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

A few weeks ago, Jeff wrote an article about the possibility of Facebook acquiring Diaspora. While I think this idea is interesting, I think Facebook and Diaspora are fundamentally incompatible. The Diaspora team wants social networking to be free and open, they want us to control everything we put into the network, without some central hub. Facebook wants to be able to read lots of data about us in order to be able to determine what the best ads for us are and make money.

If Facebook were to acquire Diaspora I don’t think they would be able to make some hybrid product, the Facebook and Diaspora models of social networking are just too incompatible. So the real question is: what could Facebook do with the Diaspora team? Well I’m sure the Diaspora team know their cryptography pretty well and I think they have a pretty level headed grasp on privacy issues, so perhaps they could use it to ensure Facebook privacy gets better, but I’m sure Facebook could hire other privacy aware crypto-experts. As Jeff mentioned I’m sure that the Diaspora guys are seriously smart, and so I have no doubt they will have employers clamouring for them when they graduate, given that Facebook seems so against their ideals, I’m not sure they would take a job if they were offered one.

The Diaspora team were able to raise $200,000 of donations to kickstart the project, and it’s clear that they have other ideas for making money with the Diaspora idea. While Facebook is currently the dominant social network, it’s not like there weren’t other social networks before it. Before lots of people were using MySpace. Facebook began to gain market share because it offered features people wanted, and was a lot easier on the eyes. Diaspora offers a lot of the same features as Facebook, but also promises to integrate with other social networks. Along with this it has a lot better guarantees about what happens with your data and your privacy.

Jeff also raised the issue that Diaspora might not really take off, it might only be accepted by those that understand the issues surrounding privacy or geeks, the Diaspora team have to make it appealing to the normal user. To this end, they are looking at making it easy to integrate with existing web services that you’re already familiar with, including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. Additionally it will be possible for anyone to create a turnkey Diaspora seed hosting service similar to that of, under the provision that it is open source: a requirement of the Diaspora license. Facebook could even set up Diaspora seeds for their users, but they would either have to reimplement the entire Diaspora system, or make part of their server open source.

I also think that if Zuckerberg attempted to acquire Diaspora and they rejected him, this would lend large amounts of credibility to the project. I believe that they could easily exploit this to gain a large user base; it wouldn’t go unnoticed if Facebook attempted to acquire them and they refused. It is obvious that Zuckerberg is interested in the project, having already donated, but I just don’t see the two services being compatible enough for Facebook to attempt to aquire Diaspora.

I believe that it would be in the interests of the Diaspora team not to accept an offer from Facebook if they recieved one. The project could go anywhere. Diaspora could be extremely unique and different in what is largely a one horse market. By rejecting Facebook, Diaspora could gain a large userbase; an offer from Facebook is no small matter.

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

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