The most popular social network, Facebook, wants you to use their network for one reason: so they can profit from your data. That’s an excellent goal for a business, but it’s not so excellent for its users. Facebook is banking on presenting a service that’s so useful — even necessary — that you won’t mind all of the targeted ads and the constant push of suggested friends. Changing Facebook privacy settings to prevent this is so convoluted and unintuitive they’re probably hoping you’ll just give up.
What if you could easily manage your privacy, control and host your own data, and do it without ads or profiling? I think it’s safe to say that it would be incredible. Diaspora was started to do just that, and it’s why I gave money to this project just so someone would make it. Investors won’t make money from this code. It’s an open source, altruistic effort to make communication over the Internet better and less commercial.
The intent of Diaspora is to decentralize your online social network, remove commercialism and help you regain control over your data.
How Diaspora works
Your data lives as a seed, either on your own server or on a pod (a shared server with many seeds). You are then assigned a handle, which looks like an email address (and may be used as one in the future). I’m currently using the joindiaspora.com pod, and my handle is firstname.lastname@example.org.
The sharing of data is controlled by aspects. Aspects are essentially filters. Common aspect names are Work, Friends, and Family, but they can be anything you want. I created an aspect for Internet Marketing and also Raven.
You request friends via their handle. Once they accept, you can assign them to one or more aspects. You can post messages (similar to Facebook Wall posts) across all aspects, or to individual aspects. If you choose an individual aspect, only the friends that you have assigned to that aspect will be able to see and respond to your post. One of the things I like most about aspects is that they are unknown to your friends. They are meant for your own private groupings.
The Diaspora team currently is promoting their own pod for alpha testing and are releasing invitations, similar to what Google did for Gmail several years ago. There are also additional pods being used for testing.
If you want an invitation to test the alpha, consider asking your friends for one via Twitter. You can also visit the Diaspora Alpha site and request an invite.
The current alpha version has basic functionality. You can:
- share status messages and photos privately and in near real time with your friends through aspects;
- friend people across the Internet no matter where the Diaspora seed is located;
- manage friends using aspects; and
- upload photos and albums.
The Diaspora Roadmap has some very interesting features. The features I’m most excited about include:
- Data portability: This allows users to Oauth to a new seed, move their entire account to the new seed and then notify all of their contacts of the change. This way, users can move around seamlessly.
- Refining aspects (adding people to multiple groups, having people only in the public group, etc.)
- Private messaging
- Software Update Framework
How Diaspora affects SMM
Diaspora hasn’t changed anything for social media marketing, yet. If it becomes widely adopted — and I believe it will — many of the marketing techniques commonly used on Facebook will no longer be relevant.
The most popular and easiest Facebook marketing technique, advertising, doesn’t exist on Diaspora. Marketers will no longer be able to mass target users with their ads, because there won’t be any. There also aren’t any Fan pages, because Diaspora is designed for people, not commercial entities (although that could certainly change in the future).
Even though advertising isn’t available, and the current design of the software appears to exclude businesses, it certainly doesn’t mean marketing can’t take place.
If you’re going to market through Diaspora, it’s going to have to be through participation marketing. That means you will need to connect with people, observe and engage with them, learn how they prefer to communicate and then positively contribute to the group.
Marketing in Diaspora will be about creating and participating in influential networks. In some cases, that may mean paying influencers to mention your product or service to their trusted audience.
Monitoring and analysis
Diaspora is open source and most likely will have a well defined plugin architecture. That will open up the possibility for add-ons that will allow users to monitor their account (i.e. friends, comments, traffic referrals). In fact, depending on its growth and popularity, Raven may even make a plugin for it.
Another possibility will be analysis of user accounts. You may be able to run a plugin that analyzes the conversations and interests of your friends. Taking it a step further, imagine a company that would analyze all of your connections for you, and then based on the interests of your network, would pay you to post comments promoting their customers’ products and services. Are you listening MediaWhiz?!
I realize that to the purists, this all sounds evil. And I’ll admit, I don’t want any part of it. I’m hoping to keep my Diaspora connections as marketing-free as possible. Regardless, it’s going to happen. Where there’s an audience, there’s an advertiser, and they are a sneaky bunch.
Moving forward with Diaspora
I encourage you to test out Diaspora. If you have a developer, or are a developer, you can download the source code and install it yourself. Otherwise, do your best to get an invite to one of the community supported pod servers. I think Diaspora has a bright future. It will be interesting to see it evolve — and to observe how marketers attempt to penetrate it.