Rise of the Facebook-Killers

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

"We're actually trying to be sort of careful about talking to the press right now because whenever more people hear about this, we get way more volunteers than we know what to do with," Boyer says. "Everyone is really excited about this."

Like Diaspora*, these Occupy projects won't be run through a single central node of servers. That's partly an ideological decision, but it's also a practical one.

"One of the reasons Facebook has to sell information is to cover the massive costs of hosting that information," Knutson says. "If you distribute that burden and have every little community hosting its own node, your costs drop down to something very manageable, like $20 a month."

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.

This distribution makes the network more accountable to its users, too. Even if every occupier isn't running his or her own personal server, the one he or she is using is probably no further away than the occupation's tech tent. Even better, for those worried about malicious government or corporate interference, the distributed network is much less vulnerable to denial of service attacks, which makes the network much harder to take down.

The goal is to roll out a basic working version of the Federated General Assembly soon, to allow occupiers to use it, find flaws, make suggestions, and build plug-ins on top of it. The basic structure is clear, though: The FGA will be built around the same principles and strengths of the movement it serves. That means the system has to be radically democratic, horizontal, and decentralized. It also means that, just like the Occupy movement itself, the fundamental organizing unit is the group. From the smallest affinity group of friends or working group collaborating on a task to an entire city's General Assembly, groups and their relationships are at the heart of the FGA.

"At Occupy Wall Street, the groups you're affiliated with, that's sort of your identity," Boyer says. "You say: 'Hi, I'm Sam. I'm with the Technology Group' or 'Hi, I'm visiting this week from Occupy L.A.'"

These affiliations help create context and trust between users and also a variety of online spaces in which different kinds of conversations can take place.

"I like to compare Facebook to communication in preschool," Boyer says. "The Facebook wall is an incredibly unsophisticated social space. People just spew stuff out. In adult social situations, we read cues, we create norms, we create rules that are there for the purpose of creating conversations that move us forward. That's what we want to build."

Much of what the developers are building is specifically tailored to the unique structures and values of the Occupy movement. But they're also building their networks with an eye on the bigger picture.

"This was born out of the needs of the occupiers, but we by no means wish to restrict what we're building to just the Occupy movement," Knutson says. "I think this can have a big effect on social networking more generally. Ironically, I could actually see this having broad implications in the corporate world as well—anything where you're working with a team made of groups scattered around the world."

The key, Knutson says, is to recognize that oftentimes the most important thing is to get out of the way of the users. "If you look at any social network, the functionality that's provided is a relatively small part of the network," he says. "Most of the value is in the people involved, the network itself, the connections between actual people."

Given the current time frame, it's entirely possible that Facebook's public offering could take place the same day that the Federated General Assembly or Global Square launch their first rough versions. Nobody expects these early iterations, or even the somewhat more polished alternative of Diaspora*, to make Facebook or its investors so much as blink anytime soon.

But Moglen cautions patience.

"Free software moves more slowly because there isn't any money in it," Moglen says. "But that doesn't mean it doesn't eventually get there. Facebook can only give people what it's already given them. But in the future, they can have all of that, plus the privacy they'd like. It's true: People will give up freedom for convenience, but if you give them both, eventually, they choose the option with freedom."

Boyer isn't convinced that any of these new social networks will lead Facebook to collapse in the near future.

"I think it's possible that Facebook will still be around in five years, and even in 10," Boyer says. "But I'd like to see it recede into only being used for that single, simple purpose that it ultimately serves very well, which I continue to use it for: finding that person that I met a million years ago. The rest of it, we can do better."

Moglen is less cautious.

"The thesis behind the Facebook IPO is we now have 1 billion people trapped, and soon we'll have 2 billion," Moglen says. "But that's not going to happen. We're going to have federated social networking in a matter of months—probably more than 12 but a lot less than 120. So somewhere between 12 and 120 months from now, Facebook is going to cease to exist."

npinto@villagevoice.com

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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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