Diaspora project? The federated and open source social network that launched its Kickstarter project just as public disgust at Facebook was at an all-time high? They're back, and looking for a little extra dough to complete the mission. It's been more than a year since the project launched with more than $200,000 in funding from more than 6,000 donors. Now's a good time to do a reality check, and see where the project stands. And maybe dig into your pockets.Remember the
Today the project posted a plea for $25, or whatever you can spare, to "keep building Diaspora."
How much are they trying to raise? At least enough to open their own office and provide resources to implement their "larger vision" of "a safer, more secure, and more private social Web."
Diaspora core member Maxwell Salzberg says "we are trying to obtain ongoing community support. We want to maintain Diaspora as a community-financed project, so the core product can remain non-commercial."
As for business models, Salzberg says that the team has not yet made any decisions. "The key right now is to build something that our community wants to use and that makes a difference in our users' lives. In the future, we will work with our community to determine with them how we could best turn Diaspora* into a self-sustaining operation.
Where The Money Went
You might wonder where the original $200,000 has gone since the project's initial Kickstarter project to build a free social platform. Fair enough, let's take a look how it's broken down so far.
First, Kickstarter takes a chunk of the cash receipts. That means that the $200,000 is actually a bit more than $178,000 after the Diaspora folks got the money. The developers have taken a modest salary of just over $28,000 each, and there's payroll taxes and insurance on top of that. So the biggest line item for the Diaspora team so far is payroll, which comes to just more than $114,000. To put that in perspective, assuming 40 hour weeks for 52 weeks, they're not quite bringing home $15 an hour.
There's also corporate taxes and filing fees, a housing allowance for the developers, and system expenses for hosting and development. For instance, they've spent nearly $6,500 just for hosting with Rackspace.
Finally, there's the fulfillment expenses for Kickstarter. They were on the hook for t-shirts, hardware, stickers, and other goodies to give to donors – and of course that money comes right out of the original donations. So that was just a bit more than $28,000 according to the profit and loss statement the Diaspora team sent me today.
All told, when everything is figured up, Diaspora is currently looking at a net loss of $238. The Kickstarter funds, according to the figures sent to me by Diaspora, are done.
Where They're At
You don't hear as much about Diaspora, but it's out there. The code for Diaspora is up on GitHub and you can find a bunch of Diaspora "Pods" that are up and running. Some pods have been up for a year with pretty good uptime. So from where I'm sitting, it looks like the developers have delivered on their promises so far. Diaspora is open source, distributed, federated and users own their data.
If you just want to use Diaspora, that's pretty easy, though access is limited on the main Pod. Salzberg says that they're getting ready to launch their beta version in November, and that the project is rolling out invites to the 500,000 users wait-listed there.
But no need to wait. I was able to sign up for a Pod (Diasp.org) and start using it in about a minute. The look and feel is a lot like Google Plus, as Jon Mitchell mentioned back in September. Never mind that Diaspora may have had some of the features first, the majority of users will have seen them on Google Plus first. I found that some, but not many, of my Facebook friends were already on Diaspora. Adding them is pretty easy as well. It has most of the features that you'd expect on a social network – shares, @replies, hashtags, and so on.
Disapora also integrates with Facebook and Twitter, though I don't see a Google Plus integration yet. You can cross-post to other platforms and look for your friends. If they've signed up for Diaspora, you can find them pretty easily.
The big feature, of course, is that you can export your data and even host your own pod if you want. Eventually, Diaspora even plans to offer the ability to move between pods.
Salzberg says that Diaspora "is unlike any other social network people have used in the past."
"It's hard to explain. You only understand it when you meet our wonderful community and interact with other Diaspora users. We're community-run, which means that we, as well as our developers and fellow users, are always available to answer questions, discuss feature requests, and provide assistance to other users. It's difficult to find another place online where so much democratic, grassroots interaction happens."
Though the Diaspora project started with just a small core team, GitHub shows 150 contributors to the project, and the impact graphs show that there's a non-trivial amount of work coming from outside the core team. This indicates that the project is not only moving forward technically, but developing a reasonably diverse community of contributors – at least at first glance.
Salzberg says that Diaspora is now the 6th most popular project on GitHub, putting it in "the top 2% of open source projects."
There's still a lot of work to be done before Diaspora disrupts Facebook or even Google Plus. How do I know? For one thing, I found out about the second round of fund-raising via Facebook.
It looks like it's becoming usable, but it's still not trivial to install – a major hurdle for a distributed system. It's also not at-par yet with Facebook or Google Plus, feature-wise. There's definitely a need for a sustainable business model for the Diaspora project. Going hat-in-hand to users is not a long-term model for funding, and the folks behind it might eventually want to make real salaries.
But it's making strong progress. The initial reaction that many people will have is "what, they're looking for money again so soon?" But $200,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to what Google and Facebook put into development, and they've managed to come a long way in one year. But to become truly competitive with Facebook, Google Plus and others, they have a lot longer to go. Think they'll make it?