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Could Diaspora be a Facebook killer?

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 19th May 2010

Sometimes you just get the feeling that the whole world is conspiring against you. The last few weeks must have felt like this for the world’s largest social network, Facebook.

First there was the IM exchange that Founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote back when the network was still in its infancy at Harvard, when he described users as ‘dumb f***s’. Then, there has been the growing outcry surrounding privacy issues that has culminated in an organised Quit Facebook Day on 31st May.

But, whilst Facebook is struggling against a backlash of negativity (don’t feel too sorry for the behemoth, user figures are fast approaching 500m), another upstart is using the unfortunate publicity to generate some pretty phenomenal coverage.

An article in the New York Times last week has introduced the world to Diaspora – a new type of social network (yet to be built) that plans to circumvent the problems that are currently plaguing Facebook by allowing users to host their own content:

“A few months back, four geeky college students, living on pizza in a computer lab downtown on Mercer Street, decided to build a social network that wouldn’t force people to surrender their privacy to a big business. It would take three or four months to write the code, and they would need a few thousand dollars each to live on. They gave themselves 39 days to raise $10,000, using an online site, Kickstarter, that helps creative people find support.”

Fastforward to today and the start-up has raised $173,000 and has radically revamped its ambitious plans, setting its sights on the big boys of the social networking world.

The plan – a relatively simple one – is to create a lightweight decentralized social networking framework, that allows individual users to host and own their personal data, whilst still being part of a structured social network.

Will it work? It’s certainly a big challenge. Yes, Facebook is licking its wounds at the moment, but it has such a big footprint that challengers are always fighting a losing battle. And whilst the privacy issue is making waves in the tech world, to your average user, the problems will be less obvious.

For another social network to really challenge the big boys, it will really need to offer something ‘different’ – I’m not sure privacy alone will be enough to encourage users to switch.

But for Diaspora, it is a great example of how newsjacking on an issue – even it if is a competitor’s misfortune – can bring great rewards…

Danny Whatmough