Question 134 of 365: What can Diaspora teach us?

5 Ways to Cultivate an Active Social Network
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Until this week I had only ever heard the word Diaspora to describe Jews who are living away from Israel. It had such a specific meaning that I didn’t really think about just how powerful decentralization could be as an idea that can energize people. I never thought of Diaspora as a way to create change.

This week, though, I was delighted to start seeing articles on a new open source project called Diaspora ( It is the so-called “anti-facebook.” Now, I don’t pretend to be a Facebook Privacy scholar, and I have no illusions that quitting Facebook at the end of the month is going to change anything. However, I do find the idea of an anti-facebook compelling. I find the idea of a grassroot effort to connect people together rather than have them gather around a central hub to be inticing enough to give money to. Which is more than I can say for Facebook at this point.

Diaspora aims to be the first decentralized social network, kind of a peer to peer connecting service. But, instead of trading files, we will be communicating with all of the other “seeds” (read nodes of a the social network/friends). There will be no one who keeps track of your data except for you, and when you are offline, potentially the access to your private information would go offline too (so long as you didn’t host your Diaspora account elsewhere, just like you can host your wordpress account as well).

Diaspora, as a project, was looking for funding on and because of their unique approach to the Facebook privacy problem, they were able to get more than enough (they were looking for $10,000 and the are looking at more than 10 times that now). This is impressive considering that the project was not a whole lot more than 4 geeks who mulled the idea over while trying to create a robot (a makerbot if you want to get specific).

The real question I have is what can we learn from the upstart, Diaspora. Here is a list that I think may be helpful for remembering (especially when some new startup idea is the darling of the tech blogosphere next week).

1. Find an outcry. They found a problem that was so pronounced that you were starting to see official protests and boycotts. They didn’t really come up with a solution for the outcry. rather they came up with an alternative. They took the model that Facebook had and dissected it down to its essentials and then built the rest so that it “didn’t suck.” I feel like we don’t cater to creating an alternative to outcries very often. We really do seem to like solving problems by one upsmanship. While we can’t follow the outcry wherever it goes, figuring out just why people are up in arms is a great way to finding something that resonates with a significant portion of the population.
2. Anti is easier than pro. This is something that I keep having to tell myself when I am reduced to fanboy status. It is so much easier and more effective for creating change when you can discuss exactly what it is that we are against and have that be a part of the daily conversation. If Diaspora would have framed themselves as “a decentralized social network” and not as “the anti-facebook”, they would still be fighting for the $10,000 they were after. Anti galvanizes support, when pro simply appeals to logic. When we feel as though we have been wronged (as many people do in terms of their facebook privacy), anti is really the only option left.
3. Set an achievable goal. I am always interested to find people that have set goals for themselves and then outpace them. I am more impressed when these goals are not meager. Diaspora wanted to garner $10,000 of support before they tried to build their software and they did it many times over. This was not a small amount of money to begin with, but because they actually set a value, they had something to work toward. Often, we don’t put a value on our goals. We just see if we can reach them and if we can’t, so what? We will just lower the bar. Diaspora didn’t lower the bar. They found something that they were passionate about and then they set a goal that was impractical to begin with. It is one more reason why I believe that anything is possible with the power of social media (after techcrunch and read/write web picked them up, they received the majority of their funding).
4. Be a geek, with both words and technology. Diaspora is a good idea. It is something that someone was going to create regardless of if it happened now or a year from now. But, it isn’t immediately something that would be easy for everyone to understand. “Disributed social networking” doesn’t exactly sound like a one-button solution. But, people have latched on to it because it has been put in ways that make sense. The video on their kickstarter page is awesome and the articles on blogs and in traditional media have discussed the project so well (and so deeply) that there really isn’t much more to be explained. They were able to start from scratch and run with it because they were geeky enough to have vision, and then they made their vision into words and visual persuasion. It is my contention that you aren’t really a geek until you can tell the story of your geekdom. And, that is exactly what they have done.

Those are the lessons that I have gleaned from Diaspora, but I’m sure there are bunches more. What can you find?

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