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.