Will Facebook Find its Match in Diaspora?

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Since it was first launched in February 2004, Facebook has been on a meteoric rise with more than 400 million registered users worldwide. Emerging out of the shadows of a Harvard dorm, Facebook is by far the largest social networking platform of its kind.

And that is why four New York University students want to build Diaspora*, a robust social networking platform they hope will rip the face off of Facebook. Or at least give users something they can control without the attendant privacy issues.

Team Diaspora

Diaspora is currently under development by Dan Grippi, Max Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer, and Ilya Zhitomirsky, NYU students who met up in a university lab and decided to take on the social media giant. Like so many web users, Team Diaspora has seen Facebook mine user data while making it difficult for them to opt out of newly installed features.

A case in point: In April, Facebook automatically changed its privacy setting layout, making it more difficult for users to opt out completely. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, unchecking the “allow” button isn’t enough. Now users must block each Instant Personalization Web site in order to opt out.

Fund-raising Appeal

It is those changes which have fueled support for Team Diaspora. On April 24, the group appealed for financial backing through the online fund-raising site, Kickstarter, asking for $10,000 to support the four young men as they undertook their summer coding efforts. Within 12 days that goal was reached, but has since surged past the $140,000 mark as more than 3900 people have offered their support with contributions of $1 or more accepted.

The NYU students have a platform in mind, one where users will create their own “seed” of conversations, photos and videos, sharing that information on their own terms. Unlike Facebook, which exerts ownership over much of the data contributed, each seed will still be owned by their respective user.

Summer Dreams

Team Diaspora has a dream summer job to tackle: they’ll be working on building a new social networking platform while living on pizza and sodas for the next three months. If all goes according to plan, the software will be ready for release in September 2010.

That effort will come from young men who heard a talk by Columbia University law professor Eben Moglen about freedom and ownership online and began to discuss what a distributed social network would look like. And like the typical coder, they didn’t just talk but began to build the foundation for Diaspora.

We’ll be keeping our readers updated throughout the coming months until Diaspora launches.

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