Rise of the Facebook-Killers

At the pinnacle of the social network's success, its critics are busy building its replacements

A few months after Moglen's speech, the group launched a Kickstarter campaign for a project they called Diaspora*. Diaspora* would be everything Moglen had called for: open-source, respectful of privacy, and controlled by users. Instead of routing all exchanges through a central clearinghouse, Diaspora* users would set up their own nodes, storing their information locally.

The team members quickly raised more than $200,000, plenty to fund a summer in San Francisco and to build the skeleton of their new social network. That fall, they released a "pre-alpha" version, soliciting feedback from other developers. There was plenty of criticism, but most of it was constructive. A year later, last November, the team released a redesigned version that patched the earlier security holes and included a host of new features, many familiar for users of Facebook and Twitter: hashtags, status updates, and "Like" buttons.

Just days later, Zhitomirskiy died suddenly, in what a source close to the company told CNNMoney was a suicide. The loss of Zhitomirskiy—often described as the most idealistic and privacy-conscious member of the group—was a devastating setback, but Diaspora* continues.

A longtime champion of the free-software movement, Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen predicts Facebook will be extinct in a matter of months.
Emily Berl
A longtime champion of the free-software movement, Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen predicts Facebook will be extinct in a matter of months.
An activist and programmer, Sam Boyer is helping to build the Federated General Assembly, a decentralized network designed for the Occupy movement.
Emily Berl
An activist and programmer, Sam Boyer is helping to build the Federated General Assembly, a decentralized network designed for the Occupy movement.

Early on, the team recognized that coding a distributed social network might actually be the easy part. It would be harder to persuade users to move from Facebook—the network where all their friends, (past, present, and future) already were—to their new, sparsely populated network.

Their solution was to make Diaspora* play well with others. Sign up for a Diaspora* account, and your posts can easily be imported into Tumblr, Twitter, and even Facebook. In the early stages of its use, Diaspora* can function as a social aggregator, bringing together feeds from various other platforms. The idea is that this lowers the barriers to joining the network, and as more of your friends join, you no longer need to bounce communications through Facebook. Instead, you can communicate directly, securely, and without running exchanges past the prying eyes of Zuckerberg and his business associates.

It probably shouldn't be surprising that another of the teams building an alternative social network is affiliated with the Occupy movement.

Ed Knutson, a software developer from Milwaukee, became instantly engaged with Occupy Wall Street when the movement first started garnering national headlines early last fall. As the movement spread, Knutson traveled to several East Coast occupations and met with teams to discuss the technology needs of the movement.

"We needed tools for people to communicate more directly, without having to all be in the same physical space," Knutson says. "A lot of what was happening was very ad hoc, different groups trying to talk to each other across Skype and Twitter. It wasn't working very well. We needed a platform where people from different occupations could cross-pollinate their ideas."

In October, a loose team of coders from across the country began collaborating to build that platform.

Knutson was also in touch with members of the Indignados, a Spanish movement that prefigured Occupy Wall Street and served as an early model for the American movement. Together, they began to imagine a network that would leap national boundaries and allow different movements to share information, plans, and expertise. The resulting project, Global Square, overlaps significantly with a more Occupy-specific project called the Federated General Assembly—run largely out of New York by a team coordinated by Sam Boyer.

Boyer's activist roots date back to his student days at the University of Rochester, where he was active with the Student Trade Justice Campaign, part of the anti–World Trade Organization movement. In 2006, Boyer was a delegate to a meeting of the international coalition Our World Is Not for Sale, joining everyone including organizers from fishing communities in the Philippines to policy wonks from Geneva and Washington. During the meeting, Boyer realized that there was something fundamentally broken about how the group was talking to itself.

"Because so much of the communication was going on over e-mail, it tended to privilege one sort of people—the ones who had the time and means to spend a lot of time reading and sending e-mail," Boyer says. "It meant that the Western policy-oriented people had a much stronger voice than the activists actually on the ground. There was no way for people who didn't already have an encyclopedic knowledge of the issues to tap into all the collective knowledge. Basically, the architecture of communication was distorting the conversation."

So Boyer, who had no previous coding experience, decided to build a better system. He threw himself into computer engineering, taught himself the open-source content-management framework Drupal, and experimented with better ways for activists to communicate.

"I realized we needed a lot of different kinds of spaces: small-process spaces, big-process spaces, taking stuff that happens offline and finding ways to make it happen online."

By the time Occupy Wall Street had seized Zuccotti Park, Boyer was a well-known figure among Drupal developers, and he decided to leverage his experience and connections to build the occupiers a platform to help them talk to one another.

The result—the Federated General Assembly—won't receive its first provisional rollout for several months. But as with Diaspora*, early response even to just the idea has been overwhelming.

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45 comments
Steve Moyer
Steve Moyer

Time to put Facebook down with extreme prejudice. They should be call FASCISTbook.

k0nsl
k0nsl

@Steve Moyer More like "Jewbook" ;)

James J. Pond
James J. Pond

I am so over Facebook, Google, and quite possibly you tube too. I am not a commercial and I do not appreciate how corporations are conducting business online.

Bpatphilly10
Bpatphilly10

Yes, great article. It is time to bring privacy rights issues to the forefront of our technology discussions.

Martin Farrent
Martin Farrent

Friendica actually has a Facebook connector that works - integrating FB contacts in your stream. That might sound like a compromise in terms of overcoming Facebook's quasi-monopoly... but it tears down the garden walls, which can only be a good thing. Additionally, Friendica integrates a whole range of other networks and protocols: Twitter, Diaspora (seamless), identi.ca/status.net, even email.

Terrycart
Terrycart

That is not true to say something like that, Facebook can definitely be better but not go extinct. That is really blow his own trumpet.

Martin Farrent
Martin Farrent

The article fails to mention Friendica, increasingly recognised as the most powerful, stable and genuinely decentralised Facebook alternative. Server installation is almost as easy as for WordPress - so you can run your own and control your database completely.

Also, Friendica is easily the most integrative of the decentralised solutions, allowing seamless communication with contacts from Diaspora and integration of your Facebook stream, too. Apart from that, it connects to Twitter, Wordpress, status.net and a few others - and will even integrate good old email into your social networking. It's free as in beer and free as in speech and really worth a try.

MGF
MGF

The author of this article should have taken a good look at Friendica, widely recognised as the most powerful and stable of the alternatives to Facebook. Unlike other solutions, it is truly decentralised, running on small servers (almost as easy to install as Wordpress). It integrates a host of other networks from Diaspora to Facebook and is updated/enhanced very regularly. You can read more here: http://friendica.com

Sarino
Sarino

Remember MySpace? Facebook is just a modified, and perhaps more dynamic, version of that. Why it caught on like it did I'l never understand, I've never had the desire or time to set up a Facebook profile, and now that I know how it makes it's money I am glad I didn't! I think the biggest problem with this site, and other such sites like Twitter and fubar, etc., is calling them "social networking". They are anything but "social", the are as unsocial as humanly possible. While I agree with the story that a useful function Facebook can serve is to find an old friend, or someone you knew for some reason, that you lost touch with and would like to find, there is nothing "social" about staring at a computer monitor and typing on a keyboard. Calling Facebook a "social network" is like calling a jail "a government subsidized sustinence and housing resource"! It has been proven many times over with experiments on animals that if a living organism (people) does not have physical touch and interaction with other such organism's it suffers mentally, and the results can be very bad. If anything Facebook and the like have destroyed social values. Very few people get out and interact with people now as compared to 20 or 30 years ago. After work or the trip to the store they go home and get on their computer, or watch their tv, or both, and any 'contact' happens through technology. I know in the town I live in the number of people you see 'out and about' during the evenings and nights is about 1/2 of what it was in the 80's, and the population is about 50 or 60 percent more. There are times when the number of people you see somewhere on the weekends is less than what it was during the week in the 80's. And the biggest percentage of those out are the college students, whereas in the 80's you would see as many 'locals' as students, and a more age diverse group of people as well. Between TV and computers technology has destroyed the US's social values.

Nwebbjeebus
Nwebbjeebus

I agree with you re social media's inherent unsociability, but I know I get out and about less nowadays primarily because of the economy and what money I have doesn't go as far as it used to 20 or 30 years ago.

There are other factors.Technology hasn't destroyed America's social values. Madison Ave, celebrity culture, video games and bad parenting have. Neither of my nephews, ages 7 and 9, could believe it when I told them their mother, father and I lived in a world without the internet. Even a luddite like me has a FB page, a Twitter feed and a flip phone. Texting and email have their uses. If you're using FB and Twitter as your primary means of communication with friends and family, however, then, yes, you have a problem.

Turk
Turk

... of course the "added-value/benefit" to the socially-interactive, uhm, reductionism (for lack of a better term) you aptly make mention of is, or so would the loyal facebook apologists argue- that within the period of time you speak of violent crime has dwindled across the country; our streets are cleaner and our children safer (though nay would point to a sharp increase in child obesity, their increasingly eroding attention spans or growing propensity toward antisocial behavior, which, is it just me or does it appear for some reason that too often the latter coincides with calls to fund both the study AND treatment of so called "autism spectrum disorders"?).

why just last month the BBC aired some must-be facetious, utterly ridiculous hour long segment titled "how facebook changed the world", its theory being that among intended purposes for the site could be interpreted and included to spurt the "rise of democracy" (or, as democracy in the post tahrir-square-spring-thingy current 'zeitgeist' used to be known as- military dictatorships, no?) across egypt and the arab world.

... as apossed to "how the (arab) world changed facebook", right (and still got, uh, unfriended... defriended... whatevs, yo!)?

Michael T
Michael T

This is funny. When I told a few people I was working on a project to take down facebook, one person reply back tome and old me Google should be your target. I now undertand that if I can take out facebook, Google is just another roadkill. People laugh at such claims like can people walk on the moon some day 1,000 years ago. People laugh at people saying that but now walking on the moon is reality.

Nothing difficult at all. So, to kill Google is not as hard as people might think. I have found my answer to kill Google. This is no joke- I'm going to take out Yahoo, Zynga, Groupon, Ebay, Facebook then offer free searches without bias or adveritssing attachements and eliminate Google easily. The thing is I must take out Yahoo and Zynga and Ebay in the first year of operation. Groupon is dead because I plan to offer half the price of what Groupon charges businesses.

Stay Tuned for the People's Project. We got 7 inventions to take out all these guys but we do need to build data centers in order to do so. That is why once we write up the prototype and get seed funding from angel investors, End of Google in 3 to 5 years. Believe this as if you would believe a man could walk on the moon. Believe this that in the future man can walk on mars. Believe this as man will live on the Mars some day. Believe Google will end up dead just like any company that came before it.Ming.

Michael T
Michael T

Investors in Facebook must think twice before they buy this stock because there is always a better company coming out going to replace Facebook in the not too distant future. I'm working on a project exactly going to do that. One way or another, this project is going to come out by late this year ir early next year because it does take funding to do this project. To be able to eliminate Facebook is worth many billions.

I'm going to attempt to take out Ebay, Groupon, Linkedin and then Zynga then deal with Facebook and Yahoo. Google will be my last target as I will offer free unbiased searches in the future. Who needs Google if you can get it for free without bias of advertising?

Ming.

Turk
Turk

... uh, could your repeated posts on here be considered FREE ADVERTISEMENT for your "project", and if so, how 'pryed unto' should the rest of us feel, that is, how interrupted has the experience of our reading and opining on this article been by your de facto (pre) marketting campaign?

silly question yes, but the larger point being (and i think another poster here, Sarino- eluded to this already) that true, corporal (social) interaction continues to be greatly eroded/diminished by the likes/models of facebook, and to this ill your idea appears to offer not a thorough (re)solution, but rather just an(other) alternate version.

... you know, competition; another tame-the-mind computer (wishful) application, if you will; which by the way before reading your replies this morning i had absolutely no idea what 'groupon' or 'zynga' were, and to be perfectly honest, i hardly think i'll so much as bother to look them up, respectively.

there's a hint for you somewhere in that.

Michael T
Michael T

This project we are building is nothing people have ever seen yet. It should remain secret until prototype is done. One thing I can say is this privacy issue does not sell user's data to anyone. No forced advertising also. Our first target is not Facebook but Ebay and Groupon and Zynga and Yahoo. We are a nonprofit so this time around, Ebay will be fearful of our existence. We won't be selling one share to Ebay.

Ming.

Turk
Turk

... in that case, GOOD LUCK and GOD SPEED to you, sir!you are a braver, much more hopeful man than i am.

Robert Mark
Robert Mark

The Facebook farce is a fraud. They've capitalized on the basis of bogus numbers. There are hundreds of millions of avatars and shills being sold to the corporate rubes as 'real people.' Hey, Romney even handed us our defense: "corporations are people too."

Turk
Turk

# FGA IPO v fb? r u h8trz 4 rl? omfg, rotflmfao @ u stpd b!tchz 4evr. hahahahaha. :)

Carmen
Carmen

One major problem with unplugging from Facebook is you will lose the ability to comment in other websites, as they require it now. If I want to comment on an article in the local online paper, I have to have a FB account. Because everyone is who they say they are on FB, right?

Yeah...and my name is really "Carmen." Snork.

Still waiting for Diaspora, btw.

Decktrio
Decktrio

That is a hurdle that we need to jump. It's hard but there's no other choice. If we're going to cut FB out of our lives, then we need to send a message to the other websites that use facebook's plugins.

To stop the temptation, I use AdBlock Plus, and filter out this:||facebook.com/plugins/*||static.ak.fbcdn.net/rsrc.php/v...

So if a site uses facebook's comments plugin, I don't even see the comments section, which is just as well for me. That site, isn't really encouraging a free dialogue if their using fb's comment plugin. They're just using us to cross-advertise.

Shmerl
Shmerl

Normal sites offer OpenID or something the like for commenting (in the future it can be BrowserID which Mozilla proposed).

And no need to wait for Diaspora, join any public community pod which accepts registrations: https://github.com/diaspora/di...

Rawdoc
Rawdoc

So what you do this is create a Profile on Face Book as 'Village Idiot', saying your job is to tear away the fabric of Reality ---and, when they 'cleverly' ask 'how' to do this, say: 'Just start at the Horizon & pull upwards!'. Do this now before it becomes illegal to snark @ Faeces Book....

unabletoplaytennis
unabletoplaytennis

Watch out for a new project coming out to give Facebook a headache soon. It is called The People's Project. Stay tune for news by end of 2012.

Ming- the creator of this project.

unabletoplaytennis
unabletoplaytennis

Watch out for The People's project coming soo by end of this year hopefully. Facebook could end up really dead this time. The People's Project is coming.

Ming.

Sue Krige
Sue Krige

This article makes a number of serious and interesting points. But it will lose its audience after about three paragraphs as the article is long winded shot through with pontificating, in true left wing and academic fashion.And the people who will congregate around Diasopra will probably be just as dull. I wonder what the average demogarphic and age of the audience was. Get over yourselves and think a much more attractive and funky approach, which can reach a wider audience, esp young people. This be done without losing the valid critique in the article. I speak from a committed social justice, leftwing and academic background.

DeadSuperHero
DeadSuperHero

On the contrary, Diaspora's community has a wide variety of incredibly interesting people. Artists, writers, developers, designers, musicians, activists, philosophers, etc. There are a lot of people with a passion for higher learning and deeper thinking over there, so I wouldn't be quite so quick to knock it.

Chindogu To You
Chindogu To You

Sue, I'm truly sorry your attention span has been impaired by years of bad TV, 140-character tweets and the general impatience of youth. But please... don't assume the rest of us also have ADHD, eh?

Ack
Ack

I read the whole thing and enjoyed it thank you very much. Pffft.

Joly MacFie
Joly MacFie

'Unconvinced' below could be excused for not viewing/reading the 'Freedom in the Cloud' talk - I might mention, a presentation of the Internet Society's New York Chapter - as it is not directly linked in the article. It is at http://isoc-ny.org/?p=1338

Unconvinced
Unconvinced

Oh. please. Could barely stomach the first page of the article and I refuse to read the rest of this drivel. I love how the professor uses "The Social Network," a FICTIONAL movie in case anyone forgot, as his overarching premise on who Mark Zuckerberg is and why he invented Facebook. To get laid? Sounds like the professor is just bitter.

What an idiot.

Guesssst
Guesssst

I think he was describing what attracts people to facebook in general, not just Zuckerberg's personal motives. I agree with him.

Foxyloxy2006
Foxyloxy2006

Uhm.....You do realize Mark Zuckerberg was involved in making that movie....?

Susan Powell
Susan Powell

Unconvinced, he made one passing comment/joke about a movie then said it's meaningless. You wrote a comment on an article about a several hour lecture that you couldn't bother to read. My god, how poor is your attention span? You know you can seek help for that.

Ack
Ack

nailed it.

Silkroad
Silkroad

@Lucas

Facebook is not necessarily inevitable. Look at what happened to Myspace.

Lucas BX
Lucas BX

The fact that this website, and every other website, has little f's plastered all over the screen really speaks to how derivative facebook has become to the computer experience. The damage has already been done. There's no escaping facebook. Cheers to anyone who picked up on this social distortion before it became the thing to do.

pathman25
pathman25

If you're not paying for it you are the product not the client. Don't fall for the Facepalm scam.

columbia 4 cunts
columbia 4 cunts

columbia law professor sounds like a very bitter, very envious of facebook, idiot.

Ack
Ack

herp

 
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