culture

Why I’m sticking with Diaspora

Diaspora’s Kickstarter crowdfunded kickoff has led from euphoric hype to snarky unhappiness, the emotional highs and lows of which really have had nothing to do the product and the proposal but actually the perception and anticipation of a social network that would finally be right for everyone.

I use Diaspora I recently contributed again to Diaspora to help fund the next phase of development.┬áDiaspora feels right for me for the following reasons…

A customer not an audience

It has a clear funding model, it allows you to be a customer of service rather than an audience for advertising or a source of demographic data. This isn’t a minor thing, it is actually a unique feature. Whether it is sustainable or not will be seen. Will people value a social network in the way they do Wikipedia? My feeling is that certain people do and others might and that could be enough to fund the network for everyone.

It acknowledges the primacy of the user as the creator of content

The other social networks allow you to extract your content to some extent but Diaspora correctly puts the user and the content they create centrally and makes it straightforward to extract and use yourself. The ability to federate and even pull your content and publishing entirely under your control should you wish to clearly goes further than any provider today.

It returns control to the user

It allows you to put some measure of control back on your online social life. Although this has now gone more mainstream with things like Google’s Circles Diaspora was the first to properly implement it and go through the real-world feedback loop. Diaspora’s Aspects allow to segment your network by audience and interest. They are a surprisingly powerful tool.

Is this enough?

Diaspora may not succeed, network effects rely almost entirely on volume of users and therefore it is critical that Diaspora has just enough use that there is some kind of feedback loop and you do not feel like everything you are doing is just being fired off into a void. However it does not have to be as successful as Google+ or Facebook to succeed in providing a valuable service to those who have concerns about control and trust.

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Web Applications

What is FriendFeed?

I was just about to blog about FriendFeed as being the perfect aggregator for using specialised web services when I read the announcement that Facebook had bought the company (a more sincere form of flattery perhaps, than their original imitation) and it kind of put the kibosh on the post.

Now however, a while after the purchase FriendFeed still fundamentally has all the good stuff I wanted to write about and I’m still using it to aggregate more and more feeds so I felt it was worth picking up the topic again.

FriendFeed is a social networking site that has a lot in common with a lot of similar sites. You get microblogging with unlimited length comments (rather like Jaiku). This is handy for posting links and discussing them. From this fairly basic start you have two threads of innovation. The first is around the event handling, Robert Scoble probably has the best example (’cause he has a lot of readers) on his blog. On the right-hand side you can see the FriendFeed plugin and if lucky you can see that it is actually a real-time discussion widget. As people interact with the posts it gets feed onto the page. It’s pretty cool but also a bit of gimmick in a similar way as Wave is.

For me what is more interesting is the idea of “Imaginary Friends”. If you are a user on FriendFeed you can define the aggregation stream you want to present to the world. This is very similar to the aggregation done by Whoisi, except that you control the content in FriendFeed and the world decides on what your stream is in Whoisi. This is a handy feature but often you want to have an aggregation for someone who isn’t on FriendFeed or where you actually want to construct a different aggregation than that the user has chosen to present (for example excluding personal material from the feed). These aggregations are created for Imaginary Friends that you create within your own user context. My most common usecase is that I want to blend someone’s Twitter and Blog feed into a single stream so I can view their updates in one scan.

You can then create grouped sets of streams where you see a single feed that is an aggregation of aggregations. So for example I have a group of Imaginary Friends that represent pop stars on Twitter. I don’t need real-time updates from Lily Allen but on the weekend I do like to have a browse through and see what is happening with the Twitterati.

The final feature that is interesting (but a little creepy) is that you can use the FriendFeed commenting system to comment on other people’s feeds and have discussions without ever notifying the original poster. This allows side-channel communication but I do sometimes feel that it is more like talking about someone behind their back. This is probably most useful on things like Tumblr where there is no built-in comment system or a post where the comments or forums have been locked down.

So that’s my description of FriendFeed and while I was quite cool on it at first I have found that it has replaced things like RSS readers for me and I am starting to look at holistic aggregation as a necessary feature for information organisation systems.

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Web Applications

Who is I?

Want to take a new look at news feeds? Whoisi is a feed aggregator with a few distinctive features, firstly it is orientated around people, secondly it allows you to associate an individual with pretty much anything that provides an RSS feed, it is also an experiment with anonymous collaboration.

News feeds are organised around people (e.g. John Resig) and for people who just have one blog it isn’t very exciting but if someone has a Twitter stream, a blog or two, Flickr and a LiveJournal then suddenly you are looking at a consolidated view of everything that person is up to.

Which is either really cool or is the behaviour of a demented stalker. For people who have a strong web presence and are generally pretty cool and interesting then it is really useful to get a single view of them. For example John’s JQuery conference posting works better when you combine Twitter and the photostream.

I think I kind of prefer Whoisi’s liberal anarchy to most of the other sites I have seen. It asks important questions as to how the web should work. Why do we need accounts and passwords? If information is public then do individuals get a say in how they information they provide is organised?

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