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Bring On the Decentralized Social Networking 238

Posted by timothy
from the node-distinction dept.
Frequent contributor Bennett Haselton writes: "The distributed-social-networking Diaspora Project recently announced that their software will be released as open source. I don't know if Diaspora specifically will be the Next Big Thing in social networking, but I hope that social networking moves to a decentralized model within the next few years, where anyone can set up and run a hub to administer profiles for themselves and their friends or clients, and where profiles can interact with each other in a distributed fashion instead of on a centralized system like Facebook." Read on for Bennett's thoughts on how that model could work.
A decentralized social network infrastructure would bring a number of benefits, such as:
  • the end of horror stories about accounts and company pages being shut down arbitrarily by Facebook
  • privacy settings that give you fine-grained control, and that are not forcibly changed for you
  • an ad-free viewing experience (depending on the policies of the node hosting your profile), and
  • the easy implemention of desirable features in the interface, without waiting for a single company like Facebook to adopt them.

(Not to mention an interface that stays relatively stable until you decide you want to change it -- no more waking up to find out you've been "timelined".)

Consider the main things that we use Facebook for today:

  • Finding old friends and re-establishing contact with them.
  • Receiving a stream of updates from your friends, viewing photos, posting comments, etc.
  • Creating events and inviting friends.
  • Creating branded pages for your company or product that other people can "like," and receiving updates from pages created around other people's companies or products.

There's no particular reason why any one of those functions could only be carried out on a centralized system. I can envision a distributed protocol with many different servers, or 'nodes,' run by different hosting companies, and each 'node' can be used to store many accounts; users pick a hosting company and a node to create their new account, and their account on that node could be used to store their friends list, their photos and status updates, and any events and groups that they had created. I'll get to the protocol design in a second, but let me emphasize something more important first: to make the protocol censorship resistant, it would have to be possible to move your entire account from one node to another node at a completely different company, without breaking any of the existing links with friends, your events, etc. That way, the node hosting your profile wouldn't be able to lean on you by saying, "Delete that one photo you posted, or I'll delete your entire profile and you'll lose all the friend links and events that you created."

To make a profile "seamlessly portable" in this manner, my suggestion would be to have the profile associated with a domain name owned by the user, with a URL like http://yourdomainname.com/profileprotocol/yourusername/. The domain name could be hosted with any hosting provider, as long as you paid their hosting fee (or as long as you were willing to display their advertisements to people who viewed your profile). But if your hosting company ever kicked you to the curb, you could simply change the domain name to point to a different hosting provider, and be back up and running after just a few hours of downtime (assuming you had backups of all of your data!).

No one would be able to shut down your profile permanently, unless they wrested control of your domain name away from you, or convinced every hosting provider in the world not to host you. (A user who didn't want to bother with their own domain name, could still host a profile under someone else's domain. This would probably be the default option for most casual high-school users, and thus companies like Facebook could still exist to serve them by helping them create new profile accounts in two minutes. But then those users would have to accept the risk that the domain name owner could shut their profile down.)

Thus I'm distinguishing here between two levels of censorship-resistance that could be provided by a distributed model. In the weaker type of censorship-resistance, profile-hosting companies would compete for your business by providing more permissive hosting policies, which would enable people to post edgier content than Facebook currently allows -- but once you're hosted with a given company, you couldn't easily switch without breaking all of the inbound "links" from your friends' accounts, so your hosting company could force you to self-censor, by threatening you with the loss of your account. In the stronger type of censorship-resistance that I'm advocating, you could switch seamlessly from one hosting provider to another, as long as you kept control of your domain name.

Of course this is exactly the type of "censorship resistance" enjoyed by people who run their own websites under their own domain names. The challenge would be to bring the same freedom to an open social networking protocol, but I see no technical reason why it couldn't be done.

Consider a protocol where "Bob" creates a new account on a social networking hosting node (together with a public/private key used to authenticate his actions to other nodes — if you're not a crypto geek, don't worry about that, it just means that users wouldn't be able to forge friend requests, "likes," event invites, etc. from other people). "Bob" could then find the profiles of his friends, and add them to his own "friends list" (which would be stored on his node). If Bob adds Alice as a friend, then Bob's node can also download Alice's current friend list (unless Alice has disabled this feature, or unless Alice has customized her friend list so that only portions of her friends list are viewable to other users — something not currently possible with Facebook). That way, when Bob searches for new names of users to add as friends in the future, the search will first default to searching the friends-of-friends lists that he's downloaded from his own friends.

When Bob signs in to his account on his node (either through a web interface, or a dedicated application, or a mobile app), his "news feed" consists of the comments, photos, and other items that have been published from his friends' accounts. He can post comments on any of his friends' items, which are then transmitted to his friends' accounts and stored on their node along with their content, unless they choose to delete the comments. And of course he can publish his own photos and status updates just like we all do on Facebook today, which would be downloaded to his friends' news feeds. (I'm hand-waving over whether the notifications would be "pulled" by users' nodes periodically polling the nodes of their friends to check for new content, or by their friends' nodes "pushing" the content to all known subscribers.)

Alice could meanwhile create an "group" of users would would be stored as an object on her node, and invite other users to join the group. Then any messages or content posted to the group would show up in the news feeds of all users who had joined. And Alice could create "events" which are also stored as an object on her node, and send out invites to her friends or other members of her groups. Pretty much any Facebook feature could be duplicated in this distributed system, with the benefit that users wouldn't run up against aggravating limitations imposed by Facebook — like the fact that Facebook used to block you from messaging the guests of your own event after it reached 5,000 attendees, and then removed the ability to message guests of an event entirely.

There's only one Facebook feature that I think could not be implemented on a distributed social networking protocol, and that's the practice of accruing hundreds of thousands of fans for your company fan page, basically as a form of "social proof" to show potential new customers that you're serious. Under Facebook's model, if you see a fan page with hundreds of thousands of fans, your first instinct is to assume that the company must be doing something right in order to be that popular, since Facebook makes it difficult for a company to create hundreds of thousands of fake users just to be fans of their product. On the other hand, in a distributed model, suppose I run across a company's fan page which claims to have 1 million fans. It's not just a case of the company lying about having 1 million fans — you could use digital signatures to verify that 1 million "users" really are "fans" of the product — but since anybody can set up a profile hosting node, you have no way of knowing how many of those 1 million "users" are real. "Acme Soda Company" could have just set up a dozen profile hosting nodes and created 100,000 fake users on each one, and have each of them sign up as "fans" of their product. (I just made up that company name, but this is incidentally something the real Acme Soda Company is apparently not doing.)

But how useful is it for regular users, after all, to see that a company has hundreds of thousands of fans? I've never assumed that a company makes a quality product just based on the number of Facebook fans that they have. I'd be more interested in checking out a company if a high proportion of my own social networking friends are fans of the product — and that is something that could still be implemented in a distributed model, since if a company claims that 3 of my 100 friends are fans of their page, I could use their digitally signed "fan" relationships to verify that this is true.

So I hope that the future of distributed social networking arrives soon. It may or may not be in the form of the Diaspora Project (in true Dr. Evil fashion, their most recent press release announced that they've already attracted "thousands" of users), but there's no particular reason that a distributed protocol would have to be a grass-roots effort. My guess is that if it took off, it would have to be started as a side project by an established company that gave it name recognition, and which could possibly provide free hosting for the first wave of users. Google+ never gave most people a compelling reason to switch, but imagine if it had been released not as a website but as an open protocol, complete with an open-source implementation that could be installed anywhere. Thus, complete freedom to create pages with whatever content you want, to amass as many fans and subscribers as you could legitimately earn, without having to worry about it all being controlled by a single entity who could mine your data or delete your content. I definitely would have given it a closer look.

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Bring On the Decentralized Social Networking

Comments Filter:
  • One question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by should_be_linear (779431) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:33AM (#41248627)
    Joe Sixpack has one question: WTF you are talking about, who is centralized, and why should I care? Seriously, geeks are 1% of Facebook audience, 99% couldn't care less about "decentralization".
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:35AM (#41248661)

      But the 1%ers are evil and must pay for their crimes. Oh wait, wrong /. article.

    • Re:One question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sixtyeight (844265) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:39AM (#41248739)

      Thirty years ago, the idea that non-geeks would ever start using computers themselves seemed absurd.

      Forty years ago, the idea that people - rather than corporations and governments - would use computers themselves seemed absurd.

      • by Desler (1608317)

        How was it considered absurd in the 80s to think non-geeks would be using computers? The 80s was all about making home compurs for the masses. It was in fact NOT considered an absurd idea.

        • Sure, the geeky masses. WordStar. Spreadsheets. In other words, business needs at home and in the small offices.

          For personal use, the geek stigma was only overcome once people found they could play decent computer games.

          • by Desler (1608317)

            No, the home computer was being created for the masses not for geeks. You are rewriting history

      • Re:One question (Score:5, Interesting)

        by kwerle (39371) <kurt@CircleW.org> on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:58AM (#41249077) Homepage Journal

        Thirty years ago, the idea that non-geeks would ever start using computers themselves seemed absurd.

        Forty years ago, the idea that people - rather than corporations and governments - would use computers themselves seemed absurd.

        You need to update those numbers. 30 years ago Apple was most certainly selling computers to home users.

        What we have learned i the past 40 years is that people will use computers. What we have learned in the past 15 years is that people will not admin servers.

        Give people a choice (I'm looking at you, too, linux), and people will ignore you. Give people a single (or very few) "winning" options - like Facebook - and they will flock.

        Remember when every ISP offered email? I guess they still do - but nobody cares. There are 3ish winners in the west: Yahoo, Hotmail, Gmail.

        And people suppose - with a couple of gorillas already on the scene - that people will adapt a multitude of social network sites that magically* interoperate? I'm not betting on it.

        * I don't buy that any significant number of sites in this space will successfully maintain consistent standards and communicate. Unless there's a whole lot of fairy dust involved

        <disillusioned home email/web/etc admin of 15ish years>

        • by Gilmoure (18428)

          It would have to be implemented as a 'feature' by one of the gorillas (MS, Apple, Amazon, Google) but in such a case, it'd still be happening on a central cloud/server/thing. Would be cool to see someone ship a decent turn-key home A/V Web Server that would have a distributed social client but currently, the gorillas are all pushing centralized cloud servers. *sigh* I live in the country and we don't have the greatest network connectivity. Sure, for myself, I run my own home server but yeah, the rest of my

        • by Urza9814 (883915)

          First of all, plenty of people still use their ISP email. Mostly older people though in my experience -- those who just got email when they got internet and don't want to bother to change their address.

          But social networking seems to be in pretty much the place email was many, many years ago. The only difference (which, I'll admit, is not at all minor) is that there's less providers with more inertia. But email wasn't always decentralized, so there's no reason why social networking couldn't end up decentrali

      • by 0racle (667029)
        Twenty years ago if you wanted to put your pictures online you had to run your own server.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Seumas (6865)

          If, by "online", you mean "the web", then twenty years ago, you literally had to be the guy who invented the web, to put a picture online, since it was just about exactly twenty years ago that Berners-Lee uploaded the first photo to what there was of the "web" at the time.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Mr. Slippery (47854)

            If, by "online", you mean "the web"...

            "Online" sharing of information, including pictures, existed before the web / HTTP. People put stuff up on anonymous FTP sites.

            • If, by "online", you mean "the web"...

              "Online" sharing of information, including pictures, existed before the web / HTTP. People put stuff up on anonymous FTP sites.

              Only academics did that, everybody else shared their pictures on BBSs.

              • by EdIII (1114411)

                Thanks for making me feel as old as fuck this morning :)

                Back in my day, online meant you accessed it through a modem on a BBS. If you were really advanced you were using a protocol that allowed you to start to display the picture while it was downloading.

                With a slow modem, or a BBS in another country, this meant you could literally fap fap fap to a picture and try to hold it till you got to the pussy. Or if you were Japanese and into some sort of weird fetish, the feet.

                No thumbnails. Every picture was a

      • The media-hype name for it is "the post-PC era", but the point is that most people, most of the time, don't need a general-purpose computer sitting on their desk. They're happy with an updated version of the TV, a mostly one-way consumption device that restricts their activities to what's safe and easy.

        We may look upon the last twenty years as an aberration, a time when the technology advanced to the point of being useful to a mass audience, but hadn't yet been pared back to only what was useful to them. Af

    • Re:One question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Cid Highwind (9258) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:46AM (#41248859) Homepage

      Everyone (technical or non) has one question: "Are my friends on Diaspora?"

      followed by "...then what's the point?"

      • So the geeks would be the early adopters, and everyone else would probably wait until Facebook inevitably turned the thumbscrews on the users enough for them to become dissatisfied.

        • So the geeks would be the early adopters, and everyone else would probably wait until Facebook inevitably turned the thumbscrews on the users enough for them to become dissatisfied.

          And which point, "everybody else" would probably move to the #2 centralized social networking system, and the geeks would still be the only ones using the decentralized system.

          Unless, of course, what looked to casual users like the #2 centralized system also used (as its core infrastructure, not just incidentally and with limited

          • You could imagine a rival company such as Google, creating such as system to ruin Facebook.

            Almost everyone would use Google's 'node' but as long as anyone who wished could host their own 'node' or whatever then I'd be pretty happy.
        • by Seumas (6865)

          The geeks would be the early adopters and everyone else wouldn't care, because a bunch of us geeks is hardly the social network they're looking to associate with.

        • by Americano (920576)

          wait until Facebook inevitably turned the thumbscrews on the users enough for them to become dissatisfied.

          At which point they'll move to G+. Or Orkut. Or back to Myspace. Or to some new centralized service.

          The BEST you can hope for is that the "next great social network" will be a pay service, where "you own what you post, we don't mine data, and we don't sell your data to other companies." (See: app.net's recent attempt to take on Twitter using this very model. They managed to get ~10k supporters to

      • by Dan667 (564390)
        because facebook has been around for 100 years and nothing like myspace existed before them?
        • by gl4ss (559668)

          none of my friends were ever on myspace.

          well, maybe with some fake aliases.. but not with their real names anyhow.

      • Dude:

        Everyone (technical or non) has one question: "Are my friends on Diaspora?"

        Me:
        "No. Diaspora is like Facebook, but for the kids that weren't popular in High School."

        Dude:
        "Oh, its ona these geek thingies [sic]" followed by:

        "...then what's the point?"

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      geeks are 1% of Facebook audience

      If your definition of "geeks" means "people with significant technical knowledge about computers", then I doubt it's anywhere near 1%. Geeks are generally smart enough to stay away from it.

      • Geeks are generally smart enough to stay away from it.

        It's nothing to do with being smart or not, it's about whether you care about your so called "privacy". A lot of geeks seem to be paranoid, and it's those ones that stay away from FB, not the "smart" ones. I don't give a shit about targetted ads. Especially since I have them blocked anyway.

    • I do see a lot of common non-geeks complaining about Facebook-- about the privacy issues, the ads, seemingly arbitrary changes to the UI/UX. It's not as though non-geeks are all completely stupid and unconcerned about anything.

      Plus, insofar as people don't care, that doesn't mean that an alternative couldn't be successful. People who don't care go wherever everyone else goes, because they *don't care*. If all the geeks and concerned non-geeks decide there needs to be a change, there will be a change. R

      • by Talderas (1212466)

        Are you sure about that? Or is it that you put yourself in places and converse with people who, while non-geeks, are above average in intelligence thus skewing your world view?

        • Well I do try to avoid associating with complete morons, for whatever that means. Still, my point is that there are non-geeks who care.

    • by Seumas (6865)

      And the rest of us are saying "the last thing I want to do is be the guy responsible for maintaining and administering the social network platform for all of my family and friends".

    • by Radres (776901)

      Why does everything have to be about the bottom line with you people? Diaspora is a cool idea for a project. The service itself may or may not take the world by storm, but a P2P web hosting service is a novelty that I'm sure someone, somewhere, sometime is going to turn into a profitable idea and make you look like the fool that you are.

    • by rasmusbr (2186518)

      It's not Joe Sixpack who decides which social networks succeed and which fail. It's more like Jane Freshman OMG-where-do-the-cool-people-hang-out? who decides, and she's an unpredictable and fickle character, at least seen from the perspective of your average developer or entrepreneur. One thing we can be sure of is that she views the Facebook blue design with the same mix of familiarity and contempt that she views a McDonald's plastic tray. Creating an attractive, fresh, daring yet easy to use user interfa

    • ... why should I care? ...

      Well it could make the privacy situation even worse. There is no reason to believe that a node will not try to mine and monetize your data just like facebook, or try to censor some type of information they are hosting (due to local laws not a personal bias?), ... As a person objects to one node's policy and moves to another they are increasing the number of 3rd parties that have their private info.

      Basically there is no free lunch. There is a potential downside to hopping from one node to another.

    • Joe Sixpack has one question: WTF you are talking about, who is centralized, and why should I care? Seriously, geeks are 1% of Facebook audience, 99% couldn't care less about "decentralization".

      Hey, Joe - hot chicks want to meet you now! Click here to join.

  • just how many users are there on Diaspora?
    • I've heard there are more Diaspora users than Ron Paul voters.

      • I've heard there are more Diaspora users than Ron Paul voters.

        The last time I heard this joke, it was relating the number of SARS victims to the number of people unhappy with "The Party". And it was in Mandarin.

  • Bennett is a tard (Score:5, Informative)

    by Desler (1608317) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:42AM (#41248795)

    Hey Bennet your link is about it Diaspora becoming a community project not about opening the source code. Since, you know, it's was already open source and on Github.

  • All very fluffy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:43AM (#41248825)

    But this approach also has disadvantages which are not explored. The exposition above seems to assume that Facebook act randomly in removing photos and in removing features, but that's clearly not the case. There is a reason they remove certain photos and a reason they remove features (e.g. if they are abused). This system would bring all the abuse back, unless designed with those abuses in mind - but all I see here are advantages, no disadvantages or even cautionary notes. Maybe people don't want a Facebook alternative where they are spammed left right and center, and on which people host porn, for instance.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Maybe people don't want a Facebook alternative where they are spammed left right and center

      If you're going to be spammed left right and center, you might as well use the real Facebook.

    • That's not even the main disadvantage actually.

      The main disadvantage is the old "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link". Let's say Diaspora becomes at least as popular as OpenID. As you know, OpenID's problem is a lack of identity consumers, not identity providers, in fact many large business including Google offer OpenID services. Therefore it's only natural that Facebook will offer Diaspora servies, in fact it's incredibly easy for them to simply provide a Diasspora API their existing profiles, me

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:47AM (#41248885) Homepage Journal

    yo, '95 called and wants it nerd social networking back(and irc).

    isn't this the second article about diaspora becoming _UNMAINTAINED_?

  • The idea of a central company having complete control of my information and social network is just absurdly bad, to me. I don't care what privacy protections they give assurances of, that information alone is so powerful in the hands of those who would seek power, it is literally irresistable. It is a testament to how little people give thought to their everyday actions that so many people use Facebook.

    Replace "facebook" with "a 3-letter federal agency" performing the same task, and the outrage would be u

    • by Virtucon (127420)

      That's my point with all of this. It started with MySpace, no Facebook and there will be others. Remember that old model of "who pays for all this content?"
      well it's the information gleaned from all that nice personal data that people gladly hand over. In 10 years there will be two possible outcomes. 1) People will suddenly wake up and say that their privacy matters or 2) Facebook will be able to tell you and everybody else what you had for Breakfast, when you last fucked your wife and how much money is

    • I just don't understand it.

      facebook has different motivations than the FBI. facebook wants to make money- that is all. to make money, the need as large of a user base as possible. sharing data w/ the FBI would almost certainly reduce their user base.

      • by BMOC (2478408)
        Exactly how would the general public find out if they ever shared information with the government? Facebook has no incentive to tell you, and the government certainly doesn't. Facebook isn't even subject to FOIA requests, whereas the government (outside of classified operations) is. The government, however, has many legal ways of extracting that information while keeping their request from the public.
  • by 0racle (667029) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:53AM (#41248975)
    You already can run your own web server free of any corporate oversight. Guess how many people do.

    You can already run your own mail server free of any corporate monitoring. Guess how many people do.

    Diaspora failed because they thought people cared about these things. Guess how many people do.

    People use Facebook/G+/Twitter and whatnot because:
    1. Everyone else is.
    2. They don't have to run it.
    • You already can run your own web server free of any corporate oversight. Guess how many people do.

      So? The web is still decentralized, and is one of the most popular and successful decentralized software systems ever developed. We don't need the average Joe running his own web server, we just need enough so that no single organization actually controls the system. The fact that the operator of a web server might have oversight over the sites on that specific server is not nearly as relevant as the fact that they do not have any oversight when it comes to the sites that link to that server's sites.

      You can already run your own mail server free of any corporate monitoring. Guess how many people do.

    • by Damek (515688)

      Yeah - the answer isn't decentralization, it's interoperability... which yields a sort of decentralization.

      Someone pointed out when ISPs offered email, but now (almost) everyone uses GMail, Yahoo, or Hotmail. But those three biggies all interoperate because email is a standard system.

      It'd be nice if basic elements of social networking could somehow have standards, such that content I share on G+ was visible to G+ friends with Facebook accounts on their Facebook page, and vice versa ... but I suspect there's

    • People don't give a fuck about whether they run a background service or not. What they care about is whether it can be started with one click or not. If not, they don't use it. You're right about the everyone else part, though.

  • 1. No farmville
    Congratulations, you lost 99% of potential users.
    2. No mention of abuse
    Sometimes pictures and profiles are removed for good reasons. Without that oversight the decentralized network would be much like the hidden web - overrun by places like silk road and so on. Not to mention all the photos posted without someone's permission. Not that I care much about copyrights, but what about someone posting nude pics of their ex, to shame them? No safeguards.
    3. Too complicated.
    Congratulat

  • by bhcompy (1877290) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:53AM (#41248987)
    We've had these forever. It's called a BBS. Current implementations include PHPBB and VBulletin
  • by Lordfly (590616) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:53AM (#41248991) Homepage Journal

    ...but if I sign up for Alice's network, and ten of my friends are on Bob's network, and another 35 are on Charlie's network... what do we gain by belonging to 3 separate networks?

    If the content is all federated (Alice's network pulls contact info from Bob's network, etc), it acts the exact same as Facebook does for the end user.

    This to me sounds like an arbitrary barrier to social networking. My friends don't fit easily into social network "buckets", and nearly none of my friends have time to sort and connect to various federated sources of information. They have 15 seconds to check one spot - facebook - for notifications, messages, and status updates. The really hip ones use Twitter.

    So really: Sell myself and my friends on this in one sentence. "It's not facebook" is not that sentence - if Google can't make that work, neither will geeks trying to precisely bucket social communication like we were robots instead of messy, finicky humans.

    • by Loughla (2531696)

      And it also seems to me that decentralization is also an interesting way to remove one layer of anonymity (in the individual sense - not anonymity in the I want to hide from massive corporations standpoint - because in my opinion, if I wanted to hide from corporations or the gov't, I wouldn't use social networking in the first place) from the situation. Should you know my real name, you would play hell finding me on facebook. There are around 800 of me. Decentralize that, and I become much more easily trace

    • by kwalker (1383)

      That's not how the idea of distributed social networking works. At least not distributed FEDERATED networking. I haven't seen anyone saying "Join my social network, it's better because it's mine." I see people saying "join this social network because it is YOURS and it can work with other networks" (through connectors or the native protocol.

      You sign up for Alice's network, you friend the ten people on Bob's network, and the 35 on Charlie's network, then when you hit your feed page (On your node) you see all

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:55AM (#41249013) Homepage Journal

    the end of horror stories about accounts and company pages being shut down arbitrarily by Facebook

    And the beginning of horror stories about fake accounts, porn pics getting scattered about willy-nilly, and countless "what if the password reset gets hijacked?" claims, problems, attempted (bad) solutions, etc. Yes, the decentralized model is clearly the way to go.

    Fat chance. What is needed is a "new" centralized Facebook, but by a company that doesn't have to justify a $100B valuation (perhaps built purely on open source code) with the only stated goal of being "good to users". If Google+ can't gain critical mass (although it might, eventually) then I doubt any other such concoction has a chance. You are more likely to see Facebook "utilitied" by the government after being convicted of having a de facto monopoly. Maybe then, some of those things that Facebook seems to do wrong can get changed for the better (with a heaping helping of things changing for the worse).

  • Sounds familiar (Score:4, Insightful)

    by History's Coming To (1059484) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @11:56AM (#41249031) Journal
    You're describing a system that runs on any host, can be transferred easily, and is fully customisable by the user to show whatever text and pictures they want. Frankly, I struggle to see the difference between what you're talking about and "a website". OK, you've got connections to other users, but this isn't anything that can't be handled by an inbuilt XML feed in an agreed format. Define a common socialXML format for all websites with some fairly simple authorisation system (Oauth style) and you've got everything you need to make any website you can think of "social". If we're decentralising why lock everybody into the very small feature set of Facebook or whoever?
    • It'll be like Web 2.0 but with open standards for ultra-mega-social networking so everyone can make their own customized part of the web but only share it with their friends or have content that changes based on who their friends are/are not. Instead of "Web 3.0" we can call it something like "MySpace 2.0" complete with flashing text and automatically playing videos and music!
  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @12:06PM (#41249179)

    . My guess is that if it took off, it would have to be started as a side project by an established company that gave it name recognition, and which could possibly provide free hosting for the first wave of users. Google+ never gave most people a compelling reason to switch, but imagine if it had been released not as a website but as an open protocol, complete with an open-source implementation that could be installed anywhere.

    Google actually introduced a number of open protocols to support social networking and federation of independent networks (some alone, some in coordination with other players), including reference implementations of many of them, long before introducing Google+ (Additionally, Google's gotten behind open protocols that were introduced by others.) Examples of protocols Google developed (alone or with others) specifically for or with application in the social space include OpenSocial and PubSubHubbub among others. Third-party open specifications in the space that they have promoted and leveraged in the past (some still currently) include OAuth, FOAF, and others.

    So you don't need to imagine what would happen if Google produced and released open protocols instead of Google+, since they did that before Google+. What actually happened was...well, not quite nothing, but hardly an eruption of decentralized social networking systems displacing centralized systems.

  • It's funny how Bennett thinks that the release of diaspora as open source would be a step forward towards the success of that platform. The sad reason behind that release is that the money is out and the developers don't see a way that diaspora would give them any income, so they couldn't continue working full time on that project and had to move on.

    Of course, they're not gonna say it's dead but "release it as open source" (after all, some other guys could continue the work, right?) but there's not gonna
  • Facebook is a monstrous data bucket that is never full and is never emptied. We've already seen job applicants being asked for their facebook logon info so that potential employers could see what was stored on facebook. People want a way to communicate informally with friends and family without those personal communications being stored, tracked, and logged for 50 years and then distributed to irrelevant future data leaches. The Diaspora distributed approach is the direction that this needs to go.

  • by rickb928 (945187) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @12:17PM (#41249323) Homepage Journal

    Decentralizing lets us run our own 'servers', linking these together into a whole constellation of users. Right?

    - Is it safe to assume that some servers will not be configured the same as others? If so, then will I see 'friends' out 'there' with different bits of data available to me? Inconsistency is the hobgoblin of restaurants and web services. This is not good. It sure isn't an improvement. If I want more granularity, I will also suffer from others granularizing themselves into irrelevance. Then I get sleepy.

    - Am I expected to trust other adminstrators? Sure. Now I get to decide which of thousands (millions?) of admins I am willing to trust. And this is an improvement how?

    - Disapora protects my data from other admins snarfing it and giving it to whoever, right?

    - You think it's a good idea to host these servers all over the Web? My ISP has a very different view of this, even if it is for a dozen family members who register a few dozen hits a day. Somehow, I betcha we end up with Disapora hosts that consolidate these servers into hosting sites. For a fee. How much do you think it's worth to me to offer my friends and family this social network? Discount that for the abuse I will take when I refuse to delete some unflattering post. Not really very attractive to me yet.

    - These hosting aggregators would probably offer free sevice if I let them mine my data, you know. Back to the future. Mission accomplished.

    I just don't get it.

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      - Am I expected to trust other adminstrators? Sure. Now I get to decide which of thousands (millions?) of admins I am willing to trust. And this is an improvement how?

      No, you're supposed to trust specific service providers. Just like email. Most people would be somewhat wary of an email coming from an @lrciudhbk.net address, unless you happened to know who owns that domain.

      Somehow, I betcha we end up with Disapora hosts that consolidate these servers into hosting sites.

      That's exactly the point. It will be more like email. The benefit is that if you don't like Google scanning your email messages for targeted ads, you can switch to another provider without needing to opt out of the entire network. You can even host your own email server if you want -- just like you can

  • The part you lost me at was here-

    "
    "There's no particular reason why any one of those functions could only be carried out on a centralized system. I can envision a distributed protocol with many different servers, or 'nodes,' run by different hosting companies, and each 'node' can be used to store many accounts
    "

    *I* can envision a distributed protocol with many different servers, or 'nodes', run by *the users themselves*, and each 'node' can be used to store many accounts...

    Note that I've recently filed an FC

  • by tonywestonuk (261622) on Thursday September 06, 2012 @12:21PM (#41249381)

    I made a game, hosted on facebook that earns me a fair income from people spending facebook credits with it. ..... Facebook handle everything to do with credits, etc.... purchasing them, giving refunds, etc.

    How can I make money, if Diaspora took over. Would people become too frightened to spend if there isn't a benevolent dictator to step in should they feel they've been duped?... If I cant make money, then I wont make stuff. No stuff, means a boring Social network

    • by erice (13380)

      I made a game, hosted on facebook that earns me a fair income from people spending facebook credits with it. ..... Facebook handle everything to do with credits, etc.... purchasing them, giving refunds, etc.

      How can I make money, if Diaspora took over. Would people become too frightened to spend if there isn't a benevolent dictator to step in should they feel they've been duped?... If I cant make money, then I wont make stuff. No stuff, means a boring Social network

      No. It means a social network with less potential for people who want to make money there and fewer annoyances for the users.

      People don't join Facebook to play your games. They join Facebook to connect with their friends. They play your games (those that do) because they are already on Facebook.

      For those that don't play games, the games that their friends play are an annoyance as they bombard them with useless requests and "information" they don't care about. (Honestly, even a description of a friend's

      • by Urza9814 (883915)

        This.

        Of course, there's no reason you couldn't have an apps system on top of a distributed social network. Maybe the nodes would handle the app deployment process, and the apps would just be available to everyone from that node. Or maybe you can have special app servers (which, frankly, the first model would probably evolve into rather quickly anyway) that the network can connect to and allow users to access these apps. After all, there's no reason you couldn't do the same with Facebook -- you can already c

  • First you have to convince my family to switch to it, because the only reason I'm on Facebook is because that's how my family members (non-geeks) communicate these days.

    But, before that, you'll have to convince everyone who is friends with anyone in my family to switch. And, you'll have to apply this recursively until you've switched everyone in the world.

    Oh, and you'll have to add stupid games, because that's why my family and their friends are on Facebook.

    But as soon as you do that, count me in!

  • Due to how diaspora was designed, you're still locked in onto a provider.
    Supose I have an account an serverA, and want to move to serverB. Sure, I can export my data, and import it into serverB, but there's no way to delete force serverA. to redirect my profile to serverB, or even delete it. My profile's URL is still valid, so people might not know/be sure I moved.

    The obvious fix for this is to use my own domain on some free provider (maybe delegating the same way one would delegate e-mail). However, thi

    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      In other words, it works exactly like email.

      People change email addresses. It happens. It's not easy, but arguably that could be a feature. Might not be great if people are switching nodes every week. But it would be nice to be able to switch nodes if I discover a flaw with the node I am currently on. This also makes some forms of abuse more difficult -- if you're doing some seriously shady stuff, it's a lot harder to just keep jumping from one node to the next. The example someone gave was a guy posting nu

  • NNTP + HTML + a web browser + a few search tools. How hard is this, really?
  • He mentions in TFA that your comments are stored on the server you are posting to. If that is the case then how can I control who sees what I write on someone elses profile? Can I still edit/delete my own comments?
  • ...because "it's what everyone is doing", with no need to gather information and/or make choices. No system that depends on rational behavior and requires thought will ever be popular with more than a minority. That's no reason not to do it, though. Just don't expect to displace FaceBook.

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