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Diaspora challenge to Facebook

May 13th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Sometimes it it is hard to see anything stopping Facebook ruling the world. But a few years ago it was hard to see anyone ever challenging My Space. And some of us can still remember Friends Reunited. Now the tide may be beginning to change against Facebook. It is Facebook’s own financial greed and their willingness to run roughshod over privacy rights which is threatening their hold.

A new generation of entrepreneurs are emerging with a very different vision and different technologies.

A report in today’s New York Times explains: “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.” They go onto say: “They have called their project Diaspora* and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. Mr. Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary. “In our real lives, we talk to each other,” he said. “We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”

Meanwhile Facebook itself is showing some signs of recognising the danger.  Nick O’Neill on the All Facebook web site says: “Facing increasing pressure from the media and users, Facebook has called an all hands meeting tomorrow afternoon, at 4 PM Pacific, to discuss the company’s overall privacy strategy according to sources inside the company……..While it’s unknown what Facebook will announce during the meeting, it’s pretty obvious that changes will need to be made if Facebook is going to regain users’ trust. The most likely change will come in the form of a temporary removal of the “Instant Personalization” service, or at the least, a shift to “opt-in”, something many privacy advocates have been calling for.”

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