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A Call For an Open, Distributed Alternative To Facebook 363

qwerty8ytrewq writes "Ryan Singel, writing for Wired, claims that Facebook has gone rogue: 'Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader. It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members. ... And Facebook realized it owned the network. Then Facebook decided to turn "your" profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves. But to do that, the folks at Facebook had to make sure that the information you give it was public.' Singel goes on to call for an open, distributed alternative. 'Facebook’s basic functions can be turned into protocols, and a whole set of interoperating software and services can flourish. Think of being able to buy your own domain name and use simple software such as Posterous to build a profile page in the style of your liking.' Can Slashdotters predict where social networking is going? And how?" Relatedly, jamie points out a graphical representation of how Facebook's privacy settings have changed over the last five years.
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A Call For an Open, Distributed Alternative To Facebook

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:20AM (#32146390)

    With this so-called "World Wide Web", you can create your own web page, showing exactly the information you wish to reveal about yourself. You can show a profile picture, your name, your location, your birthday, your likes and interests, any pictures you want to share, any movies you want to share, and so forth. You can even change the appearance of it to suit your own tastes!

    You can use something called a guestbook that'll allow other people to leave messages for you, and you can use other people's guestbooks to leave messages for them.

    It's not related to the World Wide Web, but you can use something called "e-mail" to send a private message to a specific recipient, and they can even reply back to you!

    Maybe this "World Wide Web" technology will catch on some day.

  • by GPLHost-Thomas ( 1330431 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:23AM (#32146414)
    What's the issue you are complaining about here? Everyone knows that everything in facebook is public, we know it from the very beginning, and it's been years that we know how evil they are. Why don't you just post content on your personal website were you can control everything? I can't see ANY of the things you do with Facebook that you wouldn't be able to do with instant messengers and a web server.
  • Relax (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wombatmobile ( 623057 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:25AM (#32146428)
    Facebook is not compulsory.
  • Re:Diaspora (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:30AM (#32146456)

    With a name like that, it's doomed to fail.

  • I can't see ANY of the things you do with Facebook that you wouldn't be able to do with instant messengers and a web server.

    It's called "having all your friends and many of your potential friends on the same network". You're not going to build and operate that yourself on the 486 in your mom's basement. Why not just not give facebook any private information, and use facebook?

  • by adosch ( 1397357 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:36AM (#32146496)

    Agreed. I see no added value to even use a service like Facebook to keep in contact with friends and family. Most of the people I want to keep in contact with have my cell phone number, know my address (or e-mail) and know where I work. Out of those three things, if you want and have the ambition to keep in touch, now you have it.

    The reason Facebook has even worked so well for that is luck, popularity, publicity, hype and curiosity. And curse Ryan Singel for even proposing there should be an 'alternative' to Facebook. Hello, McFly! You just got done bitching about Facebook, why would you want yet another down the internet block that will be solely driven to 'improve' on what you already hate about Facebook? Hypocrite.

  • already happening (Score:5, Insightful)

    by miruku ( 642921 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:42AM (#32146524) Homepage

    a suite of protocols and formats have been developed over the years to achieve this. look for the Data Portability movement for one or the largest groupings of like minded folk, although the dev action is fairly distributed.

    the current two interesting things to watch is the development of OAuth 2, for distributed apps, which will help with the sharing of the various open standards of profile information and the like, and the Google Buzz method of using Salmon and PubSubHubbub to aggregate comments to an article.

    i'm looking forward to being able to connect WordPress, Drupal, etc, sites together to aggregate community content.

  • Just don't use facebook and stop crying

    I don't.

    Problem is, everyone else does.

    Now, far be it from me to whine about how everyone else has to conform to my preferences, but there _is_ a legitimate problem here. Nothing that facebook does is especially interesting or novel. They don't even have first mover advantage. Yet they have the "normal person" social network graph locked up.

    When one decomposes facebook into its constituent parts, one sees that each of them has equivalent or superior implementations elsewhere.

    Isn't facebook really just an aggregation of parts, parts which having a best-of-breed alternative outside facebook? Yet this is what everyone is beholden to?

    facebook reminds me a lot of classmates.com [which absorbed or was born from highschoolalumni.com].

    I spent a lot of time trying to curate my highschool "social network graph" and for all my troubles, the company kept my data and then locked me out of it with a paywall. CDDB did the same thing.

    So, fuck these companies who expect me to freely toil to build _their_ relevence, and then think they "own" my data and change their policies.

    There is no reason _we_ should submit control of our social graphs to other entities. The shape of the problem is fully federated, with every relationship being potentially asymmetrical and many to many. And when one considers the "problems" that are solved in one spot with facebook [directory, content publishing, commenting, distribution groups, photo sharing, etc], there are superior solutions already out there.

    What is needed is just a formalization of these technologies into a bag, and a variety of platforms/vendors that host an individuals online participation in this graph.

    Basically, if you have a wordpress/blogspot, a flickr/picassa, an email address/home page, you should be able to "plugin" to something that gives all the functionality of facebook.

    Yet you would be free to expire/migrate/manage your data as you see fit.

    There is already a market place for different facebook related tools. Imagine how that will expand as facebook is teased apart into its constituent parts and competing yet interoperable implementations show up.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:46AM (#32146558)

    The intersection of
          set of people who use facebook
          and the set of people who care about open computing
    is essentially the null set.

  • Irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lyinhart ( 1352173 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:54AM (#32146592)
    I totally agree with replacing Facebook with a new, open alternative that respects privacy. And we can start by removing the "Like" button from TFA.
  • by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:57AM (#32146608) Homepage

    I can't see ANY of the things you do with Facebook that you wouldn't be able to do with instant messengers and a web server.

    Have you ever tried to get your friends (I'm assuming you have non-programmer friends) to send you stuff encrypted with your PGP key? Yeah, theoretically technology gives you the possibility of ultra-secure communications, but in practice, being able to implement the technical solution doesn't get you anywhere at all.

    Likewise, there's simply no way I'm getting the several hundred people on my friends list to communicate with me by any means other than facebook. I can code up the most amazing web-interface ever and it won't matter unless it catches on with the public in general.

  • by WrongSizeGlass ( 838941 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @09:59AM (#32146626)

    And switch from farmville to what similar game?

    Start with an ant farm, move up to a fish tank and maybe someday, just maybe, we'll get you a puppy.

  • by blai ( 1380673 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:02AM (#32146654)
    so how will you be controlling who sees what, unless you're planning to make everybody register on your site, which doesn't really work anyway?
  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:12AM (#32146700)

    The essence of a social networking site is that it is social - a gathering place that draws a critical mass of users.

    Most like that sense of connection - and almost none of them are geeks.

    "Think of being able to buy your own domain name... Broadcast{ing to) your micro-blogging service of choice."

    They aren't thinking that at all.

  • by greg1104 ( 461138 ) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:22AM (#32146764) Homepage

    The value of a social network is proportional to the number of members it has. Facebook started in 2004 aimed at students, grew for a while, and in 2006 opened membership to everyone. It was two years after that (and two years ago) when Facebook exceeded Myspace [alexa.com], and it's just been pulling ahead since. It's now blown away any previous social network scale now. If you started tomorrow with a compelling site people might use instead of Facebook--the same way that Facebook was a compelling improvement over Myspace--best case it would be two years before you'd even have a shot of being popular enough to be considered a viable alternative here. The unfortunate reality here is that making this sort of site available to most people for free costs somebody money, and that will never go on forever without somebody trying to make a buck. Social networks trying to expand are practically forced into it just to pay for their overhead as popularity increases.

    As for the privacy issues, I never told Facebook anything private in the first place; anybody who did is a fool. I didn't care that they were throwing ads in my face that were obviously targeted to interests I listed in my profile to make ad dollars; expected that, all part of getting the site for free, and things like my music/movie likes are quite public information already. But last week when I visited cnn.com to read a news story, and it magically showed me what news stories my Facebook friends had been looking at (and presumably exposing what I was doing to them), that was the point where I felt myself that Facebook had gone rogue. Time to use UnFuck Facebook [userscripts.org] and crank up the rest of my hostile site defenses now. Facebook I'm now treating like a link that might lead to p0rn: I might still go there if because it's fun sometimes to look at, but I won't be adding to their ad income and I expect the site to be hostile. And I'll go out of my way to avoid all the sites they're selling my info to as well.

  • I mentioend those out of convenience. They exist and solve their respective problems acceptably. I don't have a knee jerk opposition proprietary software and non-open-enough websites.

    The point is that _i_ want to aggregate and orchestrate the component silos into the facets of "my" online existence. If I find the policies of flickr good enough, then why NOT use flickr for my photo publishing needs?

    The key difference is that when I tire of flickr or its policies, I can migrate my data easily to some other photo publishing silo and update some pointers in my "profile" [which I fully own and control] and be done with it.

    I don't want to use Facebook to be some sort of anonymous stalker of other peoples information, yet never share or publish anything myself. THat's not a meaningful connection. Certainly anon-to-anon social connections are interesting, but only in certain circumstances. Yes for survivalists, yes for crypto researchers, yes for sabotuers.

    Sharing photos of family gatherings? Not so much.

    The basic issue is this: IMO, facebook is fundamentally a new type of paradigm for communication, like SMS, and like email, and like the long distance phone call and the postal letter before it.

    But facebook is merely an implementation of this new paradigm. What is the general case? How should it be created and adopted?

    I want to communicate with my mother in law, using a technological/communication/social paradigm similar to facebook, the website.

    I don't want facebook, the entity, to own the terms under which I do so.

  • by Odinlake ( 1057938 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:40AM (#32146888)
    ..for me and I never really understood this bitching about privacy - if I post something (on facebook or pretty much anywhere on the internet) I expect that it is public. If it's posted to "friends only" it's still public. Honestly, if you have a secret and tell it to your 100-200 or so "friends", is it reasonable to expect that no one else will hear it? No, there are only two levels: "private" (don't post) and public. The misstake of facebook was to pretend otherwise, so now people seem to think they have a God-given right to intermediate privacy levels that logically can't exist since you can't really stop individuals from spreading whatever you give them.
  • by Daengbo ( 523424 ) <daengbo@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:42AM (#32146906) Homepage Journal

    There are at least four groups trying to do this. Can't they at least get together to agree on how the standards that get us 95% of the way there (OpenID, ActivityStrea.ms, etc.) get glued together, then go work on their code? We don't need four or five competing, incompatible standards trying to get uptake from the massive monopoly that is Facebook.

  • Re:Relax (Score:5, Insightful)

    by that IT girl ( 864406 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @10:56AM (#32147008) Journal
    Oh, this rings so true. It sucks, though, having to choose between not having a social life, or having one comprised of people who really think in these terms.
  • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by $lashdot ( 472358 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:12AM (#32147112) Journal

    Ryan goes on to say "Setting up a decent system for controlling your privacy on a web service shouldn't be hard.". I'd disagree. It's tremendously difficult. Creating interfaces and a data model for managing these settings is very difficult. Implementing it is a pain as well. From a coder perspective, I find this kind of work the least rewarding around. And Ryan actually admits to this saying "the whole system is maddeningly complex.". I rather think Facebook did a decent job with the current set of options.

    Perhaps it is complex to implement all these controls. That seems like a red herring when people are complaining about previously working privacy settings being removed or changed. It wasn't too difficult to have those settings in 2005.

    The problem for many people is that Facebook keeps removing controls that were previously implemented. The history of Facebook is not one of saying, "Gee, we wish we could implement all these privacy settings you'd like"; it is one of saying, "Gee, you're not really going to miss those privacy settings we are removing, are you?"

  • But all that involves a lot of work. Facebook got popular because it made it easy.

  • by AmberBlackCat ( 829689 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:18AM (#32147146)

    2. Before you post, pretend your future (or current) employer is reading

    This will assist you in deciding whether it's a good idea to post those hilarious drunken half-naked pictures of you groping that dude dressed up in a Grimace costume.

    Those pictures would probably get me a higher rating where I work. But a decentralized social network has to happen because it's the only way to make a social network that isn't controlled by a company. The problem is the people who would make it are like the Slashdot and Linux crowds. They are completely against everything that makes a social network work. And the people who know what would make a social network work are not going to build a distributed computer network.

    The moral of this story is, if you don't like Facebook, you're going to have to build something just like Facebook. They're not unbeatable. The more crap they put in to make money, the easier they will be to replace. As soon as they get crappy enough, people will be ready to abandon them, just like they did with MySpace. There just has to be a place for them to go. And for goodness sake, there better not be a moderation system.

  • by Yaa 101 ( 664725 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:21AM (#32147158) Journal

    The problem is not you, even if you never posted on Facebook you friends can spoil your privacy a great deal here, especially if they do not see the implications of their actions.

    That is the big problem with Facebook.

  • Re:Relax (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:28AM (#32147190) Homepage

    Sounds like you need a better grade of friend more than you need a social network.
    Friends aren't about sex, or cool parties. Friends are those people who, when your father-in-law dies unexpectedly, walk out on the preps for their own Christmas party to come help you. Friends are those who read the note on the door the first couple left and call you to see if you need help. Friends are those who'll drive and hour and a half to the airport at three o'clock in the morning to pick up your wife (who was out of town on business when her father died). I'd have needed a bus just to haul those who volunteered to go pick her up!
    Seriously, if you're working so hard to appear 'cool' so you can be invited to parties so you have a higher chance of 'hooking up [for sex]', just hire a prostitute already. Spend the time saved getting out and having a life and finding friends who'll actually be there when it really matters.

  • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:44AM (#32147330) Homepage

    How exactly are web boards more centralized and proprietary than IRC? There's plenty of servers and OSS implementations of them, like PHPBB.
    And how is GMail a substitute for email? It's a closed email server, like others exist for at least 15 years.

    If you're talking about IM in Gmail, then you're talking bollocks because it's based on XMPP, a standard, and many OSS clients can talk to the servers or you can even host your own.

    As for Youtube/Hulu, try watching streaming video over bittorrent. It's not even the same type of service. In fact, Youtube is becoming *more open* because they depend on Flash but are starting to use HTML5, a real standard.

  • by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @11:47AM (#32147360) Homepage Journal

    There's a difference between your freind telling another freind about something "private", and a corporation mining the same data, then selling it. And, in effect, that is what Facebook and their developers are doing. For profit snooping vs regular blabber mouth snooping. Pretty much the same difference between profesion software pirates who burn thousands of copies for distribution, and the private home user who downloads a pirated copy of MS Office. Even Microsoft understands the difference between those two pirates.

  • by pushf popf ( 741049 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:01PM (#32147478)
    so how will you be controlling who sees what, unless you're planning to make everybody register on your site, which doesn't really work anyway?

    You can never control "who sees what."

    If something is private, keep it off the net.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:05PM (#32147508)
    Maybe that's because you have no clue of how OpenID works... How does Microsoft get to know what's going on when I use my Google OpenID to sign into StackOverflow, pray tell?
  • by novium ( 1680776 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:09PM (#32147542)
    Facebook got people to trust it with their real identities with some fairly robust privacy controls, so stripping those out now is a legitimate cause for concern. Additionally, there is a difference, a very important difference, between having something be out there, and having something *broadcast*. Privacy should not and does not require secrecy. I may tell a friend (in RL or on Facebook) that I'm going down to the beach today. I may not mind if other people overhear, or if my friend tells someone, but it'd be pretty ridiculous to suggest that by doing that, I should expect both that it be passed on ("novium told so and so she was going to the beach.") to ever damn single person I know, in addition to the government, corporations, and every random joe out there. The thing about telling a friend something, online or in real life, is that people have an innate sense of the context that all social interactions carry. They'll know who it is appropriate to tell and who it is not. They'll understand the connotations of telling person A version telling person B. And I'll know them well enough to assume how they'll handle that information... and if they violate that trust, it will have been a decision on their part, and will in a sense part of larger set of social interactions, the result of which might be that I'll either chew them out or stop talking to them. Yes, of course, you shouldn't put anything on the web that you might not want found out. It's a record, same as anything else. But then, once again, we're hitting on the issue of privacy rather than secrecy.
  • by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:34PM (#32147748)

    Your friends can talk about you without your permission?! Utter madness! We must stop this... conversation... thing at once!

  • by icebraining ( 1313345 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:46PM (#32147842) Homepage

    It doesn't have to be a centralized server, it can be federated [wikipedia.org], like XMPP severs (you can talk to Google Talk/Gmail IM users without having an account in Google's server, for example).

  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @12:49PM (#32147866)

    How exactly are web boards more centralized and proprietary than IRC?

    I said web boards are displacing usenet. Usenet wasn't controlled by any particular company that could fill it with spam or go out of business, it was (is) just a protocol for synchronizing content between servers

    And how is GMail a substitute for email? It's a closed email server, like others exist for at least 15 years.

    GMail is a substitute for email because the more people adopt it, the more it becomes a proprietary web-based messaging system, rather than a distributed, peer-to-peer system as email was originally envisioned. Yes, gmail still interoperates with everybody else's email, which is good. But for some significant fraction of emails with both originate and end on gmail, smtp, pop, and the millions of other email servers out there are irrelevant. It's not just the protocols involved that matter, the point is a huge fraction of people are on the same server/cloud/administrative domain.

    Another step in the roping in of email was blacklists that blocked the majority of IP addresses on the Internet from originating mail. An even bigger step was the displacing of email by texting on cellphones. Show me the RFC describing how I can make my own texting client for my cellphone.

    Of course, there were pretty good reasons for all of this, like spam. Digital anarchy failed. It's sad.

    As for Youtube/Hulu, try watching streaming video over bittorrent. It's not even the same type of service.

    Of course. Nothing is displaced by something just the same. Normally it is displaced by something better, at least better in some respect. Cars aren't quite the same as horse-drawn sleighs, either, but that's what displaced them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 09, 2010 @01:03PM (#32147962)

    That's the 2.0 Way(tm). Everything - websites, phones, desktop environments, programming languages - is expected to have special integration with Facebook, special integration with Twitter, etc, instead of using standard interfaces. If the 2.0-fags had designed the web to begin with, each site would use its own markup language and its own network protocol, and each would only be usable in its own special browser that runs on its own special operating system and its own special computer architecture.

  • by elnyka ( 803306 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @01:24PM (#32148108) Homepage

    Facebook used to be a place to share photos and thoughts with friends and family and maybe play a few stupid games that let you pretend you were a mafia don or a homesteader.

    Used to? What, it no longer serves that function?

    It became a very useful way to connect with your friends, long-lost friends and family members.

    And still is.

    And Facebook realized it owned the network.

    ZOMG1!!! I think there is a very strong possibility that Facebook *knew* they owned the thing that runs on their f* infrastructure. Maybe that was part of their business model from day one. Crazy I know!!!

    Even crazier to think they just realized that fact </facepalm>

    Then Facebook decided to turn "your" profile page into your identity online — figuring, rightly, that there’s money and power in being the place where people define themselves.

    See above.

    Think of being able to buy your own domain name and use simple software such as Posterous to build a profile page in the style of your liking.

    Yeah, I can see the typical Facebook user (or the typical consumer of web-based information and publication in general) doing just that. This is what happens when geeks project their own experience and worries onto others, thinking others do as they do, and most importantly, care or worry about the same shit they do. They don't.

    If such a proposal ever takes place, all it would do is facilitate the creation of new "facebooks" that will wither and die over time. Eventually people will conglomerate to specific venues with functionality and ethos that appeal to them, run not by a collective of selfless enthusiast but by people who put the time and money to make it happen (and that won't happen just out of charity.)

    Talking about missing the entire point of human communication.

  • by atrizzah ( 532135 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @05:34PM (#32149468)
    Well, you could keep it private, if the organization that runs this website provided you with privacy options and acted in a trustworthy and ethical way to maintain these options. Apparently this is a big problem though
  • by atrizzah ( 532135 ) on Sunday May 09, 2010 @07:34PM (#32150212)

    The issue is not that people are putting super-personal information on Facebook. Most intelligent people who actually care about their privacy know better than that. The problem is that there is a difference between sharing information with the people you know (even if they number in the hundreds) and publishing it to the world for any person or organization to see. I really don't care that much if the whole world knows my favorite movies and interests, but I see no reason to expose that information about me to people I don't know.

    What is so aggravating is that Facebook started out as a site for the entertainment of its users, but that has taken a backseat to their ambition to become the new nexus of information on the Internet. Most of their changes could be really nice. By my count, there are three new "features" from the past couple weeks:

    • Opt-out Instant Personalization, which shares information between Facebook and several websites, giving them a more social dimension
    • Opt-out sharing of basically all of your profile with applications YOUR FRIENDS install on their accounts
    • Profile Connections, which networks and makes public most sections of your profile, and has completely replaced those profile sections

    But instead of letting users make the decision whether to participate in these new initiatives, they have made them all the new default, or in the case of Profile Connections, it's there way or the highway. Of course Facebook has the right to run their website how they feel, but we as users don't have to put up with it.

    In response to Facebook's cavalier attitude, I have deactivated my profile. However, I'm considering reactivating for one particular reason. Facebook is a fact of life now for most people, and it won't miss me much if I never come back. But I do want Facebook to change, and I'd like to continue to stay connected through it. Ironically, I have figured out that the best way for me to mobilize the people I know to demand change from Facebook is by reaching them through Facebook. I think I will try to organize a one day deactivation campaign. My deactivation isn't even a blip on their radar, but if dozens of people deactivate for a day, maybe that will turn some heads.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.