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The antidote to Facebook? Diaspora - the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network

This is an interesting project and it's wonderful to know, that as of writing, these guys have raised more than $67,000 after seeking a pledge of $10,000 in their effort to build a truly open source social networking platform, one that respects our privacy [my italics]. What caused this outpouring of cash-backed goodwill? I have an idea - there is a thread or a meme that is careening across the social web, a meme that is being fueled by an anti-Facebook backlash, stoked by the perception of Facebook stumbling badly when it comes to protecting, if not outright exploiting, our privacy. [NY Times: Facebook executive answers readers questions.]

Facebook and the "idea of privacy" presents us with an interesting conundrum. As Justin Kistner at Webtrends argues, "If all of this digital privacy, security, ownership type stuff feels overwhelming; it’s because we’re the first humans to have to manage our digital data." Fair enough, but he paints this as a fait accompli. One based upon a) "First thing to get straight, Americans do not have a right to privacy. Not in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution" - [me - specious argument,] and b) "Facebook doesn’t have your criminal records, medical history, recordings of your phone conversations, or myriad other types of sensitive information. Of the sensitive information that they do have they have because you gave it to them!" - [me - so it's our fault that Facebook exploits us.]

I believe that what Justin fails to see, is that the average Facebook user doesn't care to unravel the semantics around privacy, nor does she care to delve, Jonathan Frantzen-like into the "true" meaning of privacy. No, they want to continue doing what social humans do best - socialize, engage, network, share and stay in contact with their family and close friends online or off. As I've said before, technology just shortens the distance between us. Arguably, 499 million of the 500 million Facebook users do not care, or are simply unaware, about the ramifications of sharing their personal data to marketers and other 3rd party players. The tools are there for sure, but Facebook does not make it easy for its users to understand how to protect their data from being shared, and one can easily suspect that Facebook likes it that way. However we dice all of this, Facebook wants your data to share to marketers as a means of generating revenue. Facebook is a business after all. There is a much longer discussion to be had around Facebook and "privacy" so I'll stop here.

Meanwhile, along comes Diaspora. And what we have here is somehow perfect; it's an example of what the zero barrier to entry web offers when coupled with talent, youth, passion and enthusiasm plus a cadre of willing backers of an open source project. It would be hyperbole to suggest that Diaspora is a Facebook killer, but when it comes to the web I've never been one to predict any outcome.

From Diaspora:

We are 140-character ideas. We are the pictures of your cat. We are blog posts about the economy. We are the collective knowledge that is Wikipedia. The internet is a canvas – of which, we paint broad and fine strokes of our lives with. It is a forward extension of our physical lives; a meta-self comprised of ones and zeros. We are all that is digital: If we weren’t, the internet wouldn’t either.

Current state.

We already have a rudimentary prototype of Diaspora running on our machines, and are working like mad to make it all we can be. Our current implementations include GPG encryption, scraping Twitter and Flickr, awesome design aesthetics, and the initial stages of connection infrastructure (“friending” other Diaspora instances).

First sprint.

It is our one and only goal to get Diaspora in the hands of every man, woman, and child at summer’s end. September 2010 will signify the release of the project in its first iteration, fully open-sourced under the GPL. This release will be comprised of several key features for Diaspora, mainly:

Full-fledged communications between Seeds (Diaspora instances)
Complete PGP encryption
External Service Scraping of most major services (reclaim your data)
Version 1 of Diaspora’s API with documentation
Public GitHub repository of all Diaspora code

Get involved with Diaspora, you could make a difference.

Reference: The Price of Facebook Privacy

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