Social networking junkie: Diaspora
Posted by Leo Tarvi
As promised, today I’ll be talking about Diaspora, a social thingy with a philosophy of privacy and security.
This philosophy is first apparent by the fact that it uses https by default instead of the usual http. Speaking as someone who’s gone through all his social sites and set them to use encryption whenever possible, I really appreciate this.
Incidentally, most sites default to no encryption, with an option to use when available. Personally, I think “use when available” should be default, and there should also be an option to simply reject unsecured connections. I kinda suspect that if governments weren’t so hung up on the idea of spying on their people, the internet as a whole would be almost completely encrypted by now.
Back to the subject at hand, Diaspora connects nicely to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, and gives you options to send your posts to any combination of them with handy little buttons next to the text-box, along with a button to make your post visible to the general public. There are also buttons to control which “Aspects” you are posting to.
The aspect concept needs some explanation. When you connect to someone you organize them into one or more “aspects”, they work a lot like the contact groups in Gmail. By default you have “Family” and “Work”, and adding new ones is trivially easy. When you make a post you can select each aspect you want it posted to, or just click the “All Aspects” button to send to all of them, or In keeping with their ideals of privacy, Diaspora doesn’t tell people which or how many aspects you’ve placed them in, only that you’ve “started sharing” with them. In a way it feels backwards, most social networking sites let you say whom you want to listen to, this one it’s whom you want to talk to.
I don’t know how well that would hold up to large groups of people. In particular I’m thinking of people on Twitter who have over a million followers. Wil Wheaton might have trouble using this service if his 1.8 million tweeps wanted to share with him. I also feel it needs a way to “follow” someone, so that you’re keeping track of the posts they mark public without them having to add you to an aspect. In fairness that feature may exist, though I haven’t found it yet.
And perhaps that’s looking at it the wrong way, because it’s not Twitter and isn’t trying to be. It feels more intimate that most social sites, less of a broadcasting platform. I’m perfectly happy if it does its own thing, but I’m not sure what its own thing is yet and wouldn’t be surprised if the developers only have a hazy idea themselves at this point.
Diaspora is still in the Alpha stage of development, so I don’t want to judge it too harshly. It has some neat ideas, but what I mostly use it for right now is the connection to other social networks and the bookmarklet. It is a very convenient way to send a link to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr all at once. Given time & development and the right amount of publicity it might manage to rival Facebook, but right now it has a long way to go.
It feels like it’s alpha, not just in the spartan interface but in the options available and also little things like how new notifications don’t show up until you refresh the page. Since it’s apparently been active for over a year now I’m assuming that most of the work done has been to the guts of the system, behind the scenes. Which would fit in with what little I know of the people behind it. But again, these weak spots are expected and normal in alpha and it wouldn’t be fair to complain that the homepage isn’t shiny enough when they’re still working on the API.
Overall, it’s really too soon to tell with this one. I’ll just have to wait and see how quickly it improves and what it turns into.
One last thing, Diaspora is a decentralized, distributed network in a very well done, transparent way. The unit of division is called a “Pod”, which matters when you sign up but seems invisible while you’re using it. Although there are pods that don’t require an invitation, the main joindiaspora pod does. I have ten invites and will happily send one to anybody who asks in the comments.
That’s all for now, I’ll see you next time!