Facebook Rival Diaspora Set For September Launch

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The developers of ‘privacy-conscious’ Facebook rival Diaspora claim the social network will be open-sourced on 15 September

The developers of Diaspora – the open source, privacy-conscious alternative to Facebook – have announced that the new social network will launch on 15 September 2010.

Following an “epic summer” of designing and coding, the four geeky college students from New York University’s Courant Institute said they are “honoured to be a part of building this new kind of web”.

“We aren’t going to stop working after we release,” the team wrote on their blog. “We will continue to develop and maintain Diaspora as a long term project. We have shifted our development timeline accordingly, and the first release will be the beginning of something great, not a finished summer project.”

Privacy-conscious social network

Diaspora describes itself as a “privacy-aware” and “personally-controlled” social network, which gives individuals control over their own data. Earlier this year, following a feature in the New York Times, small contributions to the project began pouring in and, in less than a month, more than 6,400 donations had been pledged. By the end of May, the team had managed to raise more than $200,000 (£136,000), using the fundraising site Kickstarter.

“We are thankful for every last backer,” the team said at the time. “Together, we have struck a chord with the world and identified a problem which needs to be solved.”

Diaspora emerged into the spotlight just as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was becoming immersed in a privacy controversy that threatened to seriously damage the company’s reputation. In May, Zuckerberg was forced to admit that he had made a mistake in declaring that privacy was no longer a “social norm”.

In the face of a user backlash, Facebook drastically simplifed its privacy settings to make it easier for users to govern how their information was shared on the social network – a move that was praised by some industry commentators.

“By giving users powerful new tools to further protect their privacy, Facebook has employed a potent weapon to deal with marketplace apprehensions: self-regulation,” said Berin Szoka of the Progress and Freedom Foundation at the time.

However, Facebook continues to be caught up in privacy controversies, most recently in relation to its location-powered Places feature, which enables mobile users to share their current location with friends on the social network.

Contextual sharing

In an attempt to avoid these privacy issues, the Diaspora team claims to have spent the summer building “clear, contextual sharing”.

“That means an intuitive way for users to decide, and not notice deciding, what content goes to their co-workers and what goes to their drinking buddies. We know that’s a hard UI problem and we take it seriously,” the team wrote.

Despite their enthusiasm, however, many are sceptical about the ability of any social network to challenge the dominance of Facebook, which now has more than 500 million registered users. Zuckerberg said earlier this year that he has no intention of taking the company public, and speculated that its biggest competition is likely to come from “someone we haven’t heard of”.

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