As Facebook Takes Heat, Could A New Alternative Gain Traction?

Yesterday there was a substantial amount of buzz about a new Facebook alternative being developed by four NYU students. Traditionally, such alternatives wouldn’t even have a shot, but due to the increasing pressure against Facebook, the press jumped on the story. The question remains however: would users switch from Facebook to an alternative service where they own and have complete control over their data?

Average Users Don’t Understand Facebook Privacy

Due to the constant changes to Facebook’s privacy settings, we’d assume that the average user has no idea how to effectively manage their privacy settings. As many users have noticed, just opting out from the new “Instant Personalization” service alone is not sufficient. Instead, users must go through additional steps to ensure their data is not accessed by third-party sites like Yelp.

Most users don’t want to spend hours at a time managing their Facebook Privacy and the numerous settings can be somewhat overwhelming. We believe the most frequent user behavior is to quickly review privacy settings and then move on. However some users like to spend more time controlling their settings.

Some Users Are Frustrated

For those users who have edited their settings each time Facebook makes a change, it has become too much of a process. The result is that many have become extremely frustrated with Facebook and now, four NYU students believe they have a solution. The solution is a peer-to-peer hosted network. Users in the network can set up their own servers that host user data in the network. The closest comparison we could come up with is bittorrent, one of the leading peer-to-peer file sharing services.

The main purpose is to not have a corporation owning the user data, as Facebook currently does. Right now, Facebook is able to use the massive amounts of user data they have as an opportunity to market to users. While there are a lot of unknown variables about Diaspora, the distributed social network, right now is a great time for the service to get off the ground.

Many people don’t want Facebook to own all of a user’s data, for obvious reasons. With millions of frustrated users, Diaspora has a rapidly growing target market. While the hurdles for building the next Facebook are significant, Diaspora is attempting to empower Facebook users. As the company describes:

Diaspora aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly, will let us connect without surrendering our privacy. We call these computers ‘seeds’. A seed is owned by you, hosted by you, or on a rented server. Once it has been set up, the seed will aggregate all of your information: your facebook profile, tweets, anything. We are designing an easily extendable plugin framework for Diaspora, so that whenever newfangled content gets invented, it will be automagically integrated into every seed.

Now that you have your information in your seed, it will connect to every service you used to have for you. For example, your seed will keep pulling tweets and you will still be able to see your Facebook newsfeed. In fact, Diaspora will make those services better! Upload an image to Flickr and your seed can automatically generate a tweet from the caption and link. Social networking will just get better when you have control over your data.

Can The Experience Be As Good As Facebook?

The greater question facing Diaspora is whether or not the company can actually build a service that is as easy to interact with or better than Facebook. For now we’ll have to wait, but the I can understand the drive behind wanting to own your data. I for one and not willing to just voluntarily give up all control, even though some people, like Robert Scoble, are willing to give up easily.

While I don’t think users are willing to quit Facebook just yet (although some would like them to), providing an easy way for users to make the shift off of Facebook for the benefit of owning your data may actually have a chance. I’m not sure what Facebook will do to fend off a service like Diaspora, but I think this company could actually have a shot as long as the user experience is a good one. Would you stop using Facebook just to own your data? Do you think this is a strong enough rationale to stop using the service?