Open social networking: The Facebook privacy debacle and the dawn of alternatives

19. May 2010 – 10:33 by Bengt Feil (TuTech Innovation GmbH)

by HubSpot on

by HubSpot on

Over the course of the last weeks and months the discussion about privacy on Facebook and other social networks has become ever more intense and heated. A quick look on Google news for example reveals more than 4.000 news articles about this issue. One of the initiators for this debate was decision by Facebook to (again) change its approach to privacy by making more information about its users public by default. If you would like to get a feeling about the level of publicity Facebook profiles have reached just take a quick look at (a search engine for all public status updates) or (a tool that allows you to scan your privacy settings and show you what is public).

In this climate of rising distrust towards Facebook many digerati and web users have stated the need for an alternative social networking infrastructure that allows for more control by the user without making the management of your online privacy to complicated.

One potential alternative player has made quite an impression on the web over the last weeks without actually being ready to deliver on their promise yet. The diaspora project has been started to provide a “personally controlled, do-it-all, distributed open-source social network”. There is no way to tell if this is a lofty promise or if the four founders of the project can deliver, as there is now tool or source code available yet. On interesting thing to note is: Their fundraising effort has already collected $ 172.000, which is 17 times the amount they aimed at. The timing and the framing of the project seems to have been perfectly right.

The idea and the approach diaspora chose seem to be very reasonable but also bring a few problems with it. On of those is: If diaspora plans to build a new open social networking infrastructure from scratch it would ignore a lot of work already made towards this goal. There are projects like OneSocialWeb, DiSo or Activity Streams (via with could provide a solid foundation to work on. The other problem is: What to make of the fact that Facebook alone has 400 million users which might be very reluctant to switch to another social network because all of their friends are on Facebook (in more theoretical terms: the network effect)? One way out of this dilemma might be that Facebook starts to feel the pressure and opens up to interaction with other social networks (a possibility hinted at by a Facebook employee recently).

However this situation shakes out this might be the being of a new age for social networking away from closed silos like Facebook and to some extent Twitter towards distributed and open networks. One thing is for sure: Whether closed or open there will always be Farmville notifications to annoy us.

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