Diaspora slowly becoming a community-run project, but is it too late?

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We've followed Diaspora for a while now, since its beginning when it was the largest project Kickstarter had seen and was being called "the Facebook killer." Two years later, the "open source social network" is becoming more open by turning into a community-run project, and the Diaspora team is launching a new project, Makr.io

Last week, joindiaspora.com, the way to sign up for the social network, which was previously invitation-only, was opened to the public. The Diaspora team then opened its Pivotal Tracker for community developer participation and redesigned their home page to better reflect the community.

Two of Diaspora’s founders, Maxwell Salzberg and Daniel Grippi said in a press release, "Putting the decisions for the project’s future in the hands of the community is one of the highest benefits of any FOSS project, and we’d like to bring this benefit to our users and developers.”

Diaspora faced criticism from the beginning for calling itself an open source project without being fully open. The core creators developed the code in the summer of 2010, and then opened it in September. Joining the social network, as aforementioned, was invite-only, which is also not the way to approach an open community, nevermind the way to grow something like a social network that depends on a broad userbase for success. And maybe that lack of full openness explains why, despite touting their success, the truth is that I know only one or two people who use the service regularly. Occasionally when giving a talk at a conference, I ask the audience who uses Diaspora, and seldom does more than one hand go up. That's all anecdotal, but it seems to me that if anyone is using Diaspora, it's likely to be attendees at open source conferences.

Their slow progress to openness continues with the announcement of turning Diaspora over to the community. In the announcement, they wrote, "The shift to an entirely community-run network will not be immediate; instead, the team plans to gradually open up more and more to community governance over time with the end-goal of creating a community-driven, community-run project." I maintain that a project should either be or not be of a community, not halfway and not gradually. You are either open or you are not. But we can only wait and see whether this incremental increase in openness will equal increased success for the project.

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2 Comments

vinz's picture
Community Member

I think they messed it up right from the beginning.
An early pre-alpha combined with a running invite-only node created too much buzz and pressure on the whole project. Being "the Facebook killer" and some sort of privacy messiah was way too big load on their shoulders - both the team and the project.

The saddest thing now is that the good and important step towards openness will have no real impact on the project. It's too late and Diaspora will always be the Facebook killer that failed.

bbehrens's picture
Open Source Sensei

I agree with the analyses here. But I think Diaspora* has one thing left going for it: No one else has yet dicovered the formula for generating significant traction around decentralized social networking.

Sure, Diaspora* seems stalled. But so does Status.net. So does Tent. Anyone seen an implementation of buddycloud lately? Me neither.

Yet Twitter's recent decisions to impose stringent API limitations on third-party developers have made the perils of centralization more obvious than ever. Folks are beginning to clamor for alternatives. Unfortunately, the places to which they're fleeing just don't solve the problem that needs solving. It's a diaspora alright, but one that lands frustrated users right back where they started.

Diaspora* can still save us from abuses wraught by centralization. Opening now might be its last hope for becoming the decentralized social networking solution that finally caught on.