Can Diaspora succeed where Facebook fails?

I'm fascinated by the Diaspora concept (and apparently so are investors who've donated over $180,000 to date) - but can it go mainstream?
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

A reader suggested that I check out Diaspora as I was looking for a real alternative to Facebook, both for consumers and that could be legitimately deployed in schools and enterprises to drive the next generation of students in serious social learning efforts. I'll be very curious to see if Diaspora can gain traction in the mainstream, particularly among students, but it sounds like an ideal tool for schools and businesses.

Diaspora is still very much in development. A few college grads are planning to spend the summer spending the seed money they raised through viral efforts coding the heck out of the tool. I'll let one of them explain the idea behind Diaspora:

So the project has received all sorts of media attention and raised about 18 times the amount of money for which they had hoped to begin their work. But can this project reach beyond geeks who want to host their own Diaspora instance because that sounds cool and challenge Facebook in its ubiquity?

Click here to read more about the project and possibilities for education

Reading a bit more about the project still makes me worry that it will be limited to the technologically elite:

Diaspora aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly, will let us connect without surrendering our privacy. We call these computers ‘seeds’. A seed is owned by you, hosted by you, or on a rented server. Once it has been set up, the seed will aggregate all of your information: your facebook profile, tweets, anything. We are designing an easily extendable plugin framework for Diaspora, so that whenever newfangled content gets invented, it will be automagically integrated into every seed.

The concept is completely brilliant and absolutely lends itself to the sorts of connections we want students, educators, and schools to build within and among themselves. You own your data and you manage the connections and communications in ways that you certainly couldn't if you felt inclined to allow students and staff to use Facebook for educational purposes. However, as I noted in my Social Networking Call to Arms, whatever tool not only displaces Facebook, but makes it usable for educators and businesses needs to ubiquitous. Our students need to be using it anyway for educators to be able to engage them.

Again, referring to the project website,

Our real social lives do not have central managers, and our virtual lives do not need them [Dawson's note: central manager=Facebook]. Friend another seed and the two of you can synchronize over a direct and secure connection instead of through a superfluous hub [Dawson's note: superfluous hub=Facebook]. Encryption...will ensure that no matter what kind of content is being transferred, you can share privately. Eventually, today’s hubs could be almost entirely replaced by a decentralized network of truly personal websites.

Ideally, this is something that lives on your computer or on an instance that you own in the cloud. Can we make this happen for our students? Can it be a standard part of the software stack in a 1:1 deployment? All I know is that I'm completely intrigued. I'll be following Diaspora closely this summer to see where this can take us in terms of advancing social media in education.

Editorial standards