Talking tech since 2003

This article was written by Sam Phippen, who is a 19 year old computer science student at the University of Bristol in the UK.  You can visit him on the web at teaisaweso.me.

I genuinely believe that Diaspora is the future of social networking, and you should too. Here’s why: at the moment your interactions with your friends on the Internet go through a single hub. We’ll call this hub “big brother” for the point of this discussion.  When you’re having a conversation in the real, physical world with your friends, you aren’t communicating via some managing entity, we don’t have a “big brother” figure forcing us to talk through him, and this model hasn’t translated well into the internet.

The first online communication protocols used the model we have today with a central computer handling all communication between third parties, and whilst people didn’t have privacy concerns or simply weren’t aware, now there have been major privacy concerns[1][2][3] about modern social networking. The point is, you shouldn’t have to worry about your privacy online and this fundamentally means you should control your data.

This is one of the points that Diaspora addresses. You own your own server or “seed”, this isn’t going to require nearly as much hassle as one might think when setting a server up, from the looks of the project they’ll be providing easy installers for Windows, OS X and Linux. Another way of getting a seed will be with Diaspora’s turnkey hosted seed platform, although the early indications are that this will not be free. I also envision other people becoming Diaspora providers (maybe even Facebook).

Given that you own the server with all the data on it, you can have absolute control over who can gain access to the data.  Diaspora seeds use GPG[4] which gives you strong assurances that your data will be secure. This eliminates the need for the arbitrary hub in the Facebook model: you know there is no-one in between you and your friends sniffing your communications and so you can feel a lot better about your privacy.

Another awesome feature of Diaspora is its ability to integrate with existing social networks, both push and pull. This means that you can start using it straight away with your existing online social network, it will integrate with Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to name a few, without your friends having to create Diaspora seeds.

One thing that people have asked me when I talk about Diaspora is “but how does a normal computer user use it.” My answer to this simply at the moment is I just don’t know, the service doesn’t exist yet, but I agree that the home-computer situation leaves some issues unturned:

1) What happens when it gets turned off? In terms of the engineering there are ways that you could use your mutual friend’s seeds to bounce your updates.

2) What happens when you go on holiday and leave your computer off? Is there any way to write into the network? Can you take your GPG keys with you and set up a temporary seed somewhere else?

To the people who believe mass adoption of Diaspora isn’t possible I say wait and see, this project could be something really special and it would be a shame to damn it before it actually arrives.

Diaspora is a new way of communicating online, there are very few other offerings that do not include some kind of middle man hub that can if they want to read all your communications and personal data. Diaspora uses modern cryptography to ensure your data is safe and integrates with already existing social networks to reduce the pain of the transition.

As always comments are welcome.  Additionally, you may contact Sam directly via email.


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