Facebook: Privacy, the exodus, and Diaspora | Opensource.com

Facebook: Privacy, the exodus, and Diaspora

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If you're like me, it seems like every time you log into Facebook, you see another message or two from friends deleting their accounts. Then you check Twitter, and there's yet another rallying cry for open standards in social networking.

Wait. I just got déjà vu.

Wired (among many others) has been making that call for years. Years. But like so many noble causes, it took a sufficiently motivating, negative catalyst to spread the messsage.

In this case, the catalyst is Facebook's ever-shrinking concept of privacy. The EFF outlined the erosion of Facebook's privacy policy. The New York Times has mapped the maddening spaghetti that is privacy options on Facebook. And well-known people like Jason Calcanis started deleting their accounts.

So far it's not a massive exodus, but it's growing. But then, maybe rather than today's exodus, we should be talking about tomorrow's diaspora. Diaspora with a capital D, to be more specific. Or as the project describes itself, "the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, distributed, free, social network."

Open source social networking. That's the goal. Diaspora functions differently from the bottom. It runs more like a peer-to-peer network. That is, if you're inclined to set up your system to act as one of the seeds. They also plan to have a paid service for those who are not so inclined. Then you'll be able to aggregate everything from your status updates and photos to your RSS feeds. The students building Diaspora have a skeleton version running and intend to release a fuller version in September.

What a social network really needs, of course, is users. You could be the only one reading your favorite blog, and that's OK. If you're the only one on Diaspora, it's going to be lonely. In their favor, Diaspora answers the privacy outrage Facebook is facing. You're not posting anything to a third party--you're telling your friends directly. And they're including PGP encryption to boot.

The challenge it faces is similar to that of Identi.ca. Even though Identi.ca offers features that Twitter does not, Twitter is still far ahead in both awareness and users. Identi.ca attracts those for whom open standards trump all else, and not many more. To use ourselves as an example, even with an base of people who are clearly interested in the open source way, the opensource.com identi.ca account has consistently had roughly 10% of the followers that our Twitter account has. And those two services are functionally pretty similar. With potentially higher technical hurdles than Facebook, it will be interesting to see whether Diaspora can gain a significant user base.

Facebook's best defense is to turn itself around and answer the hue and cry. The first step will be today's crisis meeting on the subject. But after years of asking for forgiveness rather than permission, it may be too late. And maybe that's a good thing if it's the catalyst we need for open social networking, whether it's through Diaspora, or a new idea we haven't heard about yet.

Have you or do you think you might delete your Facebook account? Would you use Diaspora? More importantly--do you think all of your Facebook friends would use Diaspora?

About the author

Ruth Suehle - Ruth Suehle is the community leadership manager for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team. She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks (O'Reilly, December 2013) and a senior editor at GeekMom, a site for those who find their joy in both geekery and