3 days ago, I got an email in my inbox from the folks at Diaspora. I finally got an invite to theВ Diaspora AlphaВ after almost a year of waiting! Thats right. Last year atВ joindiaspora.com, I submitted my email and requested an invite. Because it took so long, I thought the project was dead. Now Im in! Ive always been a strong supporter of open-source projects and freedom. Diaspora is both these things. On their website, you are greeted with 3 main principles:В choice, ownership, and simplicity. You have the choice of who you want to share photos and information with. You own all your pictures and posts. Privacy settings and options are simple and clear. This sounds good, right? Finally, an open-source social network. Lets see how well these guys are doing. Ill walk you through my first impressions.
Registering for the site is very simple. You simply fill out a username, password, and email address. There was no email confirmation. Diaspora asks you to fill out a display name, a short bio, and up to 5 interests. Once you continue, you head to their main page. This displays the Stream. From here, you see your profile with an automated posts. Apparently, everyone goes through this. Here is an example of what it looks like:
Hey everyone, Im #NewHere. Im interested in #android, #linux, and #sailing.
Basically, you have some hashtags(#) showing your interests and another one saying that youre new. This is a nice little way for people to greet new members.
Unfortunately, thats about the only way to connect with people. I dont have a real Facebook or Google+ account so Im not too familiar with how things work there but they all look similar visually. My immediate impressions were most people that joined are into technology. Mainly Linux and other open-source projects. You constantly see hashtags of #linux, #ubuntu, #kde, #android, etc. There doesnt seem to be an option to search for people by location, school, or work. I know the site is still in Alpha but connecting with strangers from the main stream can only get you so far. For a social networking site, you kind of want to connect with people you know. Luckily, you can connect Diaspora to services like Twitter, Tumblr, and yes, even Facebook. I understand that connecting with Facebook may be a conflict of interest since they are competing services, but Diaspora is no where near as popular as Facebook. In that case, I suppose its a good move. One immediate bug that I noticed was a 500 internal error when I tried adding a hashtag to follow. Its not perfect. A few bugs are expected from an alpha release.
The site doesnt have much features. Unless you already have friends on Diaspora, theres not much to do. Ive tried looking for people but nobody I know in real life is a member. As a matter of fact, I dont think too many people have ever heard of Diaspora. There are no games for you to pass the time. Facebook made that popular with their Mafia Wars and their Farmvilles. Another thing that seemed to be missing is a photo album. I uploaded a profile picture and decided to change it. When I replaced it, the original disappeared so I had to re-upload it. After playing the runaround, I finally figured out that I had to post a picture on my stream in order have it save to my photo album. I cant even call it a photo album because when you click on your profile picture, it brings up all the pictures youve uploaded. This may include funny pics, clipart, infographs, or whatever youve attached to a post. Theres no way to organize them or tag people like Facebook or PicassaWeb. At the time, they were the only social network to sort different people into different groups. Diaspora calls this aspects. Basically, you can sort people you know into groups like family, friends, work, acquaintances, or whatever you so choose. This is a neat feature 2 years ago but since then, Google+ has borrowed that idea into what they call circles. Its basically the same thing.
We go back to the three things they advertised on their main page. Choice, ownership, and simplicity. Well, Diaspora sure is simple. If by simple, they mean less featured, theyve done their job. Simplicity is good for beginners, but once people get familiar with the site, theyre going to want more features. Ownership is a great concept. Lots of sites have terms saying that they own everything you post. This means they can sell all your information, including your pictures, to shady folks like advertising firms. This essentially protects you from such abuse but to the common folk, its not a priority. Lots of people complain about Facebook selling users date but they still use it. Out of the 3, choice, is probably the main reason people joinВ Diaspora. I want the ability to choose who views my profile. The concept of privacy is a big deal for users. Whats interesting to note is the fact that Google+ implemented circles which is basically the same thing as aspects. Now the question is, Do people care if Google sees your profile? My guess is, No. People use Google every dayВ and they have built a strong trust with their users.
What does Diaspora offer thats new? Well, so far, nothing. When it was announced, it gained lots of steam with the media. People areВ attracted to the concept of ownership and freedom. Since then, some of the buzz has fizzled. I feel that Diaspora is not developing fast enough. I understand that theyre an open-source project and they dont have money to speed up progress, but going after Facebook and Google will be a massive undertaking. For a social network to be successful, they need to have a large community. In order to attract users to join, they need more than concept. They need an edge. They need to offer users something different. They also need more features like albums, tagging, and the ability to search for classmates and co-workers. Theres a stalker-ish vibe every time I make a search since I have to type in someones full name. It would makes users feel better finding friends by accident than literally searching for their names. Its kind of creepy if you think about it. I understand the work involved in coding these features but lets face it, wereВ spoiled. Also, with Google+ in the picture, people wont care anymore. They would rather pick the lesser of two evils than wait around for an open-source alternative. From what Ive seen so far, only Linux geeks and computer nerds hang out on Diaspora. And lets face it, not everyone will care about Diasporas mission. Most people are willing to accept some privacy issues as long as they have a big community. Fortunately, I am the exception and Im glad there are other like-minded people out there.
Diaspora Alpha has promise but lacks some key features to compete. SlowВ development.
Pros: Looks clean and simple. No ads.
Cons: Not much to do. Small community. Still in Alpha after 1 year+
Check them out for yourself @ joindiaspora.com