Facebook sucks. It’s unattractive, riddled with annoying advertisements and never, ever does what I want. So I’ve been looking around for alternatives.
Google threw up this article comparing four somewhat similar apps and diaspora sounded interesting. It’s an open source project that provides social networking facilities, much like Facebook, but it’s distributed over a network of servers (hubs), each potentially owned by a different organisation. Users can choose which hub stores their data and still get access to the whole decentralised network. Best of all, diaspora carries no adverts. Whoopee! That’s just what I was looking for.
So I signed up and started to read the Help. Strangely, the Help link took me to a page that describes hubzilla. At first I thought the link address must be wrong but, in fact, there seems to be a symbiotic connection between diaspora, the social networking system itself, and hubzilla, the network infrastructure in which diaspora lives. It is hubzilla that provides the decentralised network of hubs, the communication protocol, the “nomadic identity” and the access control facilities that diaspora is built upon.
Hubzilla amazed me. And I say that as a retired software engineer. Like the GNU/Linux operating system, it is open source: if you have the technical nous you can download the code, alter it in any way you like and run your own version. There’s no fee to be paid. It supports ‘channels’ of information that can work like a Facebook news feed, a Facebook page or a Facebook group. It uses a sophisticated mechanism for access control across the ‘grid’ of interconnected hubs: a single login provides access to resources wherever they may be in the network and your login ID is not tied to a particular web domain. If you lose faith in your usual hubzilla node you can move to another. You can even have your channels on multiple hubs and select a different primary host at any time.
The hubzilla core includes a suite of apps: an Events manager, a Calendar, a cloud file store, a Wiki, chatrooms, a web page editor and more. There is also a wide range of plugins (e.g. games). As far as I can ascertain, diaspora is a separate system that is designed to integrate into the hubzilla framework. If you sign up for diaspora you get hubzilla, too.
All this is wonderful but there is, of course, a down side. When I was selecting a ‘home’ hub I started with the 39 that are in the UK. juick.com had the highest number of users: 18,155 of them; but everything there was in Russian. I ended up choosing ourdiaspora.net because I was specifically looking for a Facebook replacement. That hub has just 6 users, a far cry from Facebook’s 2.6 billion! On the other hand, I probably don’t need to worry about a lack of resources on my primary hub. It’s hard to say how many diaspora users there are in total. I have seen a figure of “over one million” reported but I have no way of knowing how reliable that number is; in any case, it must be insignificant compared with Facebook’s following.
So, how am I going to stay in touch with my Facebook friends if/when I delete my Facebook account? Actually, that is not really a problem for me. I have 15 FB friends and I am in touch with most of them by other means. I’ll invite them to join me on diaspora and if any of those 15 don’t want to do that we’ll manage some other way. There is also the problem that I manage one FB page, jointly manage two FB groups and follow one other FB group. But the page is already moribund, the jointly managed groups can cope with a single administrator and, as it happens, I can keep up with the last remaining group via family and village contacts. Facebook is of only peripheral interest to me; I can easily do without it.
After all this hand-wringing over social media platforms it felt liberating to use that topic as the inspiration for the next Crotchety Man post. A search on Spotify for diaspora didn’t turn up anything suitable for these pages, so then I tried putting ‘Facebook’ into the search box. It came up with a playlist titled Facebook Artists and this country rock song appealed to the brain-addled Crotchety Mind.
The playlist itself focusses mainly on electronic dance music of the kind that was popular in the discotheques of the eighties. But there is also a cover of the Elvis Presley song, Treat Me Nice, and some tracks with a strong Spanish influence that suggests to me that the compiler might be Mexican. And then, of course, there’s the country rock of the Matlen Starsley Band, which seems anomalous in this context. It stands out for another reason, too; it has an exceptionally good production, every instrument clear and natural.
For information on the band there’s no better place to go than their website. Here’s an extract:
Members of the Matlen Starsley Band have played thousands of shows, from intimate clubs to soft seat theatres to major festivals in front of 20,000 plus fans. Unlike many musicians of this vintage who are touring legacy shows, MSB was formed as a brand new musical project with the sole purpose of writing, recording and releasing an album of entirely new original music.
Using Facebook was rapidly draining me of the will to live. But, thanks to diaspora, hubzilla and the Matlen Starsley Band, I am now convinced that this really is A Life Worth Living.