With all the bad press surrounding Facebook this past year, a lot of us are looking for a good alternative. That's the need the new, open-source, user-controled social network Diaspora aims to fill. Here's what it looks like so far.
Note: Diaspora is still a pretty young tool, currently still in alpha — so don't expect the world. Click on any of the images to get a closer look.
Your Profile: Plain and Simple
Diaspora doesn't have nearly as many features as something like Facebook (or even Twitter, I'd wager), but it is in alpha — and it actually looks pretty cool. You start by getting your own Diaspora handle (like [email protected]), which people can use to find you. That handle doesn't seem to do anything else, which is remarkably confusing, since it's formatted like an email address. Emailing a message to someone's Diaspora handle just brings back a "delivery failed", so apparently the "@joindiaspora.com" part is just for show (or perhaps part of some future functionality).
Your profile is organised similar to a Facebook profile, with your profile picture in the upper left-hand corner, a short bio with your gender and birthdate under it, and your posts off to the right. As far as the "posts" section of a profile, it's more like Twitter than Facebook — your profile is composed only of posts you've written, and not posts by others (though they can contain comments from other users, à la Facebook). It doesn't look like there's a way to make a post on someone else's profile (like Facebook's "Wall"); only to your own.
Aspects: Friend Lists Made Easy
Diaspora heavily focuses on an organisation feature called "aspects". The idea is that you have many different friends from different areas of your life: family, co-workers, your intramural hockey team, your Halo buddies, and whatever else you can make up. You can add people to any number of aspects and then post a status to Diaspora that only that aspect can see. This is handy if, say, you want to post about your most recent World of Warcraft conquest but don't want to clutter up your non-geek friends' feeds with such things. Aspects are private; only you can see your aspects and who belongs to them (so you could add your contacts to an "annoying people I don't like" aspect, though we wouldn't recommend it). Just as you can post to different aspects, you can also view feeds containing users only from a certain aspect, which is also nice.
As of right now, your profile is pretty bare information-wise. The profile creation page looks like this:
While there may very well be more additions to the profile in the future, we don't know. It might be more like Twitter with the bare profile, putting the focus on your posts and photos instead.
Getting Started With Diaspora
As of right now, Diaspora takes just a few minutes to get involved with; you just create your profile and start posting. You can post statuses, photos, and comment on other people's statuses. You can either post to all your aspects at once, or post to a specific aspect:
When someone requests to friend you on Diaspora, you'll get a notification email and a big red button on your home page (seriously, you can't miss it). When you click it, it'll show you your pending requests, and you can drag and drop them right into any aspect.
You can edit your aspects at any time, adding people to more than one aspect if you like. You can also add a new aspect at any time.
The last feature available in the alpha is Facebook and Twitter integration, which takes an interesting approach to cross-network posting. You can post your Diaspora statuses to Twitter or Facebook, but at the moment there isn't a way to automatically pull your Twitter or Facebook statuses to Diaspora (though that may be in a future update). It's pretty basic, but nice for digital socialites that have accounts across multiple networks.
Overall, it actually looks pretty cool, even in its very basic alpha state. The main hinderances it's likely to encounter in its future are gaining an audience and making itself accessible. Obviously, a social network is only as useful as the people on it, and the best way to drive people away is to make it difficult to understand (how Twitter became so popular I'll never know). It took me a while of playing around and reading the wiki to figure out what aspects were and how they worked, which was pretty central to the site. If they can make it easy for people to understand, it could end up being pretty well received. If you'd like to try out Diaspora yourself, you'll have to either find someone with invites, or keep an eye on the front page, since registration is currently closed.
What do you think of Diaspora thus far? Could you see yourself being an early adopter (or even ditching Facebook or Twitter for it) once it becomes more public? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.