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This is fascinating. Most know the downsides of Facebook, the security flaws and rather ambiguous uses of our personal information. There is a new "Facebook" in town. Open source, and you can decide where your personal data is maintained... on someone's servers who-knows-where, or if you choose, on your own computer. I have a feeling this will be big.
From N. Y. Times:
How angry is the world at Facebook for devouring every morsel of personal information we are willing to feed it?
A few months back, four geeky college students, living on pizza in a computer lab downtown on Mercer Street, decided to build a social network that wouldn't force people to surrender their privacy to a big business. It would take three or four months to write the code, and they would need a few thousand dollars each to live on.
They gave themselves 39 days to raise $10,000, using an online site, Kickstarter, that helps creative people find support. It turned out that just about all they had to do was whisper their plans. "We were shocked," said one of the four, Dan Grippi, 21. "For some strange reason, everyone just agreed with this whole privacy thing."
They announced their project on April 24. They reached their $10,000 goal in 12 days, and the money continues to come in: as of Tuesday afternoon, they had raised $23,676 from 739 backers. "Maybe 2 or 3 percent of the money is from people we know," said Max Salzberg, 22.
Working with Mr. Salzberg and Mr. Grippi are Raphael Sofaer, 19, and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, 20 "four talented young nerds," Mr. Salzberg says all of whom met at New York University's Courant Institute. They have called their project Diaspora* and intend to distribute the software free, and to make the code openly available so that other programmers can build on it. As they describe it, the Diaspora* software will let users set up their own personal servers, called seeds, create their own hubs and fully control the information they share. Mr. Sofaer says that centralized networks like Facebook are not necessary. "In our real lives, we talk to each other," he said. "We don't need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn't all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren't really rare things. The technology already exists."
The terms of the bargain people make with social networks you swap personal information for convenient access to their sites have been shifting, with the companies that operate the networks collecting ever more information about their users. That information can be sold to marketers. Some younger people are becoming more cautious about what they post. "When you give up that data, you're giving it up forever," Mr. Salzberg said. "The value they give us is negligible in the scale of what they are doing, and what we are giving up is all of our privacy."
The Diaspora* group was inspired to begin their project after hearing a talk by Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia University, who described the centralized social networks as "spying for free," Mr. Salzberg said.
The four students met in a computer room at N. Y. U., and have spent nearly every waking minute there for months. They understand the appeal of social networks.
"Certainly, as nerds, we have nowhere else to go," Mr. Salzberg said. "We're big nerds." "My social life has definitely collapsed in favor of maintaining a decent GPA and doing this," Mr. Sofaer said.
A teacher and digital media researcher at N. Y. U., Finn Brunton, said that their project which does not involve giant rounds of venture capital financing before anyone writes a line of code reflected "a return of the classic geek means of production: pizza and ramen and guys sleeping under the desks because it is something that it is really exciting and challenging." The Diaspora* crew has no doubts about the sprawling strengths and attractions of existing social networks, having gotten more than 2,000 followers of "joindiaspora" on Twitter in just a few weeks.
"So many people think it needs to exist," Mr. Salzberg said. "We're making it because we want to use it."