Thursday, November 21, 2013

Diaspora*, the Online Social World Where You are in Control

Diaspora* is an Open Source distributed social networking service. It was released as part of the BitNami Library a month ago.

You can now download free, ready to run native installers for OS X and Linux, virtual machines and Azure and Amazon EC2 images for Diaspora*. You can also now launch a free cloud demo server with the BitNami Cloud Launchpad by clicking the launch button below.

Jason Robinson, one of the Diaspora* project contributors, was kind enough to answer some questions for those of you who may not be familiar with the project.

1. What is the goal of the Diaspora* application?

The goal of the Diaspora* application is to allow people to control their own social network. A lot of people distrust the large centralized social networks, especially now after all the Prism revelations. With Diaspora*, users can host their own data and only share around the network parts of that data. We call these servers "pods". When a user installs a pod (for example using the BitNami packages), that pod will be able to communicate with users on other pods just like you can communicate with other users on Facebook for example. The difference is that the user hosts their own data and thus has more control.

The purpose does not end in privacy. An important thing to note is of course that Diaspora* is open source. Got coding skills and miss a feature in your favourite social network? With Diaspora* you can make that feature - just talk to the project first if you also want it merged into the main code base

Of course you don't need to host a pod to join Diaspora*. Just go to which is a good pod list, select a pod near you and sign up!

Diaspora* dashboard

2. What are some of the features of Diaspora*?

The most awesome feature that sets Diaspora* apart from the other social networks is the flexibility when composing posts. Posts support full markdown syntax, which means you can even use it for blogging (like Tumblr). Another distinctive feature is that there are different kind of streams that you can view - and by default all the streams are combined for easy of use. Streams can be posts from people you follow, posts with followed hashtags, posts with interactions (like mentions), and you can also group people into Aspects (like Circles in G+) and view only one or more streams at a time. Image uploads in posts are supported with a nice lightbox style picture viewer.

All in all the UI is very modern and nice to use for a user with any technical level. Unlike Facebook for example, it is more minimal, since Diaspora* doesn't make you "spy" on your friends activities in real time, we don't have a gazillion of apps posting in your feed, and of course there are no ads or promoted posts, only stuff you really want to see.

3. Which projects or organizations are using Diaspora* currently? What kind of projects do they use it for?

Since Diaspora* is decentralized, which means that there is no central pod and no central authority to govern the network, the project does not and cannot be aware of all Diaspora* installations. I've heard of and seen some company internal pods that the rest of the network never becomes aware of since the users on the pod don't (or cannot due to firewalls) share data outside their own pod. One list of pods, built from interactions by the pod maintainer, lists currently 101 Diaspora* pods, of which over half are open for sign ups.

Some notable organizations having official Diaspora* accounts are Mozilla (fr), KDE community, Jolla, FairPhone, Loomio, LibreOffice Design, ownCloud and Kolab, to name a few.

4. What do you expect will be the main benefits of having BitNami packages available for Diaspora*?

Diaspora* is kind of tricky to install at the moment - well, before BitNami that is. We have well documented installation instructions for all major Linux platforms, but unfortunately following those still requires you are familiar with web applications and servers. With BitNami users who want to host their pod can do so easily without hassle, and that is great indeed. The best thing is that users have more choice now, and we will be striving to increase those choices.

We are glad Diaspora* is now part of BitNami. Would you like your favorite app to be part of BitNami? Be sure to suggest and vote for it in our contest!