I believe the idea behind Diaspora represents a watershed of development in web 2.0 (aka social media). However, the revolutionary principles behind this embryonic open sourced application seems obscured by the language of its own technical innovation.
I’ve read a few articles about Diaspora and watched a video of the four founders trying to convey the ideas behind the new application. Most efforts to explain the application in the context of social media as it presently exists don’t succeed. Why exactly is Diaspora innovative? Why is it important in the history of the developing social media? Why do we want it to succeed or at least survive at the level of its concept? What is the problem with social media as it now exists? Why do we need a ‘Diaspora’?
Diaspora makes me think of all those old western movies where the railway line ends and a lawless railway and mine worker’s camp pops up out of the mud. You have a station and telegraph office (linking towns), a hardware store, a livery and blacksmith, some bars, one or two casinos and hotels. All of it is housed in bleak wooden construction. You either sleep in one of the wooden hotels or you sleep in a tent camp. Not much of a choice. You take your life in your hands because the only law in town is the law of the railway, the innkeeper and the mob.
Beyond the wooden town is an endless expanse of pristine countryside. Rolling plains and hills. Mountains, creeks and rivers. Room enough for each person in the hotel and the canvas city to take up an acreage. Unfortunately, there is no infrastructure. You can camp or build your log cabin at your site outside of town ( at your own URL), but you have to come into town to socialize and get supplies. If you live outside of town, nobody knows you exist. You can’t communicate with those in town…unless you go to town. Those in town don’t know you exist. The telegraph doesn’t connect to you and even if it did…no one would know you were there.
People cling to the measly shelter, toxic proximity and imposed regulation of life in the wooden hotels and the tent camp because they need to be social. Yes, we could live like hermits, but it doesn’t make for a quality life. Yes, we came here for our piece of the acreage. We also came here to establish ourselves in communities of our choosing. If society is held up in a bunch of crummy wooden hotels and ragged tents, we are probably going to suffer the accommodation in order to be around other people and close to the basic infrastructure of a social existence. It doesn’t mean that’s how we want to live…right?
The wooden hotels in the wild west town at the end of the line are a pretty good analogy for the current state of accommodation, infrastructure and social life presented in the ether of web 2.0 in 2010.
Most of us left the known security and sophistication of traditional social technologies and networks to extend our social personas into a vast new interactive digital wonderland. We were looking for something better.
When we got out at the last stop…web 2.0…we found one large wooden hotel and one tent city. Maybe Facebook and Twitter respectively? Sure, there is other accommodation where the wandering minstrels (myspace) and people who have those new fangled photographic machines like to hang together (youtube & flickr). Boutique wooden hotels abound in town.
But these are just more hotels owned by more innkeepers…right? We have to entrust the innkeepers with our data. Who owns data when it is in the ‘cloud’? We have to abide by their rules for handling and storing property and how we communicate. We have a shotgun in our backs every second that we are in their space…just in case we step across the innkeeper’s ‘line in the sand’. Haven’t we experienced enough of this in the history of broadcast, cable and satellite networks of traditional media? Do we really want the same model applied in web 2.0?
The hotel innkeeper on the other hand answers to no one. He can run the saloon and card games all night. He can change the layout. He can move you to another room. He can have a steady parade of pimps, prostitutes and patrons streaming past your door or traipsing past your tent flaps in to the wee hours of the morning. He can boot you out at his whim and leave you in the street if you don’t like the noise. He sets the rules. He is the law. His way or the highway…right?
The owners of Twitter and FB and the other significant social applications all have their rules, terms and conditions. We don’t really know how our possession are protected or even if they are really our possessions. The law is murky to say the least. We can all identify a list of things we hate or dislike intensely about each application…but we don’t have any real influence over user functionality or the business model used to ‘monetize’ the application. Additionally, we have to leave our valuable data in the innkeeper’s safe and pray it’s still there in the morning and hasn’t been loaned out to third parties for purposes we know nothing about.
Diaspora seems to propose that each of us move to our ‘acreage’ outside of town…to our own URL. There, we can store our valuable data at our server. That means the innkeeper can’t get use it for his own purposes. The code that determines user functionality (and the basic infrastructure) of the application is open sourced. That means an open community of users can develop the infrastructure and functionality of Diaspora more fully along the lines of user requirements as time goes on. Apparently, we will all own a “node” (or seed) of the application which will allow us to find and communicate with others in the digital acreage outside of the hotel. This Diaspora “node” could conceivably have all the features of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube combined…but it would reside on our servers together with our data.
That means we can move out of the ‘wooden hotels and tents’ and be social without the need for the autocratic restrictions. We will control our data. Diaspora is allegedly going to sell us a ‘communications room’ that we can build onto our own house on our acreage at our own URL. Everyone else who uses Diaspora will have the same communication room and functionality. So why be crammed into a hotel sock drawer with duct tape over your mouth (Twitter).
This would be a big move in the right direction, but one wonders what the monetization model is for Diaspora will be and what restrictions that will impose on us out at the ‘ranch’. I guess, we will have to buy or lease the “node” to find out.
The next bold step in web 2.0 would be either a ‘not for profit’ ownership structure for an open sourced social application, or (God forbid in the land of the ‘level playing field’…ROTFLMAO) a government-run agency run along the same lines. The Australians did it just fine with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Not likely I grant you, when the US doesn’t even have a State or Federal owned broadcast network to its name. But, maybe we can get it right in this new and revolutionary communication medium. That’s the wonderful thing about a revolution…nothing is written.