Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why diaspora social network will fail

What is diaspora?
Diaspora is a project founded by four young very smart guys. Mr. Salzberg, Mr. Grippi, Raphael Sofaerc and Ilya Zhitomirskiy.

6 months months back, four geeky college students, living on pizza in a computer lab downtown on Mercer Street, decided to build a social network that wouldn’t force people to surrender their privacy to a big business. It would take three or four months to write the code, and they would need a few thousand dollars each to live on.
They gave themselves 39 days to raise $10,000, using an online site, Kickstarter, that helps creative people find support. At the end they got over $23.000 from over 700 backers.

The four guys decided on September 15th to make diaspora an open spruce project that the whole world can help to build a better social network.

I am a big fan of better privacy settings and would switch to another social network and i support open source but in this case I believe the project will never an alternative.

1. The name and domain
If you want to go international you need to have a name which works in other countries you need to be better with the choice. In Germany Diaspora is a part of the Bonifatius Werk to help people to learn to help themselves. Diaspora comes from Greek and wikipedia describes diaspora as:
A diaspora (in Greek, διασπορά – "a scattering [of seeds]") is the movement or migration of a group of people, such as those sharing a national and/or ethnic identity, away from an established or ancestral homeland. When capitalized, the Diaspora refers to the exile of the Jewish people and Jews living outside ancient or modern day Israel.
The domain diaspora is even not registered to these 4 kids and they had to choose as domain

2. The size of project
They had been estimated it takes only 4 for months to build a social network code like facebook. This might have been true for a Facebook version 4 years ago. The biggest hurdle is that FB has a lot of functions which users are today expecting and after 6 months of developing they figured out that they can't deliver a working product with at least some of the most important function and had to make it open source.

3. It is open source
To use open source is not bad. FB with over 500 million users is basically only developed with open source. At the front end, their servers run a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) stack with Memcache, the backend mostly with python, java, C++ and Erlang and as database Cassandra. For the backend the FB philosophy is:
1. Create a service if needed
2. Create a framework/toolset for easier creation of services
3. Use the right programming language for the task
Open source shows to work for FB. But diaspora wants to make its social network open source. Send it to world and they will make it cool.
Good idea, but very risky. Any open source approach will open more holes than a Swiss cheese and harder to fix without having the control. I and many other people would not trust a social network which everybody can develop against and maybe obtain private information.

4. No big VC
We do not read any news about big VC or business angels joining this project. This could indicate that these guys don't have a really good connection to the business world. Without business supporters, the project will be just one of the many open source projects which take never off. Even FB had from the beginning the right contacts to make it successful, it was not just a student hacking some line of codes together.

5. Too public before foundation established
A lot of people are complaining about FB (search for for "deleting my Facebook account and you will get millions of results). However if you want to be a serious alternative you need to be ready with it when you start to talk about.
These 4 guys have been very good with marketing and press releases, but too early in a time when they had not more than a vision. The fire went out before it started.

I believe the diaspora project will not go live or not be big. Maybe in a few years we sill see hundreds of small local social networks using the same code base once started by diaspora. Similar like joomla. Once started as CMS for one company went open source as mambo and then reinvented as joomla.
Today are thousands of joomla installation all over the world.

Correction (Thanks Mark)
..The guys didn't decide to open source it when the project became too big, it was always supposed to be open source. That promise was how they raised so much cash from Kickstarter - over $200K from nearly 6500 donors.
- Posted using My iPad


  1. The name does have other connections but it's not unusual to rename projects when they are young. Firefox was initially called Phoenix, then Firebird, and eventually Firefox. That project seems to have done okay.

    The guys didn't decide to open source it when the project became too big, it was always supposed to be open source. That promise was how they raised so much cash from Kickstarter - over $200K from nearly 6500 donors.

    I'm not understanding point 3. You accept that facebook uses open source software but then you say that you don't trust your data to open sourced software.
    The Diaspora project is for people who trust themselves more than they trust facebook/MySpace/Orkut/etc.

    The Diaspora team have been hanging around with Pivotal Labs, getting quiet advice and not rushing into big decisions. After all, they're sitting on $200 grand in cash. They can afford to take their time.

    Regarding publicity, I think you've missed how this gig started. They went public with just an idea so they could get cash. That's when the PR bandwagon got rolling. Aside from a handful of blog posts they have publicly been as quiet as mice since the Kickstarter drive ended.

    The Diaspora Project is live as of the 15th. They opened the github repo and fixes started flowing in from the community. There's nothing groundbreaking in the code but it's a focal point. I feel that Diaspora will become ready for the mass market long before ex-Google Wave does.

  2. Good points.
    To Open Source:
    It is a big difference if somebody using open source to build their own product but own the complete control, or if somebody makes their product open source and give up the control.
    Do i really trust FB? No. But i would trust a company more if i knew they have sole control and not the crowed of critical data.