A few days ago I signed up for the Diaspora beta invite because I’m hungry, like many people, for a decent Facebook alternative. If you’ve not heard of Diaspora it is in essence, as its name suggests, a decentralized social network quite unlike Facebook—but a Facebook alternative, dare I say open-source clone, perhaps nonetheless.
Whereas Facebook has increasingly tightened its hold on what and how we share, Diaspora claims to offer users greater flexibility in terms of maintaining ownership over content. This includes the ability to host remote versions or ‘hubs’ in the true spirit of open source collaboration—assuming you have access to a Web server (and the requisite technical chops).
The ongoing criticism dogging Facebook is that our privacy and the security of our personal data continue to be squandered away under the guise of increased convenience and connectedness with our peers. Diaspora, and more recently Altly, appear poised to capitalize on this growing public distaste and the emerging desire for a viable Facebook substitute.
Though I probably won’t be closing the doors on my Facebook profile anytime soon, the very idea of a worthy rival to Facebook—and it almost goes without saying—would be a positively healthy addition to the social Web.
At the very least, the ensuing competition for (Facebook) users would keep Mark Zuckerberg & company honest and on their toes. The possibility existing users could easily deactivate their Facebook accounts at any given time and pick up their social activities elsewhere in the same way it’s possible to change cellular phone service providers would literally haunt Facebook silly (I think).
Rather than levy app developers with revenue schemes such as the Facebook credit system designed to take a 30% cut of transactions (blatant highway robbery in my opinion!), Facebook would be forced to offer more flexible pricing solutions to attract, rather than gouge, game developers if a prominent competitor/social platform materialized.
Facebook is by no means an evil empire but it would certainly be refreshing to entertain something different from the Facebook model of social networking we’ve all come to accept—some of us grudgingly—as the base platform for staying socially connected in the digital space.
Not that we aren’t incredibly enthusiastic when Facebook arbitrarily decides to roll out yet another so-called user-experience enhancement to their platform regardless of whether users wanted it or not.
Just witness the now deprecated FBML language many developers were politely railroaded into implementing because their clients wanted a compelling Facebook app/presence as part of their digital marketing efforts. For approximately 4-years FBML served as the proprietary, and unavoidable, format for building applications in Facebook. As in, take-it or leave-it, we control the terms of this ecosystem. Thankfully, we now have a more Web standards-based approach with iFrames giving developers greater options that are more conducive to cross-platform application deployment.
While these issues may sound trivial in the long run, I think it’s worthwhile to imagine—perhaps even demand—a world in which Facebook isn’t the only 100 or 200+ million user social network on the planet in a position to dictate the major social and technological trends governing the Internet. Now imagine there are viable choices other than Facebook for sharing and connecting with friends. Is this not the more sustainable future for the social Web we seek?