Facebook is the new Microsoft.
Since this spring, Facebook has become the new 400 pound privacy eating gorilla of the Internet. Since then clusters of guerrilla coders have been assailing Zuckerbergian hegemony like so many Don Quixotes. I’ve followed this with some interest, as someone who’s suspicious of monolithic ecosystems (even though I own an iPhone) and who’s set up a home server, and am experimenting with demo accounts on OneSocialWeb and Appleseed. Diaspora* and Mark Pesce’s Plexus don’t yet have publicly available demos.There’s also Friendika and Socialriver, which I haven’t tried yet. Here’s a very cursory first take.
Appleseed and OneSocialWeb seem to me to be little more than decentralizing/federating the Facebook toolset. While it may make sense to trust your “stuff” to someone other than Facebook, I think it’s only a first step. Even if you have a choice of interoperable social networking service providers, migrating from one SNSP to another and getting your social network to come with you is likely to be a convoluted process for a long time.
Diaspora seems to be trying to go a step further by beginning with the principle that individuals will run their own server from home. I’m skeptical. Even if they manage to get Diaspora onto a Sheevaplug and make it dead simple to set up, I suspect the hypothetical average user won’t want to bother with domain name registration, etc. The other interesting thing Diaspora is doing is putting lots of effort into managing multiple social contexts. They seem to see this as a killer feature that will give Facebook users a reason to migrate. Right now, I manage my social contexts by using multiple services. Given the complaints I hear on a regular basis about juggling multiple accounts, I think this has potential, if they manage to execute it right. However, I still wonder if it will be enough to get people to set up their own nodes.
Plexus is the one project that seems to take a really different approach to the issue. It’s predicated on the idea that what’s really important is protecting the social graph, since that’s what allows Facebook or a marketer to connect the dots and monetize your friendships. Plexus seeks to store the social graph on your local device and manage the ins and outs there rather than on a server. I would think that once the core is finished adding multiple contexts (essentially groups of what Plexus calls sharers) shouldn’t be difficult. Plexus also has the huge distinction that it doesn’t seek to replace Facebook, Twitter, or anything else that’s already here. Instead it will merely localize the contact/relationship/social graph management.
When I try to imagine what might happen in this space, I remember the displacement of walled email gardens by SMTP. I hope that social networks will be like that. However, since there isn’t a single widely accepted standard/protocol to which to gravitate, it is also possible that Facebook will leverage its first-mover advantage into permanent market leadership, since users won’t be willing to choose an alternative and deal with the fallout as some of their friends choose a different alternative than they did.