Building a distributed social network? You’re doing it wrong.

June 4, 2010 | 7 comments

Here are some distributed social networking platforms and technologies designed to facilitate distributed social networking:

Wow, that’s a lot! And following Diaspora’s flurry of both coverage and cash, you can bet there’ll be plenty more to come. But of all the projects listed above, I’d argue that only Status.net is orientated around consumer need. As a result, it’s the one most likely to survive, become self-sufficient and prosper. Several more – including DiSo and DSNP – are seeking to build out technologies that can support such products, rather than the products themselves. DiSo is certainly working with other vendors and projects, is full of super-smart people, and should do very well.

However, the others are basing their product on ideology and technology rather than a human use case. I worry that a lot of these projects will disappear – which is a shame, because they’re all doing great work.

Here’s a use case distinction I’ve been thinking about:

  • A social networking platform allows you to communicate and share with a specific group or community.
  • Distributed social networking software allows you to store and organize your own content and – optionally – share it with whoever you like.

Or to put it another way, in social networking platforms, sharing is the feature. In distributed social software, sharing is a feature. The two use cases are genuinely different: rather than being a competition between “monolithic” social communities and distributed social software, they’re used for different things. There is a place for both in the ecosystem – and there’s no real reason why they can’t work together.

As I pointed out in The Internet is People, in order to be successful, any social software you build either has to plug into an existing community, or be useful for the first user who joins. In distributed social software, you only ever have one user: distributed sharing, then, should be a piece of infrastructure that can be plugged into any kind of software.

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7 Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention but I think you have somewhat of a wrong impression of how we’re positioning ourselves with 6d.

    We’re not calling ourselves any sort of social networking platform. We’re trying to build an identity building application with social features because we agree with your assertions.

    An identity builder because you chose what’s public and private.

    From the start 6d is (going to be) a super simple blog with the power to connect with other instances of 6d. However, the power is going to be in the Addressbook and plugin nature. Build an email plugin and your friends in the address book you’d like to send a post to will get it via email. A facebook plugin and when you make a post it’ll go to your facebook page if you choose.

    The post can be public, meaning anyone can go to your page and see the post. Or it can be private in which it’s only sent to your friends you chose in the Addressbook.

    Does that meet your requirements for distributed social networking now? I know the interface isn’t intuitive at all but that’s something I’m working on today. If you have ideas on what we can make better please feel free to email me.

    Erik Bigelow June 5, 2010 (9:46 pm)
  2. Erik – thanks so much for the comment. I apologize for misrepresenting what you’re doing. I’m very interested in your concept – not unlike DiSo in the sense that it starts off with a blog – and will keep a close eye on it. It’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be using in the future.

    Ben Werdmuller June 7, 2010 (12:16 pm)
  3. >> However, the others are basing their product on ideology and technology rather than a human use case.
    >> I worry that a lot of these projects will disappear – which is a shame, because they’re all doing great work.
    @Ben Werdmuller

    Hi, this is author of Kopal.
    At this initial stage, Yes, I think more about implementing my thoughts and ideas into code rather than worrying about survival or competition.
    I’ll look into your suggestions. Thanks for caring.

    Vikrant Chaudhary June 17, 2010 (3:11 am)
  4. a bit late i suppose, but i was just linked to this today.

    yeah, sharing is the point, but you wouldn’t say that if i went through your things in your house, followed you around with a camera like paparazzi, and told everyone every little detail about you. i wouldn’t be able to say “but sharing is the point of what i do!” because it’s *supposed to be* YOUR CALL what YOU share.

    so while sharing is *a* feature of distributed social networking, the user having control is *the* feature. not zuck, not twits, but you.

    i think that’s really important. granted, anyone who is disappointed with the above platforms has my sympathy. i’ve got my own gripes. but wanting to burn down facebook for making private stuff public isn’t one of them. it’s not just about pride, people can lose their jobs that way. sharing without honest/integrated privacy isn’t sharing, it’s betrayal, and betrayal is *not* a feature i want in a platform. so in my book, a good social network needs a minimum of two features.

    openuniverse January 4, 2011 (4:06 pm)
  5. i guess if you disagree with a comment enough you censor it, eh? there was nothing in that post that made that a reasonable thing to do.

    ou January 5, 2011 (3:42 am)
  6. oh, i get it now! it’s because i said something good about your competition. i honestly had no idea at the time. but that’s NICE, ben. real nice.

    ou January 5, 2011 (3:46 am)
  7. FYI: I always manually approve comments from new commenters. I’m on the road right now, so a little slow. But there’s no conspiracy ..

    Ben Werdmuller January 5, 2011 (4:01 am)

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