The code was released to the public for a new social network designed to deliver the benefits of Facebook without the privacy concerns. The project--called Diaspora--also has potential as a tool for businesses to create their own social networks, but its value depends on how businesses intend to use social networking.
It is little secret that Facebook is often the subject of privacy concerns. Every time Facebook introduces a new feature, or updates the functionality it seems to share information in new and nefarious ways that users feel they have little control over. Diaspora was born from that controversy with the tagline, "The privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network."
The originators of Diaspora feel they have taken the project as far as they can, stating in a blog post, "We began the summer a list of technologies, and a few bold claims and the goal to make an intrinsically more private social network. The overwhelming response that we elicited made us realize that technology woudn't be enough. Even the most powerful, granular set of dropdowns and checkboxes will never give people control over where their content is going, let alone give them ownership of their digital self."
So, now the Diaspora source code has been opened publicly to developers so that the next phase of Diaspora development can be a group effort defined by the community. When an open source community contributes and collaborates effectively, the resulting product can be amazing. However, no software or social network can be all things to all people, and regardless of the final Diaspora that results it has very little chance of ever really challenging Facebook.
However, the Diaspora project could prove useful in providing businesses with a framework for implementing proprietary, internal social networks. Essentially, businesses can take advantage of some of the features and functions of social networking to foster communication and enable more efficient collaboration among peers, teams and departments, but without the concerns of exposing sensitive or confidential data to half a billion other social networking users.
Similar to the way Jabber and Yammer have emerged as internal, proprietary instant messaging alternatives, Diaspora could allow businesses to set up proprietary, local social networks. Of course, the benefits of a private social network come with some downsides as well.
For example, "private social network" sounds like an oxymoron. It takes the social out of social networking, and removes the business from the opportunity to engage an audience and foster a sense of community with customers. In other words, a private social network loses the marketing and brand recognition potential of Facebook in exchange for more private and secure sharing of information within the company.
Diaspora claims that a goal of the initial release is Facebook integration. We don't yet know what that will look like or what sort of capabilities it might have, but perhaps it will enable a business to build an internal Diaspora social network, while maintaining a connection with the massive audience of the Facebook social network at the same time.