So I’ve been spamming friends far and wide to get people turned on to Diaspora so I figured I would whip up a bit of a quick intro to what it is and why I’m happy about it.

To start off, I’m not a developer on this project and I only know the bits I know from reading up and poking around at it. I’ll likely have points missing and misuse terms here, but it should give you the basic idea.

The simplest explanation is that Diaspora is a social network. One that is based on free and open source software and that is released for anyone’s use. The huge point of the project is that the data is controlled by the user. This is not a corporate interest owning your data to sell to marketing operations.

The state of the project right now is very alpha. There are missing features, bugs, everything that goes with a new project effort. Then again, we aren’t all making money from our social network time either, are we? So just jump in and get fiddling. The more users the faster the project can make progress with spotting issues and evaluating the code under load.

What makes Diaspora unique is that it is a distributed model. When you create an account on a pod your account info and data live on that pod server. All the pods are seeded together. So if you sign up on Diasp.ORG or anyone on another connected Diaspora pod will be able to find you and you will be able to share and see each other’s data.

What is really neat is if you are so technically inclined, you can stand up your own pod. If you are extremely paranoid about your data, this is the way to go as you control your own completely.

With the general public pod concept, you can back up your own content by clicking a link under account and downloading your XML data and Photos. Eventually you will be able to take your XML and Photos download/backup and restore it on another pod should you choose to move. Right now the feature isn’t released yet and is under active development.

If the pod you are registered to explodes in flames, you will lose the data there. So just be aware of that. This isn’t the one place you should rely on to store your data. Most of the public pods are pretty reliable, but it’s not where I’d store the single copy of a photo if it meant anything to me. Frankly, one shouldn’t rely on any provided service this strongly.

Right now the features are very basic, but honestly cover most of any need for the way I have my own Facebook account configured. There are status updates, direct messages, and a photo clip sharing app for sharing internet images. Mobile browser support from Android is working pretty nicely for me as well.

Linking Facebook and Twitter accounts is supported and working as well. So I can cross-post from Diaspora to Facebook and Twitter in a single post.

Another nice feature is that you arrange your contacts into aspects. Basically groups of contacts where each contact can be a member of multiple aspects if you so choose. The purpose for this is so that you can have a work aspect and then choose based on the content of your posting if people within that aspect can see it or not. Basically, you can have multiple personalities. Just use care when you make a post to choose the aspects carefully ;-).

One example that I have are aspects for friends and for techies. Fundamentally they are all the same group as far as whether I would care what they can see, but the friends group in theory won’t see my weedy ham radio or other nerdy postings if I don’t consider them in the techies class. Truthfully most of my friends are at least as obsessed with nerddom as I am, or at least used to hearing me go on about odd things.

When posting there is a radio-button style selection for the world as well. Basically this is the within-Diaspora equivalent of a tweet. It would be visible to anyone logging into Diaspora (possibly to search engines, though I’m not totally sure there).

Also supported in Diaspora postings are some basic markup for bold print, italics, html links, and hover tag attributes. Another neat feature familiar from twitter is the use of hash-tags. If you post #information using a hash-tag, if the posting is world readable, people can search on #information and see your posting since you made a hash-tag reference to the keyword within the post. Basically just pick keywords that are topical to your posting to highlight if you wish them to be indexed this way.

I think I covered at least the basics of what is going on here. Now for some info links to get you going.

A Listing of Diaspora pods and their uptime - This will give you an idea of what pods are out there, though not all will be public and open to new signup.

Diasp.ORG - The pod that I’m personally using at the time of this writing and is currently open for joining.

JoinDiaspora - The project’s home pod and allowing accounts on an invite basis

#DiaspOrg - DiaspOrg IRC channel for pod specific information on the Freenode network

#Diaspora - Diaspora project IRC channel for general Diaspora info and really for developers or pod hosts.

With right now, there can be some bugs in the sign-up process when you go to link your Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you get the error page, just exit out and log in from the main page, your account should be created and working anyway.

Be patient, spread the word and have fun with it!

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