So for several months I’ve been interested in checking out Diaspora; a new player in the social network arena, hoping to be attractive to people who are not fond of “the big guys” such as Facebook and Google+ tracking your every move and selling it to advertisers, among other privacy and content rights issues that sites like Facebook have had continual complaints about.
Diaspora asserts that it is different because it’s not a corporate entity – in fact, it’s not a single entity at all. But more about that in a second.
As far as “who runs it,” Diaspora uses a networking system that is different to all of the other popular social networking sites, as far as I’m aware.
There isn’t a building somewhere with a huge room with rows and rows of servers that are all run by one company. In fact, it really works more like a peer-to-peer network.
The main Diaspora “client” web site is in a way an application that can be hosted on any server, so there there can be any number of web sites that you can create your account on to call your “home” on the network. Then all of these host sites (or “pods” as they are called in Diaspora-speak) connect together to create a common information stream.
Although a while back I signed up to request to be a beta tester through their main “promotional” web site, JoinDisapora.com, but it had been months and I never got the invite. But through a bit of web searching I ran across one of the “pods” that is openly accepting new accounts – Diasp.org, and signed up.
It’s only been a few days, but what I’m seeing in this alpha product is actually pretty darned neat. It seems to be sort of an interesting mix of features between Twitter and Facebook, with a number of added nice touches.
The main window (or “stream” window) is, unsurprisingly, very Facebook-like. There is a comment box at the top for you to enter your latest updates, under which a stream of updates from people you are following is listed, along with some links on the sides:
The status box itself is a bit different than you usually see, and has a few interesting features. The basics are of course there like text entry and the ability to add a photo attachment, but Diaspora also adds the ability to group your contacts into “aspects,” such as friends, acquaintances, work, etc – and you can create custom aspect groups as well, such as my “gamers” aspect that I created in anticipation of following other gamers. You can then select any or all of these aspect groups as those who can read the message you’re about to post. Something like this can, I suppose, come in very handy when you want to post something that would only be of interest to certain people, or that you only want certain people seeing. (I’m not a member of Google+, but from what I understand their “circles” function is very similar to this. The Diaspora team appears to be of the opinion that they likely stole the idea from them, considering Diaspora was in alpha well before G+ started accepting beta users).
A status update can also be tagged as “public” using the little globe icon at the bottom, which means that your post can be searched and read by absolutely anybody on Diaspora.
Add to this the “hash” functionality of Twitter, where you can “tag” a message to make it come up in searches for that subject by others; for example, if you’re a fan of cheesecake, and you you’d like other cheesecake fans to be able to find your message, you can write something like “I love #cheesecake!” and thusly when someone searches for the “hash tag” of “#cheescake” your message will come up.
One cool feature regarding these that Twitter doesn’t have, is Diaspora offers the option to “follow” a hash tag. My assumption is that just like “following” a person, that means that any public message that is posted with that hash tag would come up in your stream. As of yet I have not witnessed this actually working, however, so I guess that remains to be seen.
Other small touches that are nice include the ability to sort by time of the original post, or to have new comments on posts you’re following show up at the top of your stream rather than constantly having to completely switch your view (or open a new tab, as I tend to do with FB)… this is the default behavior of the news stream. When you post a status, you can choose to have that update cross-posted to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Tumblr (though you can post messages through Diaspora, you can’t actually read updates from these services).
And of course the basics are there such as a “like” button, the ability to privately message friends, the ability to “mention” others in your posts using the @ (originally a Twitter thing, later adopted by Facebook), an update notification that also emails the updates, and so on.
Stuff I Like:
I think many of the features of Diaspora are very cool – pretty much everything I mentioned above is something that I think is a really neat feature to have. I also like the “your information belongs to you, not us” policy. I really like how they took some of the best messaging features of both Twitter and Facebook and seem to have been mostly successfully in mashing them together.
Stuff I Don’t Like:
Keep in mind, Diaspora is currently in alpha as I write this, so anything that’s a gripe may change later.
First off, although in theory I absolutely like the way it works, the “non-centralized” (or sort of peer-to-peer like) nature of Diaspora is really confusing, even to geeks, let alone the general public. I know that “staying out from under a corporate umbrella” is one of the main points of the system, but I think this could hurt their growth from plain old everyday users. There isn’t just one web site to go to; in fact currently there are a couple of dozen, and the list is likely to keep growing. I suppose if they eventually set up at least one “primary” host site at “Diaspora.com” or something like that it could be helpful, but without corporate backing whoever hosts that probably wouldn’t be able to take on the traffic other social sites get.
A huge annoyance I discovered today is that although the system automatically signs you up to receive updates on posts you’ve commented on, you currently can’t STOP receiving updates. There’s one “welcome” post I commented on that gets probably a half dozen comments a day that I really couldn’t care less about, that get emailed to me. No way to stop it.
There are currently no associated apps – just messaging. There’s no photo album (though they are currently trying to get Cubbi.es to integrate), no calendar, no groups, and of course no games. Of course, they are still in alpha just getting the messaging system to work, so maybe some of that stuff will come in the future.
Overall, I have to say that at least after just a few days of playing with it, I’m really enjoying using the system – if only there were more people there to talk to. Apparently JoinDiaspora is getting ready to start sending out the beta invites to their “main” pod though, so maybe that will help. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this one!