Diaspora – are you an early rejector?

The four NYU students pledging to build Diaspora captured my imagination today, and I’m not the only one.

There is so much to discuss around this and it’s not even out of the lab yet. In a rare display of focus, I’ll devote my first post on the topic to one of the more obvious questions – Can they (or do they need to) get 400 million people to migrate away from Facebook?

The idea of a decentralized, open source social network where you truly own your data appeals to many a privacy-concerned geek, but I think perhaps the announcement of Diaspora and their rapid public funding is timely more than anything. After the F8 conference Facebook are predictably under the spotlight again – this time there’s even infoporn – See: Mat McKeon and the New York Times.

So we’re all ‘concerned’ about our privacy, and maybe even what Facebook are up to in general, but as Fernando Rizo muses on his blog today, are you going to quit? No, of course not. Well, not without a decent alternative, because you don’t want to miss out. (See FOMO). Well let’s assume for a moment that Diaspora becomes that alternative – what then?

Tipping the other way

In theory I don’t see a reason the Network Effect can’t work in reverse. It takes early adopters to populate a site like Facebook in the first place – perhaps a trend in rejection could result in a tipping point in the opposite direction. If you joined Facebook because your friends did, and they went somewhere else – you’d eventually go too. Somebody has to go first of course.

I grumble about Facebook all the time, but I use it as much as the next guy – in fact more than most of my friends. I don’t want to shut my account down. Going cold turkey would be a serious commitment. I think for this to happen for me there would have to be some kind of transitional phase.

If Diaspora allowed me to view and publish content to and from Facebook, that would surely defeat its primary function. You could argue that it depends what the content was, but it would still mean keeping my Facebook account active. It might however be a way to soften the blow, and at the same time entice my peers into migrating too.

I don’t have the solution, (and I probably don’t understand the problem), but many of us are far too attached to our digital homes for this to be a clean break. As Fernando points out we’ve seen mass migration before (away from MySpace) but I’d say it’s a bigger deal this time. I remember quitting MySpace (~2007) and I really didn’t miss it. I had a handful of photos and about 30 friends. It was also incredibly annoying. Despite my moaning, I really like Facebook, it’s a very usable site and there’s vastly more content than I had access to three years ago.

Would an exodus be necessary?

Diaspora are proposing a hosted, turn-key option for their software (a la WordPress) and perhaps, as is common with open source products, providers will be permitted to package up and sell the product themselves in a healthy, competitive fashion. To move 400 million people over to Diaspora, this would surely be essential – how many Facebook users know what a GPG key is?

I joked earlier (complete with typo) that if Diaspora took off, perhaps Facebook could move to a hosted-Diaspora revenue model. Perhaps this wasn’t such a joke. Facebook need your data to profit, if you’re going to abscond and not give them any more data and not look at any more ads, then a premium service where you can interact with your friends without getting ‘graphed’ seems reasonable to me. The privacy concerned few could pay, while the complacent masses continue to trade their personal lives for a free ticket.

I’m thinking out loud and probably sound like an idiot, but I’m hungry and need to go home…. just gotta check my Facebook.