Diaspora: The Highly Anticipated Social Network Has Launched [Review]

I’ve been anxiously awaiting the arrival of Diaspora since May 2010. Why, you ask? Because Diaspora is being developed by students at NYU and is promising to be a more secure and privacy-focused approach to social networking.

Offering more granular control and a streamlined interface, Diaspora has been promoted throughout the tech blogosphere as being a great idea that could be a game-changing idea. (I hate the term ‘game-changing’ and only use it since it’s been used many times over by other writers.)

So does it live up to the hype? I got my alpha invitation last night and have been putting the site through its paces.

What Is Diaspora?

First, a bit of background. Diaspora is a new social networking platform under development at NYU with one goal: security. Four students at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences are building a networking system designed to let students (and others) share information in a secure manner. It gained immediate notoriety when it received more than $200,000 in Kickstarter funding.

Facebook Integration

Alright, first big problem with the sign-up process: after accepting your invitation it immediately asks you if you want to link up your Facebook account.

Shouldn’t Diaspora have done their best to avoid connecting with Facebook at all costs?

I understand it is easier for users to create accounts, add pictures, fill out information using the Facebook Connect toolkit but for Diaspora it just seems…wrong.

Important note: you can also connect your Tumblr and Twitter accounts to Diaspora.

Topic Monitoring

The ability to add content tags is terrific. I love the fact that you can add in your passions and that  your Diaspora stream will be automatically filled with relevant content. I wish this was a feature in Facebook or Google+.

Right now, it feels like Twitter is the current best tool to monitor real-time conversations about topics you’re interested in. Diaspora looks like it might be able to compete in this space thanks to these topic tags.

Populated Stream

Kudos to the Diaspora team for helping all new users have an already populated news stream as soon as they create an account. In Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ all new users typically have blank or sparsely populated streams. It takes some real work to perfect your stream.

Right out of the gate, Diaspora shows all the newest stories from your chosen topics that you selected on the previous screen. Click the screenshot on the left thumbnail to view the full-screen view of the first real page you’ll see.

Editing Your Posts

I’ve become spoiled by Google+ as that network lets me edit my posts. In other words, it lets me fix typos, links, etc.

I’m (not) proud to say that my first-ever Diaspora post actually had a spelling mistake in it. I spelled technology without a g. This issue had never even dawned on me until Google+ made it a key feature. Now I constantly wish Facebook offered more control over post editing.

Check out the thumbnail on the left to see what I’m talking about.

It Has Groups!

Diaspora definitely seems closer to Google+ than to any other major social network. The biggest example is groups. Diaspora lets you organize your friends into groups that function almost exactly like Google+ Circles.

The UI is not as flashy but it does the trick. Being able to manage your connections on a social network has become a major issue for people looking to use social media with friends, family, coworkers, recruiters, managers, etc. Being able to put them all into groups is critical. I know Facebook has its smart lists but that seems like an after-thought and not as well implemented as Google+ or Diaspora at this point.

Loading Speed

Diaspora has some terrific features and resembles Facebook with a few of Google+ features. But one thing I’ve gotten accustomed to from these two social networks is speed. Diaspora, when I used it last night and this morning, is quite slow.

At one point, it took nearly a full minute to re-load my news feed. To navigate the site at this pace would take hours. I understand there is probably a significant lag due to the number of people starting to use the site but the site should be pushed out onto other servers as soon as possible.Right now, the lag was a big issue.

Commenting & Likes

Alright Diaspora, I know you want to have an interface that is familiar to users and lets them interact with content like they do now…but c’mon. You can ‘like’ anyone’s post just like on Facebook. I understand that this is a familiar and popular tool but if you’re going to differentiate yourself from Facebook, this isn’t the way.

Don’t get me wrong. Diaspora is quite polished and has made huge leaps and bounds since the early days after its Kickstarter funding. But I’m a bit sad to see that the layout is so similar to Facebook and that the interaction tools are almost exactly the same.

Conclusion

Diaspora is a great social network that would be a huge hit if it were launched a day before Facebook. Instead, they’re launching it now to compete (whether they like it or not) with a mature Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. That’s not to mention the slew of other social networks that exist.

Unfortunately, there are simply not enough differentiating factors in Diaspora to make it a real contender to be disruptive. If more tools are added on that make it less like current social networks, then they’d be onto something. I personally got bored with using the site after an hour or so and I know that is simply because there isn’t that critical mass of quality content being shared on a regular basis. I can go to Google+, Twitter, or Facebook any time to see that.

I’m encouraged to see that Diaspora has add-on tools under development right now. Photo-sharing tool Cubbies is currently using the new Diaspora Connect (yes, it’s even called that) to allow users more image-management abilities.

I’m willing to give Diaspora time though as it’s still in alpha stage. Let’s hope they stop trying to replicate Facebook and start building out some differentiating factors. Stay tuned.

5 Comments

  1. herrn96

    November 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Interesting article. Disappointing that you start off by heralding the security/privacy focus of Disapora, but don’t really explore it any further. Given that it does not have the same financial clout as its competitors, the USP of total control over privacy is a key ‘differentiating factor’. As part of your follow-up to this article, it would be good to find out some more about the Diaspora ‘Pods’ and how they influence the communities you connect with.

    It is also fair to say that Diaspora’s ‘Aspects’ had a significant influence on how Google+ evolved its ‘Circles’, and how facebook attempted to create it’s own version of separating people you connect with in a more realistic way.

    • follansbee

      November 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

      Agreed, to my knowledge diaspora started before G+, I feel (after being in alpha builds) that the big G ripped off not only “circles”/aspects but the layout and styling of the original google+ beta was almost carbon copy from diaspora.

  2. strangerealms9

    November 9, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I’m on Facebook as well and I never use the like feature there. Yet on Diaspora I love it and use it frequently. It’s two different world.

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