What can the underdog or new social network to do to compete with Facebook? Just a few short months ago there seemed to be an opening when FB went all 'Open Graph' on us. Privacy became the primary issue and un-Facebook-like networks emerged. From Bynamite allowing users to sell access to their content - to Orkut's 'group functionality' where users select who sees what - to a young upstart coming out of hibernation at NYU - social networks are betting on restricting privacy as a means to an end in competing with the number one social network in the land.
The paradox however lies with Diaspora, the much-hyped open source alternativeDiaspora's NYU Students that was percolated at a university in Manhattan. While during the height of Mark Zuckerberg's privacy crisis at Facebook, four NYU students were surprised when their summer project was assisted by some major funding to the tune of $200,000. While that was an eye-opener - more curious was that Zuckerberg himself contributed to the project.
According to a Wired report back in May, the founder of Facebook donated an undisclosed amount because as he put it, "he saw a little of himself in them." However, while at first blush, this appears as a dichotomy with Facebook's principles and philosophy, I see this as a very calculated move on Zuckerberg's part.
While those in search of the Holy Grail of Privacy are still aggressively making waves, and Diaspora is ready to launch on September 15, I think Zuckerberg is actually hedging his bets. Sure, while aiding these struggling students to achieve a goal appears to be a very noble and benevolent gesture on his part, I think he is wisely looking for "skin in their game," if they prove to be successful.
Which says to me, as much as Facebook thinks it can redefine what privacy means to all of us, Zuckerberg is still not quite sure if he is on target or a man ahead of his time. Either way, by planting a stake in the ground at Diaspora, and allowing them to succeed or fail outside of the boundaries of Facebook he allows himself a trap door.
In that same Wired report, Zuckeberg even admitted to welcoming a different approach to sharing to see if the NYU students can come up with a new solution for handling the trickier challenges Facebook has faced in dealing with privacy around content shared with friends and followers.
Bottom line, if Diaspora wins, all Mr. Zuckerberg has to do is acquire them. He will then have his proverbial cake and a new social networking fork to eat it with. Funny thing about searching for the Holy Grail is not so much about the final destination but the journey getting there. Zuckerberg has learned over the course of the last six years that sometimes, the quest is more important than what lies at the end of the rainbow. He's turned down millions over the years and has even refused to go public to continue seeking. Time will tell if hedging his bets this time allows him that same latitude.
For other posts on social networks that are seeking privacy restrictions for its users, check out the following.