Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why Software (might) be better than Service for Social Networking

Ok, one more concern folks have had about this Diaspora thing. Some folks don't seem to understand what the big deal is, won't Diaspora just end up evil, the same as Facebook? Didn't we all migrate to Facebook because Myspace was owned by Fox news and going to evil-land? Why will this be different?

The logic behind why Diaspora won't be evil is this: Diaspora is software you run on a computer that you own. This matters for two reasons:

1. You retain control of your own data. If you use Facebook or a similar social networking service, you send them all your photos, status updates, likes and dislikes and they host them all on their servers. This makes it both technically and legally easy for Facebook to do whatever the heck they want with your data (you sign over your rights to it in exchange for use of their servers! I'll explain why Diaspora won't do this in just a minute). With a distributed system, like Diaspora, you keep your data and share it only with your friends. This makes it much harder (again, both legally and technically) for someone to aggregate and data-mine vast quantities of consumer information using a system like Diaspora (at least as it is currently designed). For security, all data traffic between your computer and your friends' computers will be encrypted.

2. No business model motivation for spying and data mining. Facebook HAS to monetize its users, it is the only way for them to stay in business! That means they have to snoop on you. Diaspora is being developed by a team of volunteers, supported by donations! Because it will be software you run on your own computer, there will be no overhead costs to be paid. The software will be released under a Free Software license (a variant of the GPL, if you're into that sorta stuff) so it can be maintained by the community. This is a very well understood means for maintaining software, and it works (examples include the GNU/Linux operating system, Apache webserver, GIMP image editor and many, many, many more).

Anyway, that's the logic... I actually think this is a vast experiment to see if this will actually work... but an important one, one that deserves the best possible effort.

1 comment:

Harrison said...

I'm not sold on the concept of having to run your own node.

The main problem I see is that you generally want this sort of thing to be available constantly. With Napster this wasn't a problem since if you shutdown, other people had the same MP3s available. However, since Diaspora stresses that you host your own data, this fails.

In theory, other companies could host it for you, but then you get into similar problems regarding other people having your data and those people needing to make money to provide the hosting, etc...

These are some tough challenges to overcome, so we'll see how it turns out eventually.

This isn't unique to Diaspora. Other software that does the same thing has failed to catch on as well. Regardless of if it takes off or not, competition is always good to help keep companies honest and fair.