Diaspora is a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network that is based on the Diaspora software that was founded by New York University students Dan Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer and Ilya Zhitomirskiy. Diaspora is intended to be an open-source, decentralized alternative to Facebook and a solution to the many ethical issues surrounding privacy on Facebook.
Diaspora is not owned by any single person or company, in order to keep it from being overrun by advertisers. As of March 2014, there were more than 1 million users on the site. 
In 2010, Disapora's founders began a fundraising campaign on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter. Within 12 days, they surpassed their funding goal of $10,000, and when the funding closed after 39 days on Kickstater, the project had secured $200,000 in funding.
In September of 2010, the group released a developer preview of the site, but it was discovered that it had many security holes. In November of 2011, several days after it was discovered that one of the founders, Ilya Zhitomirskiy had committed suicide, Diaspora released a redesigned alpha version.
Diaspora had plans in place to launch a beta test of their service in 2012.. In August of 2012, the founders of Diaspora announced that they will no longer lead the project, and gave control of it to the open source community
Diaspora is decentralized, meaning that members join fellow users in pods (groups) that are created on independently hosted servers, rather than a single server that connects everyone. It is essentially a peer-to-peer social network. The Diaspora network is made of hundreds of pods that have installed the Diaspora software. The number of users on a single pod ranges from one to hundreds or even thousands, but it is possible for a user to connect with any other Diaspora user even if they connected via a different pod. However, since Diaspora is decentralized, there is no central database of existing pods or existing users; therefore, in order to add a 'friend', a user must know their friend's Diaspora ID and the pod URL that that user is connected to. Once a user 'follows' their friend, they receive their friend's updates as if they were a user that is local to the friend's pod. By posting their information to their own pod or independently run servers, users are in full control over how their privacy is handled. Even though Diaspora is largely seen as an attempt to solve the privacy and ethical issues surrounding Facebook's highly centralized network, users can choose to connect their Facebook accounts to Diaspora, which imports user's Facebook information to Diaspora. Alternatively, users are able to create an identity entirely from scratch. Additionally, it is very easy for users to download their photos, or to even close their account if they no longer want to be on Diaspora.
Features and Applications
The service includes the following features, among others: hashtag following, direct messages, status updates, 'Like' buttons, and a notifications channel. 'Cubbi.es' is Diaspora's first application, which allows users to post photos that they discover on the web to Diaspora, via browser extensions. Additionally, users are able to use Diaspora as a sort of home page to share to other social-networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Diaspora allows users to share to 'aspects', which is similar to Google+'s feature of circles, which allows users to share content with specified groups of people.
Because Diaspora is not a centralized network, it is not an information gatekeeper, which allows the Diaspora ecosystem to easily support the latest applications developed for the Diaspora ecosystem.
Mission and Concept
From Diaspora's blog, their goal is to:
- Diaspora*’s mission as a company is to build tools to help people get control of their data and do fun things with it online. It’s about giving users ownership and control over what they share, and creating amazing things. It’s about promoting Diaspora* open source software to everyone, because we think this is the right thing to do. A new social web model where users are not the product, but willful participants who are creating new modes of communication.
Additionally, Diaspora has adopted the Social Network User's Bill of Rights which was drafted at the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference in 2010. When a service adopts the Social Network User's Bill of Rights a user expects the social networking service to provide the following in their Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, and administration of their service:
Bill of Rights
- Clarity: Make sure that policies, terms of service, and settings are easy to find and understand.
- Freedom of speech: Do not delete or modify my data without a clear policy and justification.
- Empowerment : Support assistive technologies and universal accessibility.
- Self-protection: Support privacy-enhancing technologies.
- Data minimization: Minimize the information I am required to provide and share with others.
- Control: Let me control my data, and don’t facilitate sharing it unless I agree first.
- Predictability: Obtain my prior consent before significantly changing who can see my data.
- Data portability: Make it easy for me to obtain a copy of my data.
- Protection: Treat my data as securely as your own confidential data unless I choose to share it, and notify me if it is compromised.
- Right to know: Show me how you are using my data and allow me to see who and what has access to it.
- Right to self-define: Let me create more than one identity and use pseudonyms. Do not link them without my permission.
- Right to appeal: Allow me to appeal punitive actions.
- Right to withdraw: Allow me to delete my account, and remove my data.
The Diaspora service has led many influential technology leaders to question the current state of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Google Plus, which use users' personal information to serve up personalized ads, and even though these services don't directly own user information, they reserve the right to mine users' information. This new, self-organized service that Diaspora offers could inspire these social-networking sites to change and adopt some of Diaspora's features and some of the ideals at the heart of the decentralized service. Some technologists even believe that Diaspora's design may have influenced the design of Google's new social-network Google+. As a Diaspora blog post from September pointed out that, "We’re proud that Google+ imitated one of our core features, 'aspects', with their circles." Google imitating Diaspora is one of the basic tenets of the open source movement and Creative Commons.
On November 12, 2011, Ilya Zhitomirskiy was found dead at his home in San Francisco, in what seemed to have been a suicide. Zhitomirskiy's death sparked a new dialogue in the start-up community surrounding the difficulties of starting and creating a product or service and has led to members of the start-up community speaking more openly about depression and the hardships of running a start-up.
There are many benefits to a decentralized platform, as evidenced by the praise received for the differences between Diaspora and platforms such a Facebook, which feature a centralized and regulatory program with stronger content moderation, which can be extremely biased and cause a negative impact on minority voices. However, Diaspora's open platform, with relative anonymity and difficulty in tracing posts and groups (or pods), makes it very difficult to regulate inappropriate content on the site.
Because the nature of Diaspora's distributed design, it has attracted many extremists group members, including ISIS, after their messages of propaganda were banned on Twitter. In response, the Diaspora administration issued a statement asking users to report all offensive content they come across, but due to the design of the site, this content could only be banned by administrators.