I continue to follow the fortunes of the alternative social networks even though I'm not sociable enough to invest much effort in any of them. Status.net has had a major upgrade, and now its free public service known as Identi.ca has acquired an elegant and unique design, which doesn't look like it is parroting any other social-networking interface. It is also highly usable and useful: conversations are grouped together, images can be viewed inline, and the ability to follow interest tags works very nicely. Status.net have a business model similar to that of Automattic, the company behind WordPress, offering a free service (in Identi.ca), free downloadable software + a paid enterprise service.
Friendika is probably the network with the greatest potential in that it's already full of features and continues to accumulate more. Its ambitions go far beyond just being a social network. At present, despite a variety of themes, it still lacks the finished look of Status.net or Diaspora. The Friendika server that I'm using is also annnoyingly sluggish: because it tries to pull in data from a variety of sources, Friendika apparently makes above-average demands on a server. I've no idea how Friendika's developers pay their bills and keep the project afloat, but they do. It's just not getting the attention it deserves.
Diaspora which, like Friendika, is intended to be a distributed social-network, is now offering invites to its central server. It's just about ready to graduate from Alpha. It already looks quite polished, and has the advantage that it appears familiar from the start - somewhere between Facebook and Google+. And that's because Google+ copied some of its design and features. Although still limited in scope, the service is functional and quick: it will be interesting to see what the Beta version looks like, when it's out.
Zee has an article today in TheNextWeb that is rather cynical about Diaspora. First of all, it's a bit disingenuous to ask "Remember Diaspora?". They got quite a bit of publicity lately when Google+ was unveiled. He also hints that the foursome behind the project have squandered the hundred and seventy eight thousand dollars they raised for it, giving themselves high-ish salaries (for kids fresh from college) and not producing a return on the investment. Yet since this is an open source project, even if the project stops tomorrow, someone else could take it up where they left off. And the amount invested in Diaspora is miniscule compared to what was invested in Google+ : some five hundred and eighty five million dollars, according to another article by Zee. He laughs at Diaspora's current fundraising campaign (which seeks small donations of up to $25):
Today’s email is quite clearly a last ditch attempt from the team to keep things running – a “what have we got to lose?” moment I imagine. But one look at what’s been built with the $178,000+ raised should tell you your money is better spent, or indeed donated, elsewhere.
Well, I've looked, and while the interface still isn't perfect, Google+ is not 3,000+ times better, though it cost 3,000+ times more (and apparently copied Diaspora into the bargain).
Why is it all right to cheer big companies while they use us as pawns to their personal enrichment, and at the same time ridicule the efforts of tiny companies who are attempting to produce worthy alternatives?