BBC BLOGS - dot.Maggie
« Previous | Main | Next »

The anti-Facebook

Maggie Shiels | 09:40 UK time, Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Can the supremacy of Facebook, as the world's biggest social network rapidly heading towards 500 million users, ever be truly challenged at this stage?

Last month at F8, its developer conference, the company made a bid to put itself right at the centre of everyone's web experience by exploiting the social graph - that is all your friends, family and colleagues that you connect with through Facebook.

Over the years however it has made a number of stumbles regarding privacy and has landed in hot water with various privacy commissioners.

It is those blips in an otherwise meteoric rise that could be regarded as its Achilles heel.

At least that is the view of one mathematician and three computer science students from NYU who are launching what has been dubbed an anti-Facebook project.

Maxwell Salzberg, Daniel Grippi, Raphael Sofaer and Ilya Zhitomirskiy

Maxwell Salzberg, Daniel Grippi, Raphael Sofaer and Ilya Zhitomirskiy are the brains behind Diaspora which they describe as "the privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all distributed open source social network".

Diaspora flyerIn essence they want to restore the control of a users' online identity back to them.

They were spurred into action after attending a talk on internet privacy by Eben Moglen, Columbia law professor and author of the latest GPL.

Diaspora's website quotes the professor as saying, "as more and more of our lives and identities become digitized...the convenience of putting all of our information in the hands of companies on 'the cloud' is training us to casually sacrifice our privacy and fragment our online identities".

"As long as your data is being held by someone else, not only can you not control what they are doing with it right now but you can't control it in years to come," said Raphael Sofaer.

Colleague Max Salzberg said they don't necessarily have Facebook in its crosshairs and are motivated by doing something for the greater good.

"This is not just about Facebook. Facebook is not what we are going after. We are going after the idea there are all these centralised services where people are giving up their personal information. We want to put users back in control of what they share.
 
"Diapsora is an anti-network. We are not planning on having big servers that store everyone's information. They will all be individually owned and operated so people can really say they have full control over their information."

Fellow student Ilya Zhitomirskiy weighed in.

"We want to encourage people to share, giving them a platform that where being public is not the default position and people opt in not opt out."

So how will it work? Well the boys still have to build it and to that end have launched a fund raising campaign to get $10,000 together so they can all code over the summer.

Those efforts have exceeded expectations and to date 798 people have contributed $24,950 and counting through Kickstarter.

Having all these people put down real money to invest in their idea is said Max "extraordinary".

"It says that honestly over 700 people have given us money for something that is just an idea, something we can make, we are confident we can and at the end of the three months we are proposing a solid developer release.
 
"We don't have any illusions that we are going to destroy Facebook in three months. We are going to create this engine or this platform and let other developers add to it. This is proof that people are scared and they don't have anywhere else to go."

Diaspora comes along at a very interesting point in this space given that there is something of a backlash going on as people explore how to delete their Facebook profile.

Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick reports that, "Google Suggest, the drop-down box that offers suggested search query completions based on absolute and recent upticks of popularity, now guesses that if you start typing 'How do I...' that you'd like to know how to quit Facebook".

And Alison Diana at InformationWeek.com reported that "the phrase "how to quit Facebook" generated 16.9 million results in a Google search Tuesday morning, while "how do I delete my Facebook account?" resulted in 15.9 million links".

Comments

  • 1. At 11:28am on 12 May 2010, wasswa wrote:

    interesting read thanks for the news... its always good to have an alternative :)

    Complain about this comment

  • 2. At 11:59am on 12 May 2010, oletimer wrote:

    WHERE DO I SEND MY DONATION?

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 3:03pm on 12 May 2010, mc wrote:

    oletimer, click on Kickstarter in the text, or try http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-personally-controlled-do-it-all-distr

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 4:23pm on 12 May 2010, facebook defector wrote:

    One of the links is broken. Eben Moglen is also the Chairman of a non-profit lawfirm for open source software programmers. Here's link: http://www.softwarefreedom.org/about/team/

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 8:48pm on 12 May 2010, hoodedvillain wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 06:28am on 13 May 2010, antdreams wrote:

    An alternative already exists - if anyone is interested in security I would like to share www.pidder.com

    I've been using it for a few months now and serves my purpose brilliantly. Have a good social network going and if you don't care about the bragging rights that Facebook gives in terms of 'friends' then give it a go

    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 07:15am on 13 May 2010, antdreams wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 8. At 07:18am on 13 May 2010, antdreams wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 9. At 08:09am on 13 May 2010, eboni wrote:

    I beleive that Facebook's continued persistence to reduce the privacy has finally come to the crunch. It will take time for people to see there are true alternatives and use them wisely. I think it is up to the tech world to educate people so that this movement can happen sooner rather than later.

    Complain about this comment

  • 10. At 09:26am on 13 May 2010, Jamie wrote:

    I do hope that this takes off, I have been wanting to get rid of my facebook account (or facecrack as some call it due to it's addictiveness) for a while now. The problem is people my age (early 20's) seem to almost exclusively use it to contact friends, if you don't have it you end up missing out on events because no-one calls around to let people know any more.

    I really worry about the privacy situation with facebook, they have records of so many things about my life...It's really worrying....

    Complain about this comment

  • 11. At 11:46am on 13 May 2010, hackerjack wrote:

    Hmmm, so they want to set up another social networking site, how will they do this without centrally holding the info which is what they are claiming is bad about facebook?

    Complain about this comment

  • 12. At 3:19pm on 13 May 2010, Michael Chisari wrote:

    <RICHPOST> <BR />Hello,<BR /><BR />I've been working on a distributed, open source social networking project called Appleseed for a few years now. The code is publicly available for anyone to download, and it already works as a proof-of-concept for a distributed social network.<BR /><BR /><a href='[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] has a lot about it, essays I've written, and other information. I've recently restarted the project after a haitus, and I've been contacting other open source projects (like Diaspora, OneSocialWeb, etc) about coming up with a common protocol we can all use to communicate seamlessly.<BR /><BR />I also set up a Mozilla Drumbeat project for promotion here:<BR /><BR /><a href='[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]<BR />'>[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]</a><BR /><BR />A site for testing has been set up at:<BR /><BR />[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]<BR /><BR />although it is currently invite-only to limit the amount of users.<BR /><BR />Michael </RICHPOST>

    Complain about this comment

  • 13. At 4:00pm on 13 May 2010, Michael Chisari wrote:

    (reposted because the last comment got mangled)

    I've been working on a distributed, open source social networking project called Appleseed for a few years now. The code is publicly available for anyone to download, and it already works as a proof-of-concept for a distributed social network.

    http://appleseed.sourceforge.net has a lot about it, essays I've written, and other information. I've recently restarted the project after a haitus, and I've been contacting other open source projects (like Diaspora, OneSocialWeb, etc) about coming up with a common protocol we can all use to communicate seamlessly.

    I also set up a Mozilla Drumbeat project for promotion here:

    http://drumbeat.org/project/appleseed-social-networking

    A site for testing has been set up at:
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    although it is currently invite-only to limit the amount of users.

    Michael Chisari

    Complain about this comment

  • 14. At 6:09pm on 13 May 2010, hoodedvillain wrote:

    This is great, however, with a bit of research one can see that this was done in 2005 with another social site called theXdegree.

    Complain about this comment

  • 15. At 11:23pm on 13 May 2010, Benjamin Listwon wrote:

    Hi Maggie, all,

    I have no idea if it is a result of your article or, in general, but the diaspora folks have gone from $37K yesterday morning PST to over $110K by early this afternoon.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-personally-controlled-do-it-all-distr/posts

    It's great news, not only for their project but for the amount of support that exists out there for independent projects and powerful tools for users of the web.

    Complain about this comment

  • 16. At 01:35am on 14 May 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @hackerjack #11

    "Hmmm, so they want to set up another social networking site, how will they do this without centrally holding the info which is what they are claiming is bad about facebook?"

    From the limited blurb available, it appears that to "join" diaspora you need to set up your own website that is capable of running their server. So right away they're targeting 0.001% of current facebook users. Rather than the data being in one place, my server will be friends with your server and we'll transfer data (like your "wall", "messages", "status updates" and other ideas they'll take from facebook) direct to each other. I'm assuming that when you look at my wall, your read my wall data from my server to display, but not store and the data remains on my server. When I delete something from my wall it is gone forever as it only existed on my server.

    The problem with this method of sharing is searching. How do you search and find what and who is the network as a whole? When it is all in one place, like facebook, it is easy to search. When it is spread across thousands of nodes it is much harder to search. Also let's get back to the fact that almost no-one will have the resources to set up their own server for this, so people will have to "rent" a server/node from a third party that has massive farms of them all in one place. Do you see where I'm going with this? Yep...your data is now under the control of a third-party vendor who has it all in one place under their control to do with as they please (regardless of diaspora's policies, when you rent a server/node you can guarantee that the service provider's policy will be that your data is their data).

    Getting back to diaspora itself....let's be honest, the only thing they have in greater abundance than energy and enthusiasm is naivety. They're just school-kids with big ideas and no idea of the work involved in coming up with a polished project. Most professional development companies have scores of people working for months and months and months to get a finished product, never mind one as complicated as what these lads are proposing. I think when they stop dreaming and start coding they'll soon realise what they've taken on and they'll regret the very public guarantees of the very short timescales.

    Other issues brought up in these comments are that this is really nothing new. It's a natural part of the internet that one site gains success and a score of imitators want to come in and take the kudos after just copycatting the idea, and they almost always fail. There are two or three similar projects mentioned in these comments alone that have the same ideas and have been years in the making and haven't gotten off the ground. These guys think they'll have something in a few months? Hundreds, thousands of people have all had the exact same idea and couldn't bring it to fruition.

    You have to give them some credit, though, I was pleasantly surprised by the professional attitude of some of their strategies and approaches, something often lacking in many of these types of projects. Which brings me neatly to my next point...

    @Michael Chisari #13

    Good luck, you're going to need it :)

    Complain about this comment

  • 17. At 07:24am on 14 May 2010, antdreams wrote:

    @Aidy

    "There are two or three similar projects mentioned in these comments alone that have the same ideas and have been years in the making and haven't gotten off the ground."

    Well I mentioned http://pidder.com (and I have no commercial interest here I just respect their spirit and philosophy) and they have taken off but so far only in their native country which is Germany.

    If FB hadn't existed then there wouldn't have been a need for a project like pidder. So whilst not piggy-backing they have used the widely reported security flaws in FB to create an alternative.

    So to quote Bruce Schneier

    "We pay these “free” services with our data and the loss of control thereof. We are not the customers of Google or Facebook – we are their product"

    Complain about this comment

  • 18. At 5:46pm on 14 May 2010, Benjamin Listwon wrote:

    @Aidy

    "They're just school-kids with big ideas and no idea of the work involved in coming up with a polished project."

    If I recall correctly, Mark Z and his crew were these very same school kids with one very big idea ;-)

    Seriously though, you bring up some very good points, especially about the obstacles in the way of getting a service with a concept like Diaspora widely adopted. On the other hand though, if Diaspora or similar projects get the ball rolling, it could be that very same 1/100th of a percent of users that also work here in the valley that come up with ways to distribute the data (maybe secure P2P, or bartered space like Wuala) and run the server nodes such that the other 99.99 percent of folks don't have to.

    While this type of effort does usually take years and massive teams of engineers (I've been doing it as well for a while now), the momentum usually starts with a few upstart folks recognizing a need and starting the ball rolling.

    Complain about this comment

  • 19. At 12:34pm on 15 May 2010, Aidy wrote:

    @ Benjamin Listwon #18

    For sure. I'm just saying that I've been around a while and I've seen many new-comer try and unseat an established service and I don't recall seeing any of them do it. These guys are only doing what lots of people are doing, they don't have anything special in terms of their ideas...they have just caught the public's imagination more than their many rivals.

    I'm not saying they're going to fail, or going to succeed....I'm saying let's just wait and see before proclaiming them the saviours of our data. People like these lads get so tied up in the geekiness of things that they forget just why facebook is successful and just why people use it; it works. It works very well. It is clean and simple to use. Even your gran is on facebook...you gran who you have to show how to use the DVD player. Can you see your gran installing and setting up their own server just to they can see the latest pictures of their grandchildren?

    They also have ideas about making it an aggregator service which again is something that everyone and their dog is doing. They've admitted they're using "scraping" which never works. It's not stable. Can you imagine half of facebook failing to work because some company totally unconnected to facebook have decided to tidy up the html on their site? Or bring in some new features? Or change their url strategy? Relying on scraping the way they do also makes it easy for third-party services to simply deny access to their pages from diaspora's nodes.

    So yeah...let's just "wait and see".

    Complain about this comment

  • 20. At 4:46pm on 17 May 2010, Gates wrote:

    I do think that perhaps [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]facebook has become too powerful and its privacy settings constantly changing has given its users very little chance of really understanding just who can see what data. But I can't see it being toppled by this or any new idea, just because facebook is so easy to use. It's quite probably the best communication tool ever invented and certainly the fastest growing.

    Complain about this comment

  • 21. At 6:47pm on 18 May 2010, Manu wrote:

    It's a good idea. Now, they are already more than 170 000 dollars. I think that will be a good think for we.

    Complain about this comment

  • 22. At 10:22pm on 18 May 2010, Manu wrote:

    I just found the exact amount (18/05/2010 at 23 hours). They have 180.144 dollars from 5018 personnes.

    Complain about this comment

  • 23. At 2:53pm on 19 May 2010, mary wrote:

    Something to remember with this is what Mark Earls talks about in 'Herd'.
    Facebook has lost the involvement of a big percentage of their users....it's not about 'privacy' now, it's about who 'owns' all the information.
    If facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had any sense he'd be listening to his 'users' and involving them in more decisions...which might not be happening enough.
    As Benjamin says, running an enormous site of whatever size takes planning and contribution...and as Mark Earls says; "belief" in the product.
    We haven't heard enough from Mark Z about his passions, too much about how he's going-to-take-over-the-world.....sigh....SO many people have tried this before with whatever method....and failed.
    Good luck to the Diaspora crew but (to my mind) they seem rather too young and 'fresh' and sooner or later their lovely ideas will be put to the test by marketeers, advertisers...and all the other hangers-on that come in 'big business'.
    I agree, wait and see,
    In peace
    Mary

    Complain about this comment

  • 24. At 9:10pm on 01 Jun 2010, lautoquebec wrote:

    They should give option to delete account for real if someone is not interested anymore in their service. Its not very fair. On my side, i use facebook to promote my business with some advertising that convert pretty well so i will use it as long as its profitable.

    Olivier
    Admin
    lautoquebec

    Complain about this comment

  • 25. At 12:13pm on 03 Jul 2010, Robertas wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 26. At 12:08pm on 04 Jul 2010, Mick_d1 wrote:

    Good luck to the guys but I think the competition and future is already here - video mail messaging, check out heyzaak.com

    Complain about this comment

  • 27. At 04:12am on 22 Aug 2010, ErkDemon wrote:

    @Aidy #16:

    Sure, if we sign up with a Diaspora hosting company, that company will have all our data on their servers, just as if we'd signed up with Facebook or Myspace or Yahoo.

    But there'll be three differences:

    (1) We won't have to sign an agreement saying that the data is theirs, not ours. They'll be hosting the data for us, it won't be their property.

    (2) Outside experts will be able to check the source code and check it over for nasties. Who knows what the Facebook software does, or if it complies with Facebook's privacy undertakings? With Diaspora, people will be able to check.

    (3) If we decide that we don't like the way that our Diaspora hosting company does business, we'll be able to download our entire site, sign up with someone else, enter our Diaspora ID, upload our archive to the new site and delete the old one, and //hopefully//, it'll reconnect to all our friends and nobody'll know or care that we just changed hosting companies. Anything done on the new system should be portable, we should be able to run the same visitor "wall" on anybody's system that supports the Diaspora software. No consumer lock-in.

    So initially, yes, Diaspora will function as a glorified aggregation service ... but if it's good, it'll offer users a migration route to a new, portable, open platform while maintaining back-compatibility to all the legacy data that users have accumulated on other sites. It might also be interesting to companies and organisations who want to use a social-media-type service internally, but don't want that potentially sensitive data being owned by an outside company and sitting on someone else's servers.

    If the software turns out to be great (if), then finding companies to offer hosting services shouldn't be a problem.

    Complain about this comment

  • 28. At 9:54pm on 07 Dec 2010, cmwoodward wrote:

    An open source community driven project cannot possibly compete with the existing network monopoly that is Facebook in order to develop the scale and power of software and architecture needed. Never mind security. Equally users have absolutely no reason to switch to another corporate overlord when Facebook does a great job of providing a free service.

    The only alternative that stands a chance is one run as a business, employing the best full time staff, investing in the same advertising, business partnerships and hardware as Facebook, but with any profits going to charities chosen by the users so they are motivated to spread the word. This means users privacy can be balanced with money raised for charity and users have an incentive to open up more if they choose to.

    Initial investors (Dragons Den?) could be promised a capped, say 300% ROI and a place on the board of trustees that are trusted to maximise profits for charity, not shareholders, while listening to the users. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would do some pro-bono work to help from developers to lawyers to ego driven businessmen to celebrities.

    If Lady Gaga and co can go without social networking for a day in the name of one charity I'm sure they could be brought on board if they stand to help charities long term.

    This is one internet business where people hold the ultimate power. Somebody just needs to get it going. I've not got the time and skills to do it but I'd happily join and promote it if someone gets it going.

    Diaspora might even make a good starting point but it will need a heck of a lot more people behind it who have good business sense but aren't just in it for themselves.

    Complain about this comment

  • 29. At 4:23pm on 27 Jan 2011, Meegan wrote:

    Facebook has changed the psychology of our youth: familial values are no longer prioritized, capitalist and consumerist ‘community’ and social net-working agendas are pushed in favour of traditional means of communication i.e. a phone call or a simple friend-to-friend conversation.

    When I mention this consumerist ‘community’—what I mean is, in theory, the negation of a ‘real’ social net-work by means of the ploys Facebook instills to divert the attention of its users.

    Instead of formulating the bonds of healthy personal relationships, repeat consumers of the Facebook virtual reality fulfill their quick fixes of Farmville, targeted advertising merchandise and time-consuming and wasteful (idiotic in my view) games.

    Attention of social net-works should be focused on friend-to-friend, (here comes the clincher)…private relationships.

    Conversely, Facebook focuses on private interests and not the interest of the user. Just as an example, after having my laptop stolen I needed to re-download photographs off of my social net-working site (Facebook) where I assumed (bad idea) my information was mine.

    On the contrary, none of my photographs were capable of being downloaded in a user-friendly fashion off the site to my PC.

    And the continual influx of ‘pokes’ and the newest addition of Mermaid World (I think this is what it is called, who knows) invites has added to my general antipathy of this social-networking site.

    The cons now significantly outweigh the pros—goodbye Facebook.

    Complain about this comment

  • 30. At 07:42am on 02 Feb 2011, U14772816 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 31. At 7:10pm on 16 Feb 2011, U14788248 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 33. At 07:17am on 21 Feb 2011, ssluigi wrote:

    I love that there is an anti facebook group working to create an upgraded version available to everyone with better attention put towards important issues. I think people could quit facebook. I know many people already who have used facebook and don't anymore. Others who have never used it and haven't given in after having their friends tell them they should for years. Facebook is a useful tool but unfortunately it has become a passtime and lifestyle orienting. I could see Facebook being overtaken by something else however it would be difficult to tell if this will be it.

    Complain about this comment

  • 34. At 06:55am on 01 Mar 2011, dyymarie wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 35. At 07:50am on 03 Mar 2011, kenkaniff6 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 36. At 10:32am on 09 Mar 2011, U14808630 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 37. At 06:28am on 29 Mar 2011, Gin Taylor wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 38. At 8:11pm on 03 Apr 2011, die rosie wrote:

    It seems everything I do is based on facebook. Pictures,
    friends, relationships, gossip[[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]] it all ties to the up and almost spend my time. But I feel worried. My life just to access facebook and I decided to delete my account and left.

    Complain about this comment

  • 39. At 6:04pm on 04 Apr 2011, die rosie wrote:

    Facebook is a virus that is rampant throughout the world.
    Bad habits that become crazy fanatic user behavior

    Complain about this comment

  • 40. At 6:32pm on 06 Apr 2011, Maxi wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 41. At 7:20pm on 10 Apr 2011, die rosie wrote:

    I beleive that Facebook's
    continued persistence to
    reduce the privacy has finally
    come to the crunch. It will
    take time for people to see
    there are true alternatives
    and use them wisely. I think
    it is up to the tech world to
    educate people so that this
    movement can happen
    sooner rather than later.

    Complain about this comment

  • 43. At 2:18pm on 20 Apr 2011, Finches wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 44. At 5:01pm on 24 Apr 2011, die rosie wrote:

    On my side, i
    use facebook to promote my
    business with some
    advertising that convert
    pretty well so i will use it as
    long as its profitable.

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.