Remember about 2 and a half years ago, when the Facebook Platform was still new, and all the talk was about OpenSocial? It was supposed to be a platform for all the “other” social networks (outside Facebook), where developers could easily create apps for all of them at once. Dave McClure wrote an interesting post about two and a half years ago talking about OpenSocial vs. Facebook Platform (before Connect). OpenSocial all but died, Facebook got stronger.
Now there is a lot of talk about Diaspora, the “the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network.” The name is already ambitious and confusing enough. They have been making some noise, getting some press, including a piece in the New York Times, and have raise over $177k from almost 5000 contributors. Jason Fried argues that they have too much money and no product.
But I’d argue that they face much deeper challenges.
For this to be significant, it has to see Facebook style viral growth. Facebook’s growth curve was a once in a generation thing, I don’t think we’ll see it replicated within the same decade.
Authentication has been a challenge online for a long time. Facebook Connect (now Graph) is making great progress on Single Sign on, but it hasn’t been easy, just look at OpenID’s failures.
Users Don’t Care
Most users don’t care about their privacy settings, and won’t care about a more open Facebook. And it’s hard enough to get people to change, even when they do care.
Trading One Master for Another
If Diaspora wins, then we’ll trade one master for another. Maybe with better default privacy settings and visibility, but with a governing body all the same.
I think it’s fair to say that any effort to create a new social graph will need to rely on Facebook’s existing social information (profile info, etc.) and social graph (friends), and possibly also the photos and other information on there. Forcing people to give all that up will be a challenge.
We’ll see two and a half years from now if Diaspora caught hold, or ended up like OpenSocial. I’m rooting for a more open Facebook, and maybe Diaspora will help achieve that without ever launching a product. But they’ll have some serious challenges to create a truly viable alternative to Facebook.