No, I am not interested in joining your proprietary social network

I don’t care whether it’s ello or sgrouples or FriendFace or or whatever, I am not joining another walled-in social network owned by a single organization. I already have enough of those.

I don’t care if it has a strong privacy policy, I don’t care if it has good security, I don’t care if it has no advertising, I don’t care if it will let you remain pseudonymous, I don’t care if the people who own it are really cool. All of those things are worthless if the site is controlled by a single organization, because they can all be changed on a whim.

Remember, Facebook used to be ad-free, somewhat closed, had no data mining, and didn’t force you to sign up with your real name. Then they decided they had to make money, and their only resource was a captive user base.

Twitter used to be ad-free with no data mining, and it used to be open so anyone could write clients for it. Then they decided they had to make money, and that meant making sure clients showed ads properly, and that meant locking out your favorite Twitter client and showing you posts that nobody had retweeted.

Go back even further into the past, and LiveJournal used to be run by a small team of people who were directly engaged with their user base. Then they sold out to a company who didn’t care, who sold out to a Russian company who were in it for the money.

Make no mistake, this cycle will repeat itself with ello and all the other closed-off single-provider social networks. Servers cost significant time and money to run — I know because I run some. Unless you have an eccentric millionaire or a trust fund to pay for the hosting, as the site grows, sooner or later someone’s going to decide that it needs to pay for itself. In fact, even if you have funding from an eccentric millionaire, you’re still reliant on their whims to keep the privacy and advertising policies you like.

Venture capitalists are not philanthropists. They didn’t lend ello half a million dollars so that it could be run on donations as a not-for-profit, no matter what the founder may say about having unconstrained choices. The fact that ello aren’t upfront about their funding is very telling.

So, what’s the alternative? One word: federation.

What we need are social networks which are open, like e-mail and the web; where anyone who wants to can set up their own server (or pay someone else to do it) and join the conversation via a system they control. We need social systems which are decentralized, rather than centralized and corporate. Systems where at a minimum, there are multiple independent organizations running servers, and you can migrate if you decide you don’t like the one you’re relying on.

There’s a system which is built that way. It also has no ads, doesn’t require that you provide your “real” name or specify your gender, doesn’t aggregate your data for sale to corporations, and doesn’t run ads. It has per-post privacy settings, so you can share just with the people you trust. You can post pictures and comments, discuss things with friends in discussion threads, and do most of the other stuff you do on Facebook or Twitter.

It’s called Diaspora. You may have heard of it. It was big for a while, but then people were disappointed with the initial code, and tragically one of the lead developers committed suicide.

Diaspora isn’t as pretty as other social networks. It doesn’t have signup pages making elaborate feel-good promises. It isn’t popular with celebrities. But it works, and you can sign up for it right now, and because it’s open source it isn’t going to be ripped away from you or turned into the next privacy-destroying corporate panopticon. Want to give it a try? Tutorials are available, you can pick from dozens of service providers, and my profile’s public.

So in summary: Please don’t waste time asking me to join another walled-off “social” network. If you find a decentralized system that’s better than Diaspora, I’m all for that, but no, I’m not interested in the next Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Diaspora Screenshot
Creative Commons License Antonio Pardo via Compfight

24 thoughts on “No, I am not interested in joining your proprietary social network

  1. Other distributed/decentralized social network: or twister p2p.

    BTW, typical screenshot from apardo/hacksimov.

    1. Works pretty much identical to Facebook and other social networks in general. You create an account, make friends with people / follow, and then you post stuff for them to see, or read stuff they’ve posted. The only difference is that it is decentralized so you have to start by finding a pod/server for you. I am personally signed up on but I think they have closed for all new registrations.

      What exactly are you having a problem with? I can walk you through it if you need help.

  2. Diaspora is manageable if you’re a developer, but baffling to newbies. Ello’s winning not because it’s better than Diaspora but because its UI is better.

    1. Correct, Ello is probably a lot more beautiful and easy to use than Diaspora. The problem though is that Diaspora’s UI can be modified and adjusted and things can be made easy to use. Because of how Ello is built (and how it is funded by VC’s) I find it highly unlikely that they will make it decentralized or federated.

      1. When it comes to ello, beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder.

        Personally I think it’s eye-watering ugly, regardless of the lack of ads. Just changing the font to something cleaner would help … A LOT!

  3. tallicdeth, it’s not too difficult – add me as a friend or post questions to your stream -make sure it’s public so others can help. Tag it #newhere and many people will jump up to give you a hand :)

  4. So….how do you ensure that posts have 99% up-time across the distributed network and they don’t get lost when the server is down, they are deleted etc. One thing I don’t want is comments/reply about some invisible thing that was there before. You’ll probably say: well you can have someone set-up the service for you and run it on their servers, but how is that any different from having one source?

    1. The former sure is a problem that I agree with. Federation does make partial downtimes a possible annoyance.

      The latter, how is it different to have someone set up the service for you and run it rather than having it on one source? The difference is that rather than one source you have thousands of sources. So you can pick and choose. If Source A sells your information or in general is a douche you can always switch to source B and continue using the network. Just like with e-mail. If gmail does something bad I can always switch to whatever company I trust the most, or host my own. This is not a possibility with Facebook or Ello.

  5. @tallicdeth. Go here: for a list of pods. Click the link of one you like with open signups and when the page opens, look for the signup link and your’e good

  6. What you’re describing was implemented in around 1980. It was called “Usenet”. A lot of us miss it and wish people would stop reinventing it poorly.

  7. My money is on =)

    Looking forward for federated network standarization in the W3C social group!


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