Well, it’s a little outside Diaspora*’s usual schedule of “tease, disappear for six months, release nothing”, but hey, we finally have an inside look at a fully-functional Diaspora*—AUGH. OK, I’m sorry. I can’t keep typing that ridiculous asterisk every time I say the name. Feels like I’m forgetting to add some kind of footnote or something. For the rest of this review, it’s called Diaspora. Mmkay? Kay. Let’s move on.
OK, So I’ve Been Waiting For Forever. What’s Diaspora Got?
Well, for starters, you can add friends! Also, there’s these things called “aspects” which, if you’re familiar with Google+, they’re a lot like Circles. In that they are exactly like Circles. If you’re not familiar with Google+, however, you will have absolutely no friggin’ idea what the heck aspects are because the word isn’t something you use all that often, it’s meaning in this context is obscure, and virtually no explanation is given as to how they’re supposed to work. While we in the tech community have already gotten the hang of it, for most users, this is going to be a serious barrier to using the service.
There’s also a thing called cubbi.es, continuing the tradition of new fangled web services building their URL into their name. It’s a sort of photo-sharing service. Less about sharing your own photos, and more about sharing photos from around the web. To be fair, pictures of lolcats are way more important than your great aunt’s wedding photos. The service is a bit confusing to log in to, however. You’re prompted to enter your username, however you’re never informed that your username is whatever you selected during the sign-up process, with “@joindiaspora.com” at the end. So, in my case, my username was not “ravenscraft”, but rather “firstname.lastname@example.org”. This isn’t adequately explained anywhere.
Aside from that, there’s little else that you haven’t seen anywhere else. There’s tag clouds a la Twitter, that also seem to function a bit like Google+’s Sparks (remember that feature?). There’s the news feed. You can share statuses with just certain aspects or the entire internet. It’s….well, it’s a social network. In the most rudimentary sense.
What About That Whole Privacy Thing?
Well. If you didn’t already know about it, you wouldn’t think anything of it. We can get into whether or not people will think anything of it in a bit. If you take a stroll through your settings, you’ll find a few buttons that let you export your data. The buttons are a little bit unclear as to what they do, or what you can do with them once you have them. “Download my photos” is pretty straightforward, however “download my xml” is entirely confusing for regular users.
The important thing here, is that Diaspora has these buttons. It’s important because that’s kind of why Diaspora exists. Think about it this way: if you wanted to change your contacts app, or your calendar service, there are ways to export your data and import it somewhere else. With social networks, that’s not really the case. Sign up for a new one and you more or less start with a blank slate. There’s nothing there unless you put it there. Diaspora’s approach is that if you decide to leave them, you should be able to start with a new social network, without starting over.
Of course, at this stage, the problem isn’t exporting, it’s importing. Since Diaspora is the first social network to make data export a priority, there’s no real method for importing data into Diaspora. In theory, the situation is better. In practice, we still face the same old problems.
So, Should I Care About Diaspora Yet?
In all honesty….not really. Diaspora has some pretty unique approaches to social networking. The emphasis on privacy, control, and the enviable ability to jump ship are all respectable, and promisingly implemented. The trouble is that, unless you’re a stickler for any of these things, there’s not much else that’s noteworthy. Facebook has event management, groups, and the critical mass of users. Google+ has finely-tuned and intuitive controls for selective sharing, not to mention the killer Hangouts feature to draw in users.
Unfortunately, Diaspora doesn’t have much in terms of daily-use features. The distinctive features of Diaspora are largely the things you’d care about when you leave the site, not when you join. If the site had launched just a few months ago, we might be more intrigued, but unfortunately, Google+ already brought most of the same things Diaspora did, and then some. Plus, Google+ is built in to your Google ID, and even reminds you of itself whenever you do a Google search. Diaspora is more or less self-contained within the site.
We’ll be keeping an eye on Diaspora. If the site could reach feature parity with Facebook, and especially if they can do so before Google+ does, they could have a real winner on their hands. They’ll have to act fast, though. The new social network wars are heating up quick, with Facebook and Google at each other’s throats. Diaspora is the small fish in this pond. We’re hopeful, but the jury’s still out.