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'Anti-Facebook' project nears launch

Can Diaspora, an open-source social networking project developed by NYU students, justify the hype it's received? Maybe, but it'll be tough.


The open-source social networking project Diaspora reported on its blog this week that the code for its much-hyped "anti-Facebook" software will be released September 15.

Hatched by a team of New York University programming students, Diaspora raised $200,000 through a microfinancing strategy--nabbing small chunks of money from a lot of individuals.

The project has received a huge amount of press despite being little more than a vaporware reaction to Facebook's privacy snafus. That said, if the team is half as good at building software as it is at building hype, there might be something interesting in the upcoming release, and maybe even a viable business.

But it's a long shot.

The big challenge is that the enterprise developer world isn't screaming out for an open-source Facebook, nor are consumers really looking to run their own instances of social networks. What they really want is for Facebook to take privacy more seriously--something the company has started to do--and to respect users' choices in how and where their data gets shared.

And for those who do want to run their own social sites, there are any number of options, including Ning and Buddypress as well as extensions to Drupal and other publishing systems. Additionally, a number of other companies, including Ringside Networks, founded by JBoss alumni, took a run at developing a social application server only to find a lack of market.

Perhaps the real point isn't the success of the software, but of the social experiment the team undertook to get its project funded. In many ways the effort succeeded--not only in raising money and ostensibly delivering software, but also in forcing Facebook to listen to its users and correct its mistakes.

As for the software itself, we'll have to wait and see. It's always good to see interesting new open-source projects launch, especially one as audacious as Diaspora aims to be.