It’s interesting that at the same time that questions are being asked about how far Facebook has shifted in its treatment of user data and about the complexity of their privacy settings, a new start-up by four NYU computer science students designed to decentralise the social web and put users back in control of their personal data is getting some serious attention from investors.
The Diaspora Project is self-described as “the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network”. Instead of going through centralised servers (like Facebook), the new platform will operate via a distributed network where separate computers (called “seeds” in the network) connect to each other directly, meaning users could aggregate their own and other streams of content in a similar way to how Friendfeed does, but retain far more control over their own data.
The code will be released as free software (using the aGPL open-source software license) and there will be a plug-in framework so developers can get involved and augment the service. But it is their approach to privacy that seems to be just as attractive to investors. Say the founders:
“We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms. We think we can replace today’s centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network. Diaspora will be easy to use, and it will be centered on you instead of a faceless hub.”
Funding for the project is being crowdsourced through Kickstarter (a funding platform for creative projects and start-ups that in itself is an interesting venture). The initial funding target was $10,000, but such has been the enthusiasm behind Diaspora that at time of writing they have secured funding worth $173,000 from 4,700 separate backers including (apparently) some fairly big names in the tech industry (and me). And there is still over two weeks to go until the funding deadline.