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Diaspora, the privacy-first Facebook competitor, shifts focus to meme generation

Diaspora, the privacy-first Facebook competitor, shifts focus to meme generation


Distributed social network Diaspora introduces, a meme generator.

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diaspora makr splash page
diaspora makr splash page

Diaspora, the social network inspired by privacy concerns about Facebook, has some odd news. Its high-minded, idealistic founders have taken a break from preaching against the dangers of giving personal data away to corporations like Facebook and Google. They're now touting, the meme generator they've been developing during their time at the elite accelerator program Y Combinator.

Diaspora's founders insist that is a related product and will not replace Diaspora. "We have launched, a sister project to D* that tackles different, but related problems to giving people ownership over their data," the company wrote on its blog last month for the product's soft launch. "Makr is not replacing D* in any way, and it will complement it even more in the future." The company says it will continue to work on Diaspora and simultaneously.

The company says it will continue to work on Diaspora and simultaneously

"Nope D* isnt dead. It's a successful open source project, with its own community, and YC gave us an opportunity to branch out and try working on some ideas we had stewing," CEO Max Salzberg said in an email to The Verge. "Makr actually started as features inside of D*, and YC pushed us to spin it off into its own thing."

However, it's hard to see how the two products are similar. Diaspora is a social network that resembles Google+, while is a collaborative image editor that resembles Canvas, the startup from 4chan founder Chris Poole. Meanwhile, Diaspora's homepage has been replaced with a teaser advertising "a creative way to remix your world."

Hopes were high in 2010 when four NYU students raised more than $200,000 on Kickstarter for Diaspora. "We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive," the founders wrote. "We think we can replace today's centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network." In other words, people should be able to keep up with their friends without being spied on by $FB and its advertisers.

To call the project "ambitious" would be an understatement, and Diaspora suffered terribly for it. The startup's trials included a delayed release, running out of money, a fallout with a volunteer who said he was Diaspora's CEO, and the death of one of its founders. Two of the remaining founders regrouped, recruited a third, and joined Y Combinator.

Diaspora's original Kickstarter pitch.

By contrast, looks like a pivot to something more fun and less dense. Diaspora's previous pitch involved a lot of thinking and caring about the implications of storing personal data with gigantic, publicly-traded companies. The original plan called for users to set up their own Diaspora web servers; now the company is merely asking users to write captions and make GIFs.

It may be that Diaspora establishes a new social network built around meme creation that upholds its original principles. The company has already open-sourced its code, for example. But it seems Diaspora has decided it's time to quiet down about changing the world. "D* could make perfect servers and protocols, but unless we can train people to care, we won't see the change we want to see in the world," Salzberg said. "So to that regard, Makr is a take to try and solve that bottleneck we know we would hit. It may seem somewhat counter intuitive, but after living in the bits for two years, its clear that this kinda thing has to happen first."

If you miss the idealistic talk about data ownership, however, the users-first social network was just funded on the basis of a similar proposition.

This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that two of Diaspora's founders continued into Y Combinator with Rosanna Yau as the third founder.