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Diaspora: First Impressions

My Foray Into The Newest Social Networking Site

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Diaspora: First Impressions
[ Social Media]

Over the past year, Diaspora has been sending out invites to developers and, following that, to general users to come take a gander at their social networking site (it’s still in Alpha so they haven’t made it available to the general public yet). For those that haven’t heard, Diaspora is a budding social network website that emphasizes users’ complete control over their personal information. Yes, yes, cue the collective groan about having yet another social media forum to juggle, and Diaspora is well aware of that plight. However, they’re hoping to distinguish themselves from other sites with the unique pitch that all of the information you post on the site is exclusively controlled and owned by you. You don’t even have to use your real name (I certainly didn’t). Consider this comparison of Diaspora with two other social media sites you may have heard of:

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The look and feel of the interface on Diaspora’s homepage has a Facebook feel to it although there are no advertisements clearly leaching information from my recent Internet searches the way Facebook and Google do so, right away, I experience my first small delight. Elements of Google+ and even Twitter are also evident in the appearance:

Diaspora seems to be taking a Google+ lean with how they allow users to organize their newsfeed. You can group friends into Aspects, which resembles the Circles concept that’s used in Google+ to group together similar friends and acquaintances. You can select which Aspect you want to read in your news stream. Additionally, you can exclude certain Aspects from your stream if you so please.

Moving onto the profile page, again the appearance resembles Facebook’s interface the most although it looks like there is a lot of dead space around the page. Oh right, wait, I know why – that’s because, again, there aren’t any ads cluttering the margins or, for that matter, any force-fed friend suggestions for people I haven’t thought about since eighth grade:

So what’s the initial verdict?

I have no problem admitting that my biggest hesitation in using Facebook is the way my personal information is unwittingly harvested from me and then stuffed right back into my face as a smorgasbord of advertisements. I despise that strategy and it’s why I have a very limited presence on Facebook insofar as real biographical information, pictures I’m tagged in, Fort Knox-level security settings, few of my actual interests, etc. In contrast, perhaps the most salient quality of Diaspora is their mission to be exclusively user-controlled. The entire website is based on an open-source code and developers can run their own Diaspora “pod” on their own server. Diaspora explains:

Diaspora is a software that can be installed on a server by someone that has the knowledge to do so. They in turn can allow people to register for an account on what they call their “pod”. There are many of these pods already established across the internet with many users. You register for a free account on a pod and you can seamlessly connect with other users on other pods the same as if you were making someone a friend on other social networking sites. No matter which pod you are on, you are all using Diaspora. If you have the technical skills, you can even set up your own pod for your family and or friends. They can in turn connect to family and friends on your pod or even other pods with ease. Amazing, isn’t it?

It basically sounds like Diaspora is gunning to establish themselves as the Linux of social media sites. I can get behind that.

As far as whether I need to use Diaspora at the moment is another issue. Perhaps unsurprising, the biggest limitation at the time is the lack of personal infrastructure in my social network on Diaspora. The people who are showing up in my newsfeed aren’t my friends; they’re people who have hashtagged the same interests as me on their profile. I just got my invite to join Diaspora yesterday after being on the waiting list since September of this year (I probably would’ve received my invite sooner had I donated money) but none of my IRL friends are on the site. This may be a great thing to you or it may be a horrible thing to you depending on your philosophy about having an online presence. Personally, I’m split on the issue. Given this dilemma, my first impression on Diaspora was mild confusion and lack of purpose, kind of like how I feel when I use Google+. I felt like a tourist in an unfamiliar town where I only spoke a few words of the indigenous language. I felt slightly homesick for my familiar lands of Twitter and Facebook. Alas, I still support Diaspora’s user-centric mission and am not completely opposed to linking up with people who, while I may never meet in person, may provide some entertaining or insightful activity in my online life.

Having said all of that about Diaspora, I will stick with it for now.

Other quick-release first impressions of Diaspora:

- Change your profile name anytime.
- Change the email you use to access Diaspora and receive notifications anytime.
- Integrate Twitter and Tumblr accounts.
- Very gender-label friendly. You can literally type in anything to describe your gender. I typed in “Messianic Granola Bar” and it let me do it. Big points for equality and difference, Diaspora.
- Limited apps for now, but more are said to be on the way.
- A function to export all of your personal data is planned for the future.

Anybody else gotten a chance to play around with Diaspora yet? If so, what’d you think? Yea or nay?

You can follow the timeline of developments for Diaspora at the site’s Wiki page.

Diaspora: First Impressions
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