Slug: why-no-one-is-going-to-succeed-at-building-the-notfacebook Date: 2010-05-13 Title: Why No One is Going to Succeed at Building the Not-Facebook layout: post

A new social network project called Diaspora, consisting of 4 NY college students, has topped $100k in donations on Kickstarter, a site that enables organizations and causes from individuals giving small donations.

How did they do it? Really, really good timing.

Facebook recently held its annual F8 developers conference, where they announced a variety of new initiatives, which is typical at such gatherings. This year, however, some of those announcements represented far-reaching efforts to entice website developers to add their content to Facebook’s already mind-bogglingly large collection of social objects, in exchange for traffic to their sites from Facebook. The reaction from the digerati was swift and indignant: “Facebook doesn’t value our privacy!” (as if any of us are hiding anything from anyone anyway), “Facebook is trying to take over the Web!”, “Someone should make a Capital-O-Open Facebook!”

All in all, I can’t say as I disagree with them. I’ve often said and written similar things. Heck, I helped start a little project to advance the same ideals. And it’s this wave of indignation, frustration, and well-known web pundits publicly leaving Facebook that Diaspora is riding in their quest for funding to work on this project.

So I should be excited, or at least impressed, with Diaspora’s fund-raising success, right? People are finally starting to get it!

Perhaps, but I’m not really. Of all the Open, social, distributed, free, and Free social network projects that have been launched over the last few years, which one are our friends and families falling over themselves to join? Yup: Facebook.

Still With The Facebook!?

Why? Because Facebook is not about computers to them. It’s not about software, or (cue Braveheart) “FRREEEDOMMM”. It’s where their friends are. It’s where their family members are. It’s where Farmville and Mafia Wars are. It’s fun, it’s friendly (sort of). Explaining Diso to my family and friends has largely gone like this:

“So what’s this thing you’re writing about on your blog?”

“It’s like Facebook, but <words and words and open and words and distributed> and without the stuff that makes me crazy but you don’t know or care about.”

crickets … “So, what else is new?”

The real problem with raising support (financial or otherwise) to build a not-Facebook (including hypothetically, our DiSo Project) is that the idea is only really attractive to those who already oppose the idea of Facebook on philosophical grounds, no longer trust them on privacy, and so forth. In order for any alternative social software system to thrive, it needs to have users, and they just aren’t there. Not in the soul-crushing volume Facebook has.

What To Do Then?

To succeed, this hypothetical alternative social system cannot simply be “like Facebook, but Open”, or “like Facebook, but distributed!”. It has to be better, and better in practical ways, not just philosophical ways. The trouble is that for the average user, Facebook is really, really good at the practical, fun, social parts of the equation.

Instead of foaming at the mouth, quitting Facebook in a public display of nobility, or Raising our revolutionary flag of Open, we should be asking ourselves - what can we give users that is truly better than what they get with Facebook? Yes, we should be building in all the values we hold - privacy, security, openness, etc - but I need to be able to show my family and friends your new product and have them get excited, without ever mentioning Open, Distributed, or Free.