What is Diaspora, and how does it affect social media marketing?

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Diaspora LogoThe most popular social network, Facebook, wants you to use their network for one reason: so they can profit from your data. That’s an excellent goal for a business, but it’s not so excellent for its users. Facebook is banking on presenting a service that’s so useful — even necessary — that you won’t mind all of the targeted ads and the constant push of suggested friends. Changing Facebook privacy settings to prevent this is so convoluted and unintuitive they’re probably hoping you’ll just give up.

Enter Diaspora

What if you could easily manage your privacy, control and host your own data, and do it without ads or profiling? I think it’s safe to say that it would be incredible. Diaspora was started to do just that, and it’s why I gave money to this project just so someone would make it. Investors won’t make money from this code. It’s an open source, altruistic effort to make communication over the Internet better and less commercial.

The intent of Diaspora is to decentralize your online social network, remove commercialism and help you regain control over your data.

How Diaspora works

Your data lives as a seed, either on your own server or on a pod (a shared server with many seeds). You are then assigned a handle, which looks like an email address (and may be used as one in the future). I’m currently using the joindiaspora.com pod, and my handle is henshaw@joindiaspora.com.

The sharing of data is controlled by aspects. Aspects are essentially filters. Common aspect names are Work, Friends, and Family, but they can be anything you want. I created an aspect for Internet Marketing and also Raven.

Diaspora Aspects

You request friends via their handle. Once they accept, you can assign them to one or more aspects. You can post messages (similar to Facebook Wall posts) across all aspects, or to individual aspects. If you choose an individual aspect, only the friends that you have assigned to that aspect will be able to see and respond to your post. One of the things I like most about aspects is that they are unknown to your friends. They are meant for your own private groupings.

Diaspora Aspect Screenshot

Testing Diaspora

The Diaspora team currently is promoting their own pod for alpha testing and are releasing invitations, similar to what Google did for Gmail several years ago. There are also additional pods being used for testing.

If you want an invitation to test the alpha, consider asking your friends for one via Twitter. You can also visit the Diaspora Alpha site and request an invite.

Current features

The current alpha version has basic functionality. You can:

  • share status messages and photos privately and in near real time with your friends through aspects;
  • friend people across the Internet no matter where the Diaspora seed is located;
  • manage friends using aspects; and
  • upload photos and albums.

Future features

The Diaspora Roadmap has some very interesting features. The features I’m most excited about include:

  • Data portability: This allows users to Oauth to a new seed, move their entire account to the new seed and then notify all of their contacts of the change. This way, users can move around seamlessly.
  • Refining aspects (adding people to multiple groups, having people only in the public group, etc.)
  • Private messaging
  • Events
  • Software Update Framework

How Diaspora affects SMM

Diaspora hasn’t changed anything for social media marketing, yet. If it becomes widely adopted — and I believe it will — many of the marketing techniques commonly used on Facebook will no longer be relevant.

The most popular and easiest Facebook marketing technique, advertising, doesn’t exist on Diaspora. Marketers will no longer be able to mass target users with their ads, because there won’t be any. There also aren’t any Fan pages, because Diaspora is designed for people, not commercial entities (although that could certainly change in the future).

Even though advertising isn’t available, and the current design of the software appears to exclude businesses, it certainly doesn’t mean marketing can’t take place.

Participation marketing

If you’re going to market through Diaspora, it’s going to have to be through participation marketing. That means you will need to connect with people, observe and engage with them, learn how they prefer to communicate and then positively contribute to the group.

Marketing in Diaspora will be about creating and participating in influential networks. In some cases, that may mean paying influencers to mention your product or service to their trusted audience.

Monitoring and analysis

Diaspora is open source and most likely will have a well defined plugin architecture. That will open up the possibility for add-ons that will allow users to monitor their account (i.e. friends, comments, traffic referrals). In fact, depending on its growth and popularity, Raven may even make a plugin for it.

Another possibility will be analysis of user accounts. You may be able to run a plugin that analyzes the conversations and interests of your friends. Taking it a step further, imagine a company that would analyze all of your connections for you, and then based on the interests of your network, would pay you to post comments promoting their customers’ products and services. Are you listening MediaWhiz?!

I realize that to the purists, this all sounds evil. And I’ll admit, I don’t want any part of it. I’m hoping to keep my Diaspora connections as marketing-free as possible. Regardless, it’s going to happen. Where there’s an audience, there’s an advertiser, and they are a sneaky bunch.

Moving forward with Diaspora

I encourage you to test out Diaspora. If you have a developer, or are a developer, you can download the source code and install it yourself. Otherwise, do your best to get an invite to one of the community supported pod servers. I think Diaspora has a bright future. It will be interesting to see it evolve — and to observe how marketers attempt to penetrate it.

Diaspora resources

  • Charlie Vink

    Interesting system. I’ll try it. Thank you for sharing this, Jon!

  • Not to thrilled that its running on Ruby, but, it might be a good reason to learn Ruby! LOL

  • Jon Henshaw

    Joe, I’m actually hoping it will be ported to LAMP, which is what it should have been to begin with for a quick adoption rate.

  • I’m happy to see it on Rails – it’s a good reason for anybody looking to contribute to learn Ruby.

    I doubt it will be ported to PHP, though. Rails is a far better framework (IMO) for developing something powerful (and as development on this project progresses, solid) like Diaspora in a short amount of developer time. I’ve investigated most PHP frameworks, and haven’t seen anything even close to Rails yet.

    But, that’s not to turn this into a framework bashing thread… I’m definitely excited about Diaspora, and believe that, even though it’s had a few technical mis-steps – everything will work out.

  • Jon Henshaw

    Nicholas, my comments weren’t about what is better. They’re more about what’s widely supported and easy to install. All languages and frameworks can suck equally depending on how it’s coded. LAMP (PHP framework or not) is something you can get up and running on pretty much any hosting provider, RoR and it’s dependencies are not.

    With that being said, I’m hoping for two things. The install will become much easier and possible on most hosting services (it certainly isn’t with my hosting provider of choice), and that it will eventually be ported to LAMP, which I believe it will be if it takes off.

  • Baslam

    I’m actually looking forward to this. This is exactly what I wanted. I disliked Facebook from day one! Yeah I’m one of those oddballs, that don’t want to go with the flow. I am hoping I get my handle soon. Thanks for an excellent prespective on social media and its way of making money.

  • TJ McCue

    Hey Jon,
    I’d love to see Diaspora take off, but it has a pretty significant hurdle, right? But, Firefox eventually displaced IE (more or less) and the list of examples goes on. I think they need to ditch the seed, pod, aspect components and just call them common names. I agree with your points on FB and they drive me crazy with their user interface, and privacy stuff, but Diaspora is climbing a solid 90 degree wall.

  • Wow!! Having done social media educational talks in the past, I find it a common thing that a lot of older people are scared and hesitant of Facebook b/c of the horrible NON user friendly interface, in addition that their privacy settings are sooo confusing! This might be a future suggestion to those people.

  • Lloydie Baltazar

    Thanks for writing this. I want to join Diaspora soon. I can’t wait for its launch and I’m sure itll be a great one. I am starting to dislike Facebook with its most recent change and its a total brain drain. Hope Diaspora launches pretty soon so privacy-OCD guys like me can take advantage of its purpose! Cheers!

  • Arienne Holland

    TJ, I agree with you on this: “I think they need to ditch the seed, pod, aspect components and just call them common names.” Otherwise, I’m enjoying Diaspora so far. (I also enjoyed your 21 Takeaways small-business advice post, which I read earlier today from a RT.)

  • I actually like the pod and seed naming convention. It sounds organic and fun. I will admit that the word aspect is a bit out there, but I’m running with it!