Diaspora: Remarkably Unremarkable Social Network

I joined Diaspora this week wide-eyed and bushy tailed with dreams of a glorious, exciting new social networking adventure. The sign up screen built my anticipation with a sleek, black look and some new-looking features. Everything was a mystery. Until it wasn’t.

After creating my fun new Diaspora account, I began to play around with some of its features. Stories are found in your “stream”, much like Google+ and contacts are added to “Aspects” which are essentially circles. You can choose who to share content with based on what aspect you have them in. The default aspects are: Family, Friends, Work, and Acquaintances. Immediately I noticed that I was lacking a circle for people I did not know personally. Where Google+ seems to try to connect you with people you may not know personally, Diaspora seems to lean more towards keeping within the bounds of people you already know here.

While checking notifications I discovered that instead of a typical conversation layout, Diaspora gives more of a lightbox feel, even to text posts. Comments cannot be seen unless they are specifically brought up, even if you have come from the notification menu. You can also not tag another person in a comment, making it hard to bring people into a conversation they might be interested in, or to reply to another user’s comments.

One of the basic functions we have all come to know and love about Facebook and Google+ is that when we link to a YouTube video or another web page, they provide a preview for anyone who may be interested in looking at it. Diaspora, in its present form, lacks this function entirely. It also lacks any way to upload video files. This leaves only images and text for the site. While Twitter does quite well using only short bursts of text, that is not the way the layout of Diaspora could thrive.

Of all the things I did not like about Diaspora, there are a few new features that they deserve some credit for: it allows you to see exactly how many people are following a particular thread, and who they are.

(image: The comment thread box on Diaspora, showing who has liked, who is following, and the comments on a post.)

It also features an “auto-add” function, which will essentially add back everyone who adds you and put them into a default aspect (no worries, they can’t see what you labeled them as). This feature is especially handy for anyone who would like to network with people they may not know personally, or people with an expansive network, that get flooded with new people adding them every day. Though, as excellent as this feature is, it is somewhat offset by the fact that there is no way to adjust how much of any given aspect is shown in your main stream. So while you may be auto-adding all these people you don’t know and you may be genuinely interested in what they have to say, if you add too many they will drown out the people you already know and love.

In contrast to Google+, Diaspora does have a dedicated area for sending messages between users. No longer do we have to try to send a thread to only one person, plus-mention them, and notify them then pray to the Google gods that they see it before it gets drowned out by other posts and notifications. Diaspora’s messaging system seems to work a lot like Facebook’s. Both users need to add each other, and from there responding to messages is up to them.

One of the biggest advantages to Diaspora over other social networks is that it allows you to hashtag your posts as “Not Safe For Work” (#NSFW) and they become exempt from the typical terms of use policies. Users will have to press a button to see your post, but you do not have to risk getting banned because some of the content you post seems a little too risque for some viewers.

All-in-all, I’d say Diaspora has a lot of potential, but still a whole lot of growing to do before I would consider switching to using it full-time. The ideas are there, and there are some great ones, but it still lacks in some key areas that I think will ultimately be its downfall.

Have you used Diaspora at all yet? Try it out for yourself. Let us know what you think in the comments.

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