrent. I believe Bram Cohen initially seeded some porn to get things kicked off.

Or the guy from ThatHigh who recently told of how he had to create fake profiles.

It seems that it is quite difficult for user contribution and sharing solutions to start from zero. Alas, you need to have content on offer from day #1. And it needs to be compelling content, in terms of quality, quantity or both.

Zuckerberg broke the rules. He stole student's personal profiles from the university's network. And he got away with it. Luck was in his favor and he knows it. Others who would try this now might not be so lucky.

Diaspora relies on people to submit their own content, but it had no compelling content to begin with. Not only did they start with no content that would draw people in, but if I'm not mistaken they expect people to run their own web servers. This is not impossible to imagine but why web servers? I guess because they want to replicate Facebook.

Solution: Don't replicate Facebook. Build something a little different. Stop thinking only in terms of web servers and web clients. Think peer-to-peer. Think in terms of application-agnostic _connections_, not applications. Do this and you instantly have something that is 100x more useful than Facebook. Because it does not have to operate within the contraints of web servers and web browsers.

But there's still that problem of compelling content...

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gelnior 598 days ago | link

And how do you make a social app, you can use from anywhere with good UI without webserver/client ?

Moreover web servers are compatible with peer-to-peer and provide application agnostic connectors.

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egypturnash 604 days ago | link

So if this is, as some comments are suggesting, an indication that Diaspora is essentially dead… what can we learn from it? What did they do right, what did they do wrong? Is "distributed social networks" a fundamentally flawed idea, or was their implementation flawed?

I mean, they certainly did something right, given that G+ swiped liberally from Diaspora's design.

(What would a distributed social network that was dead easy to host look like? Imagine something like Diaspora that lives on your phone instead of on a server, for instance. Right now D* is a giant pile of Ruby, which means that interested amateurs are pretty much not gonna be able to play with it.)

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chimeracoder 604 days ago | link

I think most of the lessons are non-technical, which makes them all the more valuable.

1. Diaspora had all the characteristics of vaporware for the longest time - I remember they were #1 in a HuffPo 'Top Ten Alternatives to Facebook' lineup in May 2010[1].

2. The source code released that fall seemed to fail Spolsky's second rule of being able to build in a single step, because I remember checking out the repo and then realizing that I'd need to dedicate more than ten minutes to figuring everything out, making a mental note to do that at some point,a and promptly forgetting about it entirely.

3. The officially-hosted version was a victim of poor timing - the first time I saw it was last summer (2011). Aside from the fact that this was more than a year after I had already seen it in a mainstream news source, this was immediately after the release of Google+ and at the height of the 'nymwars'. By that point, Google+ had already gained its reputation as a massive, overhyped soon-to-be-likely-failure[2]. Diaspora's UI was nearly identical to Google+, so it seemed less like an alternative to Facebook and more of an open-source alternative of an alternative to Facebook.

I don't think the technical spec of Diaspora as a product is broken at the core (though that doesn't mean that something like what you envision couldn't also be valuable as well). I do think that the end goal is worthwhile, and let's be clear: this does not kill Diaspora - it has every chance to be as much alive as Netscape is, just in a different form (ie, Mozilla/Firefox). That's the beauty of open-source projects, particularly community-driven ones.

[1] The lineup is of course indicative of nothing other than the fact that Diaspora was already hyped-up enough to be included in such a lineup!

[2] Whether or not you agree with that conclusion now, it was certainly a popular sentiment at the time.

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epscylonb 604 days ago | link

Someone said the other day in the submission about Tent, they should have published a protocol first. It should have been designed before they wrote any code, app.net at least seems to have this in it's favour.

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joe_the_user 604 days ago | link

It seems like you're flagging the results of bad development. The question we need to ask ourselves is, what leads these to unfortunate results. The decision to use two-stage build process might not be bad when a project is in that kind of shape. What leads a project to get into that kind of shape? Well, that is the question.

At the same time, I remember the first code-release of diaspora was before G+, it just wasn't usable code. Any project that takes a long time to create is going to have "timing problems". If Diaspora had smoothly working code right now, timing probably wouldn't be an issue.

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taligent 604 days ago | link

Inexperience.

It was VERY clear that these were just a bunch of college kids who had no decent real world experience in software development. When you have a such a small project as Diaspora failing to get something the fundamentals sorted from day one is a bad sign IMHO.

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joe_the_user 604 days ago | link

What I'd take as lessons:

1) It's better to start with a protocol and build an application than just launch into application building.

2) Privacy is wrong motivation for wanting to replace Facebook. A distributed social networking application is certainly possible (one might argue the web itself an example). A secure, distributed sharing scheme makes a social networking app exponentially harder to develop (Project Xanadu tried to create a secure "transclosure" scheme. They had a ten year head-start on the web and still failed. Distributed, revocable sharing is essentially a pathological problem).

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shmerl 604 days ago | link

No, privacy is really required for something that aims to compete with Facebook, simply because Facebook can't compete on privacy.

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001sky 604 days ago | link

Assuming this is true, how much is control rights vs need for de-novo architechture?

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shmerl 604 days ago | link

I'm not sure if I understood the question, but if you mean how user control is related to the decentralized structure, then the answer is in the question. Decentralization essentially prevents one entity from being in control, and in edge case control is given to a user who runs a personal pod for single Diaspora account.

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001sky 604 days ago | link

About the notion that the data needs to be locally stored/controlled/at the edge. What about the idea of encryption and/or persistence management? (user control)

Does this provide more flexibility on Architecture.

Edited: for clarity.

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shmerl 604 days ago | link

I think encryption is good to have and D* devs had it in some further plans. But it's probably not the first priority, until federation protocol is rock solid.

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[deleted]
joe_the_user 604 days ago | link

Yes, Ruby is a "good" language but how many people are able to host ruby projects?

Ruby is a quick application to develop with and they needed to develop quickly. Usually, there are hundreds of particular aspects of a software production process that an outsider could question but just usually the tradeoffs can't be as easily made calculated from the outside as one would think.

I think the OP's idea of completely distributed servers might be as good any IF these weren't website servers but information caches akin to Freenet nodes. Freenet at least does work on some level. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freenet

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motters 604 days ago | link

The things they did wrong were:

- During the initial 6-12 months after the Kickstarter there was little or no communication about what they were doing. Blog posts were very scarce. If you want to maintain interest in a project it's a good idea to have some level of communications.

- They made initial software choices which meant that the initial release wouldn't run on the target platform (ARM based servers)

- Once Diaspora got going it wasn't easy to find pods other than joindiaspora

- The Diaspora team were unresponsive to patch submissions and this meant that features which users wanted didn't get implemented.

- There were issues with the protocol being undocumented

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jeremyjh 604 days ago | link

>The Diaspora team were unresponsive to patch submissions and this meant that features which users wanted didn't get implemented.

So you've read pistos blog. Have you look at the contributions though? https://github.com/diaspora/diaspora/graphs/contributors

No open source project accepts every pull request, but Diaspora has accepted quite a lot.

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charlieok 604 days ago | link

Of course it isn't a fundamentally flawed idea. At least, from a technical perspective.

Email is a distributed social network. It just doesn't define very many types of actions or objects.

You can create "messages" and then you can "send" them. The user sees the guts of the message -- the "from", "to", "subject" and "body" portions, mainly.

As far as I know, nobody has extended the standard email formats and protocols to support new message types that have caught on lately. Actions like "Post photo", "Tag photo", "Take a special action defined by this third party which should be displayed like so when rendered in a 'feed'".

This seems like mostly a matter of agreeing on some new types of messages and some suggested ways of handling and displaying them.

I'm not saying this has to be built on top of existing email protocols -- it's really just independent sites exchanging messages of some sort. But email is a good working example to point at today.

The hard part is getting adoption, and getting different implementations to interoperate. Once you dive into this, you find a huge soup of different projects working on different pieces of the puzzle. Some of these projects have a future, others do not. It's going to take some time for this to shake out, and for the developers to resolve issues with bringing this stuff together.

A lot of this work has been going on without a lot of fanfare. See for example http://indiewebcamp.com/ or http://www.internetidentityworkshop.com/

Naturally, it couldn't hurt to bring a lot more help into these efforts.

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papaf 604 days ago | link

As far as I know, nobody has extended the standard email formats and protocols to support new message types that have caught on lately. Actions like "Post photo", "Tag photo", "Take a special action defined by this third party which should be displayed like so when rendered in a 'feed'".

This is a very cool and exciting idea but my feeling is that email clients are hard to code because they're full desktop applications. Even standard email clients are hard to get right - building a social network version (with encryption) would be quite a challenge.

The rewards could be nice though - such as being able to use mailinator or mixmaster for anonymity.

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charlieok 604 days ago | link

Email clients have been made for every platform imaginable. Note Zawinski's Law:

http://catb.org/jargon/html/Z/Zawinskis-Law.html

Gmail is an email client. Facebook is now, too. So are the default 'mail' applications for Android and iOS. And let's not leave out Emacs :)

The challenge of email (which comes with its advantage of being ubiquitous today) is its plethora of standards documents one must read and respect if one wants to make a serious go of developing software that will work well with most of its corner cases.

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papaf 604 days ago | link

I'd hazard a guess that none of the examples you gave were easy to code :-) Also, I'd argue that Gmail and Facebook type clients are non starters as its hard to do meaningful encryption in Javascript since you always must trust the server.

But if you disagree, please write one - I'd be a very willing beta tester and would even be keen to help in a limited way.

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charlieok 604 days ago | link

I'm not saying it'd be easy to just sit down and code one weekend! But really, are we expecting the "federated social web" people are talking about to be much easier to code than email software? We want it to do much more stuff, so it'll probably be harder.

Also, I think it's implicit that you trust your server. It's other people's servers you've got to worry about.

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papaf 604 days ago | link

I just thought of another potential challenge - SMTP limits. I think Gmail limits you to sending 40 messages per day for instance. This sucks if you have >100 friends.

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charlieok 604 days ago | link

Those limits are imposed by existing email software. The real underlying challenge you are getting at is dealing with spam. And that would be just as much a challenge with any distributed social network too, for more or less the same reasons.

Email did this badly from the start, because it started in a much more trusting world of people who did not spam one another. Authentication features were added later, but there was no requirement to use them, which limits their effectiveness.

Perhaps for a project starting fresh now, this can be handled better?

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charlieok 604 days ago | link

I should add that the trickiest bits aren't the apps that could "run on top of" a distributed social network like photo tagging or games. It's setting up the social graph those apps use. How do you add a friend? How do you accept or reject a friend request? What sort of authentication and other security features should everyone understand and support? There are proposals for solving these issues but getting it a) secure and b) widely agreed upon and supported would be a Good Thing.

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joe_the_user 604 days ago | link

Actually, there were some fundamentally flaws in the particular version of a distributed social network that diaspora started with. They imagined a network of web servers that would each host a piece of diaspora and that each of these would provide secure sharing. That system pretty much requires trusting all the server-providers because the decryption happens on the servers.

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charlieok 604 days ago | link

Just saying the idea itself is solid. I never really dove into Diaspora so I have no idea whether their approach was good.

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fusiongyro 604 days ago | link

I was very jazzed about it, but didn't donate, back when it was being kickstarted. Whether or not they were intending to, the publicity quickly took on a flavor of "these wunderkinds are going to save us from FB!" I couldn't say whether that was intentional or not, but the day they first released their code to the public, I read through some of it and was singularly unimpressed, and basically gave up on the project because it looked like their first Rails app, and seemed very insecure. I don't know how many developers lost confidence in them that day, but I certainly did. The punk rock ethic is great for getting things done, but some things are big projects and need to be undertaken with a degree of care and commitment, and those kinds of projects are not conducive environments for all-cylinders-firing wunderkinds.

I think a takeaway better model is: produce a beta or a demo that you bring to Kickstarter and ask for double or quadruple the money you think you'll need (because you will). Either make the code open-source last after it's fully developed, or make sure the code you bring to the demo is secure and unembarrassing. Even though I disagree with the idea, I think Light Table is hitting most of the notes Diaspora missed: Chris showed up with a compelling demo, raised way more money than a kid would deem necessary (and then more still with YC) and at least originally was going to make the code available last. He also updates frequently and people are using the software today, which never really seemed to happen with Diaspora.

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stonefroot 604 days ago | link

Why would it mean the project is "dead"?

Do you mean that community projects are by nature "dead" projects?

What does "dead" mean, exactly?

My OS is a community project. OSX/iOS are built from community projects. Lots of scripting languages are community projects. Mozilla is a community project. Wikipedia is a community projects. I could go on.

I realise I may think a bit differently than many programmers, but I care less about how much a particular chunk of code is actively changing than whether it works really well over the long term (simple, stable, reliable, secure). I like "timeless" software than quietly continues to work for many years, remaining relatively unchanged. In my experience, well-engineered software like that is often immune from so-called "bit rot". Because it was designed correctly, with minimised complexity and maximised portability as a top priorities, from the beginning.

From a design and implementation perspective, there are no real impediments to a decentralised social network that cannot be overcome. However first you have to decide what you mean by "social network"? Does it have to be a clone of FB or G+, save for the centralisation element? Or does your definition allow some changes to their approach? For example, what if the network was private? What if there were no ads? What if it was comprised of lots of smaller networks of maybe 100-200 people (like your "friends" on FB) instead of being one massive, public image gallery/chatbox? What if it didn't require the web, as FB does? What if it was application-agnostic?

What do you demand from a "social network"?

Does it have to be a FB/G+ clone?

Anything is possible, so to speak. But not everything is necessarily ready to be received based solely on technical merit. How much marketing and PR is needed?

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jeremyjh 604 days ago | link

If it were dead it would mean few people are using the software, and especially that few new people were adopting it. It would also mean few or no people are actively developing or maintaining the software. A project that has few users but a lot of development activity is definitely still alive because it is always possible for new features to eventually turn into adoption (Firefox).

Presently, commit activity is actually pretty decent (https://github.com/diaspora/diaspora/commits/master). If the project is dead no one has told the people submitting PR nor the people merging the PR.

Most of that stuff is pretty small, but I think this announcement could actually be a step forward. Since February - it seems to me there has been a shadow hanging over this project with a promised over-haul of federation code. I do not know if that will happen now, but there is less risk that it will happen outside the view of those who want to participate in setting the direction. Most people of course, will just write articles and comments and mail list posts and never submit any code (like me!). They may continue to complain that they have a limited a voice in the direction of the project.

The project still has to have active committers who are a subset of the interested "stakeholders". It doesn't matter if they get a little paycheck from D* Inc or not - its still only going to include some people, which will be those people who have a record of submitting acceptable code. This is true of every single open source project I know of.

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smacktoward 604 days ago | link

Do you mean that community projects are by nature "dead" projects?

No, but they're not necessarily live projects, either. The key question is how much commit activity is coming from the people who are walking away from the project. If they were doing all the committing, and they're leaving, it's dead. If on the other hand there's an active community of committers outside the original developers, it's alive.

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stonefroot 604 days ago | link

So there is an assumption that number of commits means something? I'm just not quite sure what that something is.

What if the software as released is "rock solid"? That is, it's so simple, effective and reliable that it doesn't need to be changed, except for bug fixes?

What if the software is merely a "platform"? (And not only in the marketing sense of that word.) That is, the platform only "does one thing and does it well", and does not generally need to be "actively" developed (no commits except bug fixes), but... of course people can easily build things on top of it. For example, Ruby or Python programmers can do whatever they want. Total freedom. We give them the ability to create a connection to a social network they choose and they can send/receive over it to/from other members as they wish. We do not impose rules on that or try to manage it in anyway. We only provide the platform. The platform is application-agnostic.

The "platform" basically stays the same. It does what it's supposed to do, create networks, and that's all. If we measure by number of commits, one could say the development of the "platform" is "dead".

tl;dr what if someone releases a _platform_ that developers can build on, but number of commits to the _platform_ remains near zero? Because (apart from any bugs found) "it just works."

To my knowledge, Diaspora is closely intertwined with Ruby and web development. This makes it difficult to separate the "platform" from lots and lots of Ruby or other scripting language programming, mainly aimed at webpages, and people changing UI stuff to their liking. And personal preferences can vary greatly. (And there's more to the internet than just webpages. FB has to be webpages because it relies on the web, specifically one person's website: Zuckerberg. Another social network (or newtork of networks) might not be so limited.) Does the dynamic, highly personalised aspect of viewing webpages have to be part of the _platform_? Can we separate the personalisation from the basic functional element of the platform? (spawning decentralised networks)

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lmm 604 days ago | link

A project that isn't being actively developed is dead. The idea of a "finished" program that does everything it needs to, one "so simple, effective and reliable that it doesn't need to be changed, except for bug fixes" is an attractive one but it's a myth; there has never been such a program, and I doubt there ever will be.

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stonefroot 604 days ago | link

Hmmm. Very interesting perspective.

I'm currently using a number of "dead" programs.

In fact, most of my kernel is "dead". There is code in there that hasn't been changed in over 30 years!

I'm even communicating over a "dead" protocol. When were the last changes to TCP?

I'd even guess you are using some "dead" software yourself. Low level stuff that no one has the desire nor energy to modify.

(To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should not try to improve programs, continually. I'm only pointing out that perhaps sometimes code works for what it's supposed to do, no one has come forward with something "better" and hence the code does not need to be fiddled with endlessly in the absence of serious bugs.)

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lmm 603 days ago | link

>I'm currently using a number of "dead" programs.

Then I hope you have a plan in place for when, not if, they break.

>In fact, most of my kernel is "dead". There is code in there that hasn't been changed in over 30 years!

If the kernel has people who take responsibility for it, and make changes to it, then it's not dead.

>I'm even communicating over a "dead" protocol. When were the last changes to TCP?

The fast open draft was published in July.

>(To be clear, I am not suggesting that we should not try to improve programs, continually. I'm only pointing out that perhaps sometimes code works for what it's supposed to do, no one has come forward with something "better" and hence the code does not need to be fiddled with endlessly in the absence of serious bugs.)

Sure, but I really don't think that's true. Possibly because the lower-level layers are still evolving - code written in low-level languages more than about 10 years ago (before the AMD64 architecture existed) probably won't work correctly on a modern system, and most high level languages have had incompatible changes over the same time period (I know Java's supposed to be an exception to this - allegedly you can still run the original java demos from 1994 on a current JVM). The fact is I've tried and failed to run several programs from >5 years ago, but I've yet to find one that still works without having been maintained.

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stonefroot 603 days ago | link

Still waiting for Ethernet to "break". IP as well. UDP too. And netcat. It's been like 20 years. I'm still waiting.

I also wasn't aware that RFC drafts were the same as "commits".

Originally we were talking about "number of commits". Low number of commits means "dead", so they are say. Are you in agreement with that or not? If so, what does "dead" mean?

Now you are saying if software is maintained (fixing bugs) it's not dead. Who said it was? I certainly didn't. I even went so far as to clarify that.

Let's assume some software is maintained. There's someone to take responsibilty. As you have suggested. But there's no commits, except to fix bugs.

If there's no bugs to fix (maybe one every 15 years), then there's no commits. But if _number of commits_ tells you whether a project is "live" or "dead" then how do you call this a "live" project, if is has almost no commit activity?

My original comment was about the idea of "number of commits"-->"dead" as carrying some deeper meaning, e.g. about the quality of the software.

I like software that works and keeps on working. I really do not care that much if people are committing to it or not. In fact, I'd prefer they didn't because in many cases they only succeed in breaking it or in creating new weaknesses or insecurities.

The original netcat just keeps working. Last "commit" was in the 1990's.

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graue 604 days ago | link

This stings a lot less after the announcement of Tent (http://tent.io, discussed at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4418904), a project aimed at similar goals, but starting with a protocol, not an application. I think Tent, or something like it, is what those of us concerned with Facebook's monopoly power should keep our eyes on.

Why? Because it's just a protocol, so you can build a Facebook alternative on top of it, sure, but you can also build services equivalent to Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Instagram, Pinterest, Path, you name it, all interoperable. And the guys coming up with Tent don't have to be the ones who design the application layer. If they suck at UI/UX (which was questionable in the case of Diaspora), no problem, we can still build on their underlying tech.

Plus, it's not inherently noncommercial. With email you have three hosting options: free with ads, paid, and host it yourself. That's the best possible situation. On the one hand, companies are making money off ad-supported and paid email hosting, so they have incentives to provide the best service possible — unlike the non-profit "community pods" of Diaspora. On the other hand, you have interoperability and the freedom to use your data as you want — unlike on Facebook or Twitter, which will block you from exporting your contacts to a competing service. The Diaspora hosting model — where random people hosted servers for free just because they thought it was cool, or something — basically doesn't exist for email (or, say, web hosting), which is a good sign that it's unsustainable.

Diaspora was a flawed idea, but Tent, because it's a protocol, looks like a much more promising and realistic way to open social-media walled gardens.

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debacle 604 days ago | link

Tent looks promising, but the Internet wasn't based on "push."

Tent is just the initial iteration of a new, more open and more private social sphere.

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graue 604 days ago | link

In fairness, what they have up right now is just the initial iteration of Tent. Basing Tent on PubSubHubbub (which is confusingly abbreviated as "PuSH") would address your criticism, and this has been suggested in an issue:

https://github.com/tent/tent.io/issues/7

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andr 604 days ago | link

I'm really interested in what percent of Kickstarter projects end up abandoned, like Diaspora just was? Are there any statistics?

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citricsquid 604 days ago | link

Lots of them do and quite a few flounder in the "I'm working on it, sorry!" phase. I backed a project in early 2010 (A documentary) and the total raised was $15k, initial estimates were a few months. It's approaching 2 and a half years, the guy still updates monthly with "I'm editing this piece!" and "I did this" and sometimes he'll even include an excuse and apology!

I said it last year and I'll say it again now, Kickstarter is going to feel a serious backlash the first time one of the high profile projects falls apart because Kickstarter act like this big wonderful place for nurturing these projects and a lot of people seem to believe Kickstarter has some sort of interest in helping these projects succeed, but they don't, they are nothing more than a funding platform.

The problem is unavoidable I guess; give creative people lots of money, no guidance or supervision with only the moral obligation to actually do what they promised and inevitably quite a few will quit, change their idea or under deliver.

A common thing I've read on reddit is people believing that either Kickstarter makes the project creators accountable for not delivering or that the project creators don't get the money until they deliver... I wonder how a lot of people would react if they realised all they're paying for is a promise.

(oh and to clarify, I really do love Kickstarter and hope they continue to do what they're doing, but I can't help but disagree with their (potentially necessary) approach to projects after they've finished getting funded -- maybe they're working to solve this)

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I backed a project in May 2011 called "MemeFactory Writes A Book", billed as a book about internet culture. The idea was cute and I wanted a t-shirt so I backed it with $100. Now a year and a third later they've "changed direction" because their original idea "wasn't what they thought it would be" so here I am with $100 in a project that is never going to happen and instead I'm waiting on a new project... they also still didn't deliver my t-shirt. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rugnetta/memefactory-wri...

Another project that I didn't back but I'm aware of is by a Youtube video creator called Bashurverse, the summary is: "Donate to us to go to a convention and we'll make a documentary", they got $4k and went to the convention... and apparently got the $4k scammed from them by an evil company... so now they've not delivered anything and the people that backed them are left with nothing and thinking "...oh". http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bashcraft/bashcraft-the-...

Will kickstarter do anything? Nope. Do people know that? Nope, they think accountability exists. When I now back a kickstarter project it's "I guess this would be nice to have, I'll send some money and maybe I get it, if not then whatever." instead of "holy crap this is amazing, I'll stick in as much as I can I can't wait!" which is how it should be.

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waterlesscloud 604 days ago | link

" Kickstarter is going to feel a serious backlash the first time one of the high profile projects falls apart"

Well, this is one of their high profile projects, and it's fallen apart.

It will be very interesting to see what happens from here.

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mibbitier 604 days ago | link

There will always be a certain number of suckers ready to pay their money for vapourware unfortunately.

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jrochkind1 604 days ago | link

i suspect a bunch of high profile projects already HAVE fallen apart; they just haven't fallen apart in high profile ways. "Still working on it" messages gradually decreasing in frequency until everyone forgets.

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flurpitude 604 days ago | link

Crowdsourced funding does have the advantage of spreading the risk among the crowd though. When I fund a Kickstarter project I know full well that these people might run off with the money or the project might fall flat, but I take the risk with a small amount of my own money - an amount I can afford to lose. I don't expect every project I fund, or even the majority of them, to succeed, but you pay to give them a chance, and you take on the risk knowingly. That seems to be the best way to see the deal.

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dusing 604 days ago | link

Well at least they stuck with it for 2 years, about as long as the money lasted.

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jeremyjh 604 days ago | link

Amazing if they actually made $200k last two years. I still can't believe people think this is a lot of money for a software project.

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smacktoward 604 days ago | link

They didn't -- the $200K ran out a year ago: http://www.readwriteweb.com/cloud/2011/10/the-state-of-diasp...

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stevencorona 604 days ago | link

Agreed. Four founders, that's $25k/year each for 2 years.

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PakG1 604 days ago | link

Was labour the only cost? There must have been other costs also.

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jeremyjh 604 days ago | link

It would have been most of the cost. I believe they got free office space in an incubator. Heroku's spotlight page said they used 9 dynos, which would have been only a few hundred a month in hosting costs.

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MichaelStubbs 604 days ago | link

Not exactly... http://thenextweb.com/socialmedia/2011/10/12/diaspora-asks-u...

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shardling 604 days ago | link

Ok, apparently you read a different article than I did?

Because the implication of what I read was that the founders are still working Diaspora, but that they're preparing to make the project more community oriented.

Now, that could just be their way of spinning it. Are the founders leaving to work on other jobs? I don't know much of the background here -- does it have something to do with this makr.io thing?

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andr 604 days ago | link

They seem to have moved to http://makr.io. I think the fact the site greets you with a Facebook login button says enough about their belief in Diaspora.

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wrekkuh 604 days ago | link

I agree. On the surface of things i'm completely put off, but i haven't completely lost faith in these guys. I think they should make the alternative way of signing up ("The e-mail way," as they have it on the front page) an equally sized link as the Facebook option.

On the surface of things, the Diaspora team is crossing a line by sending e-mails about Makr.io to the people who were interested in Diaspora. I look at it as the two not being related at all, regardless of the reason they gave in the e-mail announcing makr to the people who expressed an interest in Diaspora -

"Existing social networks do not encourage their users to feel like they have the power to MAKE things on the internet. Rather they are just “capturing” the ephemeral social actions that define social networks today. With Makr, we are making creativity accessible to everyone, in the hopes it enables people to realize that what you post and create online is worth owning."

For me time will tell if this is genuine, or just the Diaspora team using their already existing mailing list to "capitalize" on an already established audience.

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sp332 604 days ago | link

The goal is to make this an entirely community-driven and community-run project. This part sounds like they're leaving.

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whichdan 604 days ago | link

Kickstarter link[1] for the lazy. They raised $200k as of June 1st, 2010.

[1] http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-p...

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