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Open alternative to Facebook

 Last fortnight, a blog post by Facebook's developer support team nailed it. Though the social networking firm backtracked after privacy rights activists cried foul, the seemingly innocuous announcement that application developers can access your home addresses and phone numbers (should you use their app) set the alarm bells ringing.

The message was clear: your data, once uploaded on Internet services, is not yours anymore. Enter Diaspora.

Diaspora, an open and distributed social network, offers an escape hatch for those who want to stay networked, yet find the loose privacy practices discomfiting. In its early alpha testing stage, Diaspora now offers just what was promised when the four geeks behind this ‘free' project released its code four months ago.

Dubbed the ‘Facebook Killer,' Diaspora offers all that Facebook does —friends, status updates, photo sharing, linking messages between Twitter and Facebook, and the works — and two critical features that Facebook will not: privacy and control. And it is not just about just about customising settings or tweaking controls; for, Diaspora's inherent ‘decentralised' architecture puts you in control right from the start by liberating you from the servers that store your data, owned, of course, by corporations.
Decentralised pods

Diaspora runs on a network of connected servers, or ‘pods.' These network nodes can be hosted by Diaspora users — the ‘how to' page on Diaspora blog takes you through the slightly technical process of setting one up. But it isn't that every user must set up a pod: you can join any existing pod running the Diaspora software. Unlike Facebook, where the ‘iron and steel' or cloud is owned by the company, this pod could be run/owned by your friend, office, university or — if none of the above — the freedom-loving, non-corporate types at Diaspora. So while you enjoy the fruits of social networking, the pods ensure that your data remains within the nodes you control.

The first impression — they are still adding features by the day — is that it is clean and gives you more control. Take, for instance, ‘aspects.' Diaspora lets you group your friends into different aspects (like buddy groups), so you can choose which aspect can view your messages/photos. Closer to how we interact offline, where what we say more often than not depends on who we're talking to, aspect-specific posting means that what you're posting to your friends can't be viewed by your work colleagues, boss, family or whoever it is that you choose to address.

Privacy concerns have previously led to open source initiatives such as Identica and GNU Social. What sets Diaspora apart is the attempt to decentralise.


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