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Avoiding Gated Communities with Diaspora, Friendica and others

At the Chaos Communication Congress 32c3 in Hamburg last year, there was a talk by Katharina Nocun named "A New Kid on the Block - Conditions for a Successful Market Entry of Decentralized Social Networks". The short abstract is this: 

The leading social networks are the powerful new gatekeepers of the digital age. Proprietary de facto standards of the dominant companies have lead to the emergence of virtual “information silos” that can barely communicate with one another. Has Diaspora really lost the war? Or is there still a chance to succeed?

Maybe some of you attended that talk or have already seen the recording. For those who haven't, here it is for your convenience: 

It's all about Social Networks and Gated Communities vs. open communities. It's like Facebook on the Gated Community side and Diaspora as an example on the other, the open side.

At timecode 17:20 Katharina mentions that the Top10 of Diaspora pods have more than half a million users. But when you look more closely at the statistics from you can spot a different result that is most likely true for marketing statistic of Facebook as well: there is a difference between total users and current active users. Whereas indeed the total users are easily surpassing the half million users mark, it's a total different issue for the active users count of the last month: 15488 active users in total versus 546783 total users of the Top10 Diaspora sites. That's only 2.83% of active users. A quite awful turnaround rate. 

Many users are just quick lurkers, that came passing by, looking at Diaspora (and other alternative networks), get a quick login and a first try-out and never come back after a few days. I can confirm this from my own Friendica node at where I currently have a total of 13 users: 7 users never posted any content, 1 user is already automatically set to expired because of this, and 8 users never came back after first day of registration. 

Therefor I cannot confirm with Katharinas conclusion that Diaspora "is not dead, it's pretty alive". All these alternative Social Networks are pretty much dead or - to put it in more friendly words - are alive in a rather small niche or small communities like data/privacy aware peoples.

Am I happy about this?

No, definitely not, because I am one of these data/privacy aware activits. I'm no big fan of such monolithic and centralized networks like Facebook. I'm a enthusiastic advocate of self-hosting and decentralized platforms and communication protocols, such as XMPP.

So, what can be done about these kind of Gated Communities like Facebook? Are you still on Facebook, because most of your family and friends are over there and not on Diaspora/Friendica? Are you still using Skype instead of XMPP? Why are you doing this? I'm really interested in this, because I don't understand it.

PS: please watch the video in full length! Katharina has some other good points as well! :)


Goodbye Google, hello Diaspora!

Well, at least in Germany there was lot of press coverage about Google changing its data protection policies and joining the user profiles of their services like Youtube, GMail, Google+ and so on. There were even HowTos to delete some tracking relevant data and history before of March 1st. like on German Spiegel Online news magazine. Because I'm no big fan of Google and being a strong privacy advocate, I tried to follow the steps mentioned there and got some surprises.

First of all I discovered in Googles Dashboard that Google already joined my private account or email address with the one I used at work when I was testing some Android phones for some reasons. The mail address from work was considered as primary address and I couldn't change this. I could delete my private mail address from that account, but not the primary address from work.

So, time was pressing because 1st of March was coming near, only one hour left, but what to do know? I'm already using plugins like Ghostery and AdBlockPlus for some time now to minimize the chance of being tracked and such. I registered with Google+ to have a look onto it and to reserve my name and account there, but I was not actively using it for privacy reasons nor do I use Facebook. Therefor the decision was simple and easy: deleting my Google account was probably the best idea I got on that day. That was easy and a quick win for my privacy concerns!

On the other hand having some sort of a social network can be nice. And I'm a fan of decentralized solutions like Jabber, which I prefer over AIM/ICQ. I'm running my own Jabber server for some years now, so it was a natural thought to me to make this step for a social network as well.

Diaspora* started as a distributed social network in 2010 after some students listened to a speech by Eben Moglen about "Freedom in the Cloud" and is currently still in Alpha stage of development. But it is working and it is running on free software. That's a fairly good reason alone to prefer, support and use Diaspora* over other proprietary social networks like G+ or Facebook, isn't it? So, give it a try!

Everyone can run a Diaspora* node, called "pod", on their own server. There are some good installation guides available at Wiki even covering installation on Debian! Although these installation HowTo is quite good there are some pitfalls left. For example you'll need good SSL cert from an CA authority that is wildly installed on all systems. CAcert seems not to be supported and self-signed certs and CAs doesn't work either. Without a good SSL cert you won't be able to interconnect with other Diaspora* pods. Another pitfall for Debian seems to be the installation of Ruby. First I used the Debian Ruby packages, but got some errors when starting the server that some CSS files couldn't be found. After using the RVM installation metioned in the installation guide these problems were solved (please note that the described way of using RVM didn't work for me either and I got help from some really helpful people on #diaspora-de@freenode).

But anyway, I managed to get Diaspora* up and running on my own server and get it to interconnect with other pods. Although installing Diaspora* from source is currently a little pain compared with the ease and comfort of pre-built Debian packages, it's worth the effort! Everyone who consider Google evil and Facebook bad should consider switching to Diaspora*! The more people join, the better the social network will get! Help to fight against the AOL-ism of the Internet by using open and non-proprietary APIs and software like Jabber and Diaspora*!

You can find my Diaspora* pod at: where my account is "ij".



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