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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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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...

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

Facebook was not taking on Facebook.

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.

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.

+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

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.

> 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.

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.

> 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.

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.

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


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

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.

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

Get your facts straight much?

Sorry, where did they host the Beta?


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.)

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.

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.

It seems like a modern parable

A geek tragedy.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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.

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?

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.

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.

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...

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.

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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