For whatever reason, a new project called Diaspora is getting a lot of attention at the moment. They are four young guys who have managed to crowd source $100k+ to build an open, privacy respecting, peer-to-peer social network. A number of people have asked me what I think, so instead of repeating myself over and over I thought I would write it down in one place.
First, I don't think Diaspora is going to be the 'thing' that solves the problem. There are too many moving parts and too many factors (mainly political) to have any single group solve the problem by themselves.
Second, I don't think that's any reason to disparage or discourage them.
When we launched the DataPortability project, we didn't claim we would solve the issue, but rather create a blueprint for how others might implement interoperable parts of the whole. We soon learned that task was impractical to say the least. The pieces were not mature enough and the politics was far too dense.
Instead, we have settled for providing a rolling commentary and context on the situation and promoting the efforts of those that are making strides in the right direction. We also play the important role of highlighting problems with closed or even anticompetitive behaviors of the larger players.
The problem with the DataPortability project, though, was not its ambition or even it's failure to meet those ambitions, but rather the way the 'old guard' of the standards community reacted to it.
The fact of the matter is that the people who used to be independent open advocates were actually quite closed and cliquey. They didn't want 'new kids on the block' telling them how to tell their story or promote their efforts. Instead of embracing a new catalyzing force in their midst, they set about ignoring, undermining and even actively derailing it at every opportunity.
Despite my skepticism about Diaspora, though, I don't want to fall into the same trap. I admire and encourage the enthusiasm of this group to chase their dream of a peer-to-peer social network.
Do I think they will succeed with this current incarnation? No. Do I think they should stop trying? No.
While this project might not work their effort and energy will not go to waste.
I think we need more fresh, independent voices generating hype and attention for the idea that an open alternative to Facebook can and must exist. Their success in capturing people's imagination only shows that there is an appetite for such a thing.
What they might do, however, is strongly consider how their work might stitch together existing open standards efforts rather than inventing any new formats or protocols. The technologies are getting very close to baked and are finding their way into the web at every turn.
We all need to do our part to embed them into every project we're working on so that peer-to-peer, interoperable social networking will become a reality.
Welcome to the party Diaspora team, don't let the old guard (who have largely left for BigCo's anyway) scare you off.