Remember Diaspora? It was the David that emerged last spring to take on the Goliath of social networks by remaining open source and offering tighter controls on user privacy. Diaspora was born from the minds of four NYU students fueled by the dream of creating a true alternative to Facebook. A New York Times piece, a $200,000+ Kickstarter campaign, a much anticipated private beta, and a year later Diaspora is still far from being a household name. It may not yet be the time to ask what went wrong, but rather what needs to happen next.
Today Max Salzberg, one of the initial four developers, partially tried to answer that question on the Diaspora blog in a post titled moving forward. The post comes across as a cry for user not to panic; we’re still here and doing well. According to Salzberg the Diaspora team is working hard behind the scenes and has been listening to user feedback, much of which has been “move faster”. Faster is certainly the goal, but can Diaspora really grow into a Facebook contender? Right now the social network is a ghost town, only home to a small portion of the tech crowd and a handful of devoted early adopters. One could argue that the real Diaspora community exists within the startup’s GitHub page (a place for sharing code). The site itself has been constructed with care and maintains a clean/minimalistic look and feel, but there isn’t a lot to do or much reason for users to stick around or come back. Currently Diaspora is trying to become more compatible with other social networking sites and is looking for outside funding to assist with growth.
The problem with Diaspora is twofold. The first being that Facebook’s reach is large, all encompassing, and so overwhelming that users don’t know about and may not care for an alternative option. Facebook is consistently rolling out new features, improving on old ones, and has made user privacy a higher priority after all the negative press it received last year. They’re big and show no signs of slowing down. Diaspora’s other problem is that they have no marketing oomph. They’ve yet to push their site into the mainstream and gain any press outside of their initial launch hype. The Diaspora team has focused almost exclusively on development and has lost much of its initial momentum. The site, for some reason or another, is still only open by invite only.
Will Diaspora be on anyone’s radar beyond the immediate future? It’s hard to say, but it would be rather unfortunate for the project to never receive the credit and mass attention that it deserves.