Why Diaspora failed (and why their failure is important to the social web)


Social media is fragile right now. The Facebook IPO failure (which followed several less-publicized failures by other social media sites) has investors questioning the validity of pouring money into social startups. The model went from unproven to disproven in many ways over the last couple of years after the disastrous turns that sites like MySpace, Digg, and AOL’s Netscape/Propeller took after promising starts. The news that Diaspora’s founders have “moved on” puts another black eye on the face of social media.

At some point, they’re going to run out of eyes to blacken.

What makes this less headline-worthy site’s demise hurt so badly is that it was crowd-focused, crowd-powered, and crowd-funded. Now it’s going to be crowd-run, which likely means that it will be run into the ground. Here’s why they failed:


Seizing the bull

The timing of the Diaspora launch made headlines because of what Facebook was doing at the time.  The social networking giant was being bashed heavily in the media and by users for having unnecessarily complex privacy controls and a willingness to sell their user data as a business model. They launched and were met with immediate success; after applying on Kickstarter for $10,000 in crowdfunding, they quickly raised over $200,000. It was enough to keep them coding and developing for a while.

It was enough to make the personal social networking software work.

Unfortunately, they never got around to making it work.

The site fizzled. They couldn’t take the initial momentum they built up and translate it into adoption. Facebook fixed many of their issues and was forgiven by many of the users who simply couldn’t get enough of seeing pictures of their nephew sliding into third base, so the need for a personalized social network that cared about privacy fell off.

Things got worse when co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy committed suicide last year.

The company’s failure to take advantage of the press they were receiving (not to mention the money to make it all a reality) can be attributed to a lack of an aggressive plan. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+ (whose success is still in question) made it big by being aggressive and forcing their will onto others. If the goal is to make social media better, a company cannot hope that the sheep (i.e. you and me) are going to jump on board just because it’s the right thing to do.


Why it's important

The social web is at a point in its development when websites are turning into businesses and social businesses are being bought for big money. The challenge is that in many cases the money is not translating into profitable success.

Perhaps it’s not meant to.

Diaspora represented an alternative to the “make money no matter what” mentality that is taking over the social web. People are no longer building companies in hopes of creating a valid service. They are building them in hopes of getting bought for millions, even billions of dollars. Diaspora was one of the last remaining “pure” social media concepts that held to the idea of connecting people in ways that they want to connect rather than simply creating venues that can attract enough people to make them viable for advertisers.

As Diaspora sunsets, so too does the hope of a better social web.

Written by JD Rucker

+JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of both Judeo Christian Church and Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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  • Scott Jordan

    I think you are being a bit premature in you final statement that ”
    As Diaspora sunsets, so too does the hope of a better social web”

    The Web is a very young medium, and will evolve at its own pace.

    There are many startups with good software developers emerging that will proved the social medium we all want, one such is App.net, which is gaining users and developers who see this as a better model.

  • Dazza

    Doesn’t seem to have failed from this end, perhaps you need to visit the site to see how things are progressing.

  • Anonymous

    How can you say that the company was a failure and at the same time lament its departure as some sort of loss?

    Diaspora was a very, very poor product. The idea – that private information should be easy to control and the property of the user – is a good one that will stick around, but it wasn’t a novel idea even when Diaspora launched.

    When they write the history of the social web, this site won’t feature. And that’s the hard truth.

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