Interestingly, if you link Diaspora to your Facebook account, it installs a Facebook app that pulls your friends list out and makes it easy to invite them to join Diaspora via Facebook Messages. It also reserves the right to send me emails and access my data at any time, even when I’m not using Diaspora. That’s a bit funky for a site that started as a response to Facebook’s insatiable appetite for user data.
So far, Zuckerberg & Co. haven’t tried to put a stop to that. We’ll see if that changes.
What else? Like G+, Diaspora is ad free. Like Facebook, it’s got a Like button. It’s also got its first app – Cubbi.es, a photo collection tool that makes it easy to grab pictures off the Net and hoard them all in one place, infuriating copyright lawyers everywhere.
It also offers a Twitter-like feature where you can plug in hashtags and follow discussions. And really, that’s about it. Like I said, it’s spare.
The other key difference? Diaspora is open source. Anybody can take the code and improve it. And that’s the biggest differentiator, according to co-founder Max Salzberg, who was kind enough to submit to an interview via email. He writes:
Users' data on Diaspora is 100% user-owned and controlled, as a result of our unique distributed and open-source approach. No other site can give you this guarantee. …Diaspora's source code is freely available to anyone and may be redistributed with or without modification, which means that developers can perform thorough inspections of the code, and users can rest assured that Diaspora doesn't arbitrarily redistribute personal information without the user's explicit permission or consent. Moreover, if the user installs the Diaspora software on their own server (or what we call pods), they can be confident that the data belongs to them, and them only.
Then there’s Diaspora’s business model, or lack thereof. At this point Salzberg says he and his Diaspora partners have no plans to monetize the site. And while Diaspora is certainly more private than Facebook by default, it’s about on a par with Google Plus. So do we really need Diaspora – or for that matter, any other new social network?
Salzberg says it’s not a question of what Diaspora is today, but what it will eventually become, thanks to innovations based on the open source model.