Mission Phase 3: Diaspora

So I signed up for a free account at http://london.diaspora.org.

The good part: the website is beautiful. Clear, un-cluttered design with lots of white-space, gorgeous typography.

But I was most interested in the ability to inter-operate with other social networking sites, and Diaspora didn’t do so well at this. The only external services you can connect to are Twitter and Facebook, which was disappointing after the long list of services I could connect to on Friendica.

Even the way Diaspora describes itself seems to imply that federation isn’t the most important thing. You’re invited to “join Diaspora” and “invite your friends”. But the goal of an open, federated web is that you don’t have to join anything, you can connect to your friends no matter which service they use.

I’ll admit I only spent a few minutes playing with the settings, so it’s possible I’m missing something. And Diaspora’s website is really, really nice. But at the moment I’m a lot more excited about Friendica.

Mission outcome: DOUBTFUL

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Mission Phase 2: Friendica as a Facebook replacement

As far as I can tell there are three major options for an open replacement for Facebook: Buddycloud, Diaspora, and Friendica. I’m starting with Friendica since I already have an account, which I randomly set up a few months ago. There are a few public sites where you can sign up to use Friendica for free, and mine is at http://kakste.com.

The website design is clunky and not especially attractive, but that’s the easiest thing to fix, so it’s not very important. I spent quite a lot of time playing with the settings. Here are the results:

– You can set it up so your posts to Friendica are automatically sent to Facebook.

– You can make it so posts that would normally turn up on your Facebook main page, also show up on Friendica.

– You can set your Friendica account to be either publicly visible or visible only to friends, but I wasn’t able to do this on a post-by-post basis.

– You can also automatically sent your Friendica posts to an impressive list of external services, including WordPress, Twitter, StatusNet, Dreamwidth and LiveJournal.

Conclusion: The really great thing is that you don’t ever have to go to facebook.com again if you don’t want to, you can use Friendica instead without missing anything.

Syndicating everything to Facebook isn’t great in terms of privacy, since (I’m pretty sure) Facebook’s terms of service (short version: WE OWN EVERYTHING / WE CAN DO WHATEVER WE WANT) apply to syndicated posts the same as normal posts. Facebook still tracks what you post about and who your friends are, and still sells that info to third parties. So this is really just a symbolic exit from Facebook. But it still feels good. It feels like this is how a massive shift from closed social networks to open ones could start.

Mission status: PROMISING

How much does it cost to put one person on the open social web?

If you aren’t the customer, then you’re the product, as they say. Facebook gives away a free service, in return for control and ownership of all your data. This article does a great job of showing just how much information companies have on us, pulled together from many different sources.

The converse of this is that open, free-as-in-freedom social networking platforms, will have to be paid for. How much will it cost?

Friendica is an open federated social networking platform similar to Facebook which, while very rough around the edges, comes close to providing a one-stop-shop for all your social networking needs. I poked around on Google for info on how much it costs to run Friendica, and found a random forum post where someone mentioned that they host 48 users on a 512MB VPS.

So say 50 users, and say the VPS costs £20/month – the hosting cost is 40p per month per person, or £5/year.

That’s an extreeeemely rough guesstimate. And it only takes into account server costs, not the costs of paying a server administrator, or software developpers to fix bugs and add new features.

Nevertheless, I find that £5/year figure quite encouraging. It might cost money to be the customer and not the product, but it doesn’t have to cost very much.