diaspora*: The Beautiful, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; A Constructive Critique

Pre Intro:

Consider this post my resumé for a position with the core devs of the diaspora project. If it should fail to win over the core team, then consider this article my resignition from the diaspora community altogether. I find myself more and more disinterested and impatient with the diaspora realm.

No hard feelings if the latter were true.

I know I have the capacity to take on Sean Tilley’s former position with the project. Don’t doubt me, it will be a ever-lasting mistake that you will make in your lifetime. That’s not a threat, it’s a fact.

My defense:

For reference:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Note: This is not an attack. This is a constructive criticism.

Disclaimer: Strong language is scattered around in this post.

“The first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one…” – Jeff Daniels

Introduction:

I have a goal with this work: To try my best to write this blog post in a way that allows outsiders of diaspora to understand it. I want to help grow diaspora as it has some components to the network and the software that have not yet blossomed, matured, aged… pick a term.

I deeply care about diaspora. I’ve had a lot of good memories on there. I once received art from friends on there. So how the hell COULDN’T I care for diaspora? I want to help but I don’t have the patience, enthusiasm, and discipline to learn Ruby On Rails or jQuery or any of that crap anymore especially at this point of my life as I study in the medical field now. I merely find computer science (generally speaking) a hobby that I use to escape from the world and my obligations. The possibility, broadly speaking, of learning continues to shrink with each passing day.

I want to make note that I indeed have helped with the project in the past: I made it so that the oldest age is 100+ years old. But by far my biggest contribution is my translations for the English parody settings like Pirate and 1337 speak. I was the one who actually started the “Valley Girl” translation.

Having said all that, I feel that I am obligated to state that I am speaking for myself. The following is based upon my opinions, my observations, and my experiences.


I remember during my younger, more ignorant and immature days when I had such a fascination and tendancy to defend some things: Playstation, GNU+Linux, Disturbed (Band), among others. For the longest time, I did this with the social network, built upon the software of the same name, diaspora, stylized “diaspora*” which is how I will write it from this point on in this article. I’ve been part of the diaspora* realm for approximately eight years now at this time of writing. I joined the network around 2010/2011 and bounced around the “pods” (A euphemism for the Servers of which diaspora* is voluntarily ran upon.) such as “joindiaspora“, “diasporg“, “ShrekIsLove“, “Geraspora“, “Sechat“, and now “Nerdpol“. Throughout my time spent on the social network, I have experienced a fair share of frustrations with nearly every aspect (pun intended) of the social network: the dev team, fellow users, the software itself to name but a few.

diaspora* is qua is amusing, has (From time to time) content that interests me, and is the product of computer networking operation and security principles which I, like the original four authors of the software: Ilya Zhitomirskiy, Raphael Sofer, Dan Grippi, and Max Salzberg, stand for: decentralization of information and individual freedom.

Now, having said that, I feel it is time for me to vent my frustrations and express my thoughts, feelings, and ideas on the diaspora*.

I. The Community


The first thing I want to discuss is the diaspora* community so I just get it the hell out of the way.

I’ve probably already lost the interest and patience of fellow diasporians with that heading. Do me a favor, please have patience. I am not your enemy.

1. The Community’s Content

diaspora* is BORING. How’s that for a starter? No matter what I do, all I can see is content about the following: Free Software/Open Source, Linux, Raspberry Pi, the latest news out of Wikileaks/Assange, Snowden, Politics, XKCD comics, 700 fucking posts from Dr. Roy Schestowitz, and “Welcome all new here!/Keep the memory alive!” posts. No matter how many tags or accounts I follow or unfollow, I see the same topics over and over again. Even worse: From the SAME accounts. I say “accounts” instead of “people” since diaspora* does not require you to use your real name unlike Facebook. I have tried many times to try and get some different shades of interesting content on the site via accounts dedicated to different topics and the use of #hashtags in order to spread ideas across the network for the sake of a stronger community. An example of this is #supportdiasporaartists.

I can’t tell anyone what to post. I understand this. But I want to see a bigger variety of content. I tried to “put up or shut up” by creating a page for posting Rock/Metal music. It sort of helped but due to life obligations, I could no longer get around to posting content. I have asked for help or for someone to take it over but no one came to my aid.

That reminds me, I have an idea for a means of revamping diaspora*, stay tuned for the “Solutions” piece at the end of this post.

1.1.1 Pessimism, Negativity, and Anxiety

I know someone that left diaspora* due to the overwhelming amount of paranoia-induced posts about government surveillance, monsanto trying to take over the world, etcetra etcetra. I agree with this move and find myself coming to diaspora* much less due to this; seeing content that puts me on edge as frequently as I do on diaspora* exhausts me. I find that if I want to watch something scary, I skip my horror movie collection and go straight for diaspora*. “Advanced CIA firmware has been infecting Wi-Fi routers for years” AH!!!

An account that is a great example of this is NaturalNews. Go look them up and you’ll see what I am talking about.

 1.2 Antagonizing, Trolling, Bullying

I see this often, more so now than in the earlier days on diaspora*. A few users, who I won’t mention out of privacy, have left due to the trolling and bullying taking place on the network. Specific users will antagonize others based on the premise of their lifestyle choices such as, but not limited to, Veganism, political and religious ideologies, stances on hot topics such as abortion, child vaccination, free speech, and the list goes on and on and on.

From my observations, a lot of diaspora* users don’t post about the subject matters they like if it is related to political or religious ideologies that have ANY sort of relevance to, say, supporting Donald Trump or Christianity respectively.

Both sides can speak their minds. It’s not cool to bully someone into submission due to a difference of opinion. I believe in Free Speech and committing the mentioned is not free speech: It’s censorship. But holy fucking shit, calm down, please?

1.3 Confusion amongst American users

I struggled with coming up with a title that would adequately describe how I feel about fellow Americans and diaspora*. Let me say first: I don’t consider myself a Nationalist, but there’s something that bothers me about this subject and I will try to elaborate it as best as I can.

Whenever I actually see some form of media serving as a manifestation of someone(s) giving a fuck to promote diaspora* in the “real world”, it’s always in Europe. According to podupti.me, the majority of the diaspora* servers are in Europe.

It sort of pisses me off, for reasons beyond my comprehension, to not see any of us Americans going to LibrePlanet or Defcon or whatever and talking at people about diaspora*. I’ve even seen diaspora* user meetups and whatnot in German and Berlin and France and the United Kingdom in the past. I tried a long time ago to get people near me to come and meet up and have lunch or something but that blew up in my face.

The project started in the U.S. and yet I don’t hear much about it here. Also, don’t give me any shit. I have put up fliers around my hometown promoting diaspora* as an alternative to Facebook and Twitter and [insert one of the centralized social networks that are regularly bashed on diaspora* here] before.

Despite the most activity taking place in Europe, I wonder how many active users are in the United States but their accounts are on European servers?

I will end this topic with a question: How can we Americans create a more prominent userbase here?

1.4 Too much of a Forum feel

diaspora* feels like more of a social forum to me than a social network. I think these feelings are due to having no obligation to reveal your identity. I have no further comment on this at the time of this writing so I hope this acts as food for thought.

II. Development and the development team


2.1 Disconnection between community and developers

I can feel some of you either cringing in excitement or cringing in anger after I wrote that.

Before I start tearing into this, I want to thank every single person that has contributed to the diaspora* code. Now, having said that:

A few members of the development team and I have butt heads on certain topics in the past such as how to deal with blocking users and the politics within the “core team” as they’re called. I honestly feel as though there is a chasm between most of the diaspora* community and the common contributors to the development cycle. I often find myself having to jump around to certain accounts on diaspora* and the project’s Github repo in order to find out what’s going on with diaspora*’s development.

In the past, when diaspora* still used Loomio for governance, I often felt intimidated by the “core team” with bringing up ideas since most of mine were shot down for X, Y, and Z reason(s). So I figured, “What the fuck is the point? They’ll just unleash their inner pessimist-realist on me. Fuck it.”.

There is qua is a real lack of democracy and awareness into what it is that the core team is planning and doing. If there is a place where they record their work, in a normal human way rather than tumbling down a rabbit hole of endless fucking pull request logs on Github, please inform me and PLEASE spread the location of said log like chlamydia.

2.2 The Need for Paid, Dedicated Hackers for the Project

diaspora* desperately needs a paid, dedicated team for the sake of development speed and quality AND security of the software. According to some posts in the stream that I’ve seen, some of the contributors with the highest commits and management decisions are burnt out and/or are focused on duties within their personal lives. I totally empathsize with that. I can’t seem to find a spot for donating to a team of developers which diaspora* desperately needs only for the podmins (pod + admin).

III. The Software


The diaspora* software itself is rather mediocre in it’s current form in regards to features, aesthetics, and possibilities when compared to the non-libre SocNets (Facebook, Twitter, etc) and even most of the libre SocNets like Hubzilla, Libertree, and Mastodon.

One of my biggest complaints that I have for diaspora* is the inconsistency in regards to expected features of a social network in general: Groups, stable instant messaging, “Pages” as the Facebook crew calls them, and an account blocking system that eradicates any trace of a user from your fucking feed.

I can’t tell you just how many times I have spotted a #Newhere (A variable used to indicate that a user is new to diaspora*) post where the new user asked if Groups existed, only to be let down and then soon leaving following this.

3.2 Slow development

The time it takes for diaspora* to have a new feature or augmentation of a feature is utterly fucking embarassing.

When Libertree first came out, it already had a chat system. It took diaspora* 5 to 6 years to get an unstable version of chat that disconnects each time a page is reloaded. Come on people.

Not to mention, it took how long for someone to come along and implement @mentions to someone in the fucking comment section of a post? Holy shit.

Which reminds me..

3.3 Replying to a comment

On social networks like Facebook, one can reply to a comment in a post. Unfortunately, diaspora* doesn’t have this feature. The common method is to write “@[Insert User That You’re Trying to Reply to Here]. This looks awful and makes the conversation difficult for me to follow at times as the replies are not indented. I often find that I have to scroll up and down the comments to piece together the responses.

It would make more sense and I’d feel less confused when reading the comment section of a post if the replies to a comment branched off one tier.

3.3.1 Scrolling comment section

That reminds me, it’s unbearable to read the comments on a post when the post is it’s own webpage when I have to scroll past the content of which others are qua are commenting on in order to see all the comments.

It would be nice to have the content on one side have it’s own scroll bar (If need be) and the comments section having it’s own scroll.

3.4 No video posting

There have been many times where I wanted to upload a video directly to diaspora* and share a moment with my diaspora* friends. There’s no option to do this. Perhaps a way to start this idea off would be to use diaspora* as a proxy for uploading video to YouTube and/or MediaGoblin and go from there. If my Playstation 4 can upload to YouTube, I don’t see why diaspora* can’t do it!

3.5 Fast notification updates

Over the years, diaspora* has slowly gotten a means of providing a means of updating users’ notifications to let them know that someone is following them on diaspora*, someone commented on their or someone elses’ post, that they’ve recieved a new message, and so on. It took a long time to get automatic notifications updates. Messages still lack this however.

There’s another issue I have with this: Refeshing the page every fucking time to see the comment appear when already viewing a post. Facebook doesn’t have this problem. This might be in part due to the way diaspora* is designed so I’ll cut the devs some slack on this one.

3.6 Lack of simple, coherent, and conspicous sharing across other libre SocNets

Many of the Social Networks and Content Publishers such as Hubzilla allow posting to other social networks that are founded on the principles of freedom just as diaspora* was.

diaspora* currently only publishes to Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and Tumblr (Pod permitting). Why can’t we post to the other FOSS social networks/content publishers?

IV. Solutions


Alright, enough of my bitching. Let’s get down to some proposals:

  1. An independent diaspora* organization
    If this doesn’t already exist, it should. Even if this were temporary, this would aid the project financially and technically by having a paid, dedicated team to solve long standing bugs and implement new features. All of the best FOSS projects have a dedicated and paid team: Firefox, LibreOffice, Fedora, etcetra. This would serve well instead of the model of, “Oh, I’m head of this because the developers that work on diaspora* the most say so and we ignore Democracy and communicating team changes with the community.”.
  2. Pods dedicated to and emphasized for beginners
    As someone who works on computers and electronics for computer-illerate people, I can say, with total confidence, that some individuals need their hands held through the process of learning. When I first joined diaspora*, I struggled making out just what the fuck was going on around me on the site. This STILL holds true today with the confusing pop-ups all over the stream when you open a new account.
  3. Integration with FOSS media providers (MediaGoblin)
    MediaGoblin, Libertree, Hubzilla, GNU Social, Mastodon, and Friendica to name a few. Why can’t we share to these open platforms out of the box? If we can at least establish a baseline with these other networks and content provider, that would be swell.
  4. Sharing to/from more Social Networks, Apps, Websites, and Devices
    Yeah, yeah, I know diaspora* would need an API to do this for some goofy reason. But this would serve as a useful step for getting the word out there about the project. I would like to share a screenshot from my Playstation 4 to diaspora* someday. Well, at the rate of development, probably the PS5 or PS6.
  5. Media and community representatives
    If there could be a team to represent diaspora* for media and to get more journalists and bloggers writing about diaspora (Tired of using the stupid asterisk), as well as a dedicated team for updating the diaspora community about what is going on on a regular basis (Even a weekly round up of technical work, governance, etc) that would be swell. I currently only see something for technical work and a (presumably) bot pushing out commits to the diaspora software.
  6. A section of the UI dedicated to URLs for various diaspora* resources
    This is, hands down, one of my critical solutions. If one could implement a section on the front-end of diaspora that is for resources related to diaspora (BountySource, Website, Forum, Wikipedia entry, Project Wiki etc), that would help others with donating time and resources to the project.

V. Silver Linings


This section is the calm after the storm. The dark clouds have now parted and the sun is shinning. I want to discuss the positives of diaspora*. The following is geared more towards people who have left diaspora* for whatever reason(s).

  1. Chat: diaspora* has a working chat function now pod-pending.
  2. Account Migration is nearly in completion at this time of writing. “Account Migration”, for those of you who desire a clarification of this term, is simply having the ability of the software to aggregate all of your account’s information such as but not limited to: Contacts, profile information, photos, and tags and move it from your current pod to another pod.

VI. Conclusion


From the beginning, diaspora* has had struggles. If I understand the history of the project as well as I think I do, the original four designers of the software had struggled with the first implementation of the software and getting their ideas down from abstraction to an actual tool to communicate with.

diaspora* has a long way to go. I hope to one day hear of people talking about diaspora* when I’m sitting in a coffee shop somewhere. Perhaps one day.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

4 thoughts on “diaspora*: The Beautiful, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; A Constructive Critique

  1. I don’t fully understand all the points you’ve made, and I don’t agree with everything you’ve said, but no one else is really even writing about Diaspora, other than all the super-technical stuff, so I have resshared your post on my blog.

    Like

    1. Most of my points were meant to act as food-for-thought. Something to ponder and possibly getting a ball rolling. I left diaspora* last month as I could not handle the culture of it anymore. I still support diaspora, but from a distance and wish them luck. I appreciate the share!

      Like

  2. Excellent, as one such user that did this for Twitter, I’m pleased greatly with this post. I had to make a separate Twitter account split from the Toxic Trump bashing (although I’m hardly a Trump supporter), and it seems like Diaspora (I’m Crypto_Satanis by the way) seems to be having a little bit of bleed through from Facebook and Twitter.

    Which in itself isn’t a bad thing, but has some unintended consequences.

    I’d vote for Brandon the devop myself.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s