Diaspora, a widely anticipated social network site built on open-source code, has cracked open its doors for business today, at least for a handful of invited participants.
"Every week, we'll invite more people," stated the developers behind the project, in a blog item posted Tuesday announcing the alpha release of the service. "By taking these baby steps, we'll be able to quickly identify performance problems and iterate on features as quickly as possible."
Such a cautious rollout may be necessary, given how fresh the code is. In September, when the first version of the working code behind the service was posted, it was promptly criticized for being riddled with security errors.
While Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg may not be worried about Diaspora quite yet, the service is one of a growing number of efforts to build out open-source-based social-networking software and services. Others include Identica, a Twitter-like messaging service built on open-source software, and the Free Software Foundation's GNU Social.
Four New York University students came up with the idea of Diaspora earlier this year, and quickly raised US$200,000 from investors in the project. In interviews, they have stated their collective goal was to develop open-source software for social networking as an alternative to commercial alternatives such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
"When you give up that data, you're giving it up forever," said co-developer Max Salzberg, in an interview with The New York Times. "The value [sites such as Facebook] give us is negligible in the scale of what they are doing, and what we are giving up is all of our privacy."
The students' plan with Diaspora is to allow participants to retain ownership of all the material they use on the site, and retain full control over how that information is shared. It will also allow users to divide their social connections into individual groups, called Aspects, and control which groups see which material, according to the website.