Sunday, May 23, 2010
So, by now, most folks have probably heard about Diaspora, the distributed replacement for Facebook. Basically, the idea is to replace the web-based Facebook service with a piece of software you would run on your own computer, which would allow you to share information with you friends. This radically distributed solution, the thinking goes, would allow users to control their own data and protect their own privacy.
The notion recently came in for some criticism on the download squad blog, in a piece that suggested expecting users to run individual servers would lead to Diaspora's failure. The authors seem to feel that server maintenance is beyond the ability of the average computer user.
It is not immediately apparent to me that this is necessarily so. Napster, after all, asked users to serve music files to one another, and it succeeded until the music industry intervened.
However, it is important to take the warning against putting too much responsibility on individual users seriously. We have to understand that machines and people always exist in communities. To that end, I would make several concrete recommendations:
1. On the technical side, the Diaspora team should solicit the advice of a wide variety of computer users, and design their software to be accessible to everyone. Geeky config options are great, but keep them out of the way. Out of the box, it should just work, and power users can tweak later.
2. On the social side, people interested in migrating from Facebook to Diaspora should organize. A Facebook walk out day, for an en masse migration would work. People get value from the social connections on a network, so we'll want to move as many of those all at once as possible. More technically savvy users should stand ready to help novice users make the transition.
What to people think? Should we start organizing the Facebook walk out?