Can Facebook be trusted with your data? Years ahead of their time, Diaspora tried to do better. This is their David-versus-Goliath effort to build a revolutionary social network that would give us back control of our privacy.
In June of 2010, four nerdy NYU undergrads moved to Silicon Valley to save the world from Facebook. Their idea was simple—to build a social network that would allow users to control the information they shared about themselves instead of surrendering it to big business. Their project was called Diaspora, and just weeks after launching it on Kickstarter, the idealistic twenty-year-olds had raised $200,000 from donors around the world. Profiled in the New York Times, wooed by venture capitalists, and cheered on by the elite of the digital community, they were poised to revolutionize the Internet and remap the lines of power in our digital society—until things fell apart, with tragic results.
The story of Diaspora reaches far beyond Silicon Valley to today’s urgent debates over the future of the Internet. In this heartbreaking yet hopeful account, drawn from extensive interviews with the Diaspora Four and other key figures, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jim Dwyer tells a riveting tale of four ambitious and naive young men who dared to challenge the status quo.
Journalist Dwyer (102 Minutes) chronicles the noble yet tragic failure of four NYU undergrads who aimed to ignite a social media uprising with Diaspora, an open-source alternative to Facebook. Diaspora took arms against the stealthy business practices of social media companies and provided users control over their personal data. It won immediate support, raising $200,000 dollars through a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign. The book traces the constantly morphing, publicly scrutinized efforts of the founding members over three years. Dwyer fits the 2010 uproar over Facebook's privacy policies and the dawn of commercial surveillance into a history of the Internet, from the birth of the World Wide Web to the creation of Mozilla's open-source browser, Firefox, providing context to Diaspora's herculean task: to meet the expectations of thousands of free-Internet advocates and those of savvy venture capitalists, all in a San Francisco startup pressure-cooker. But Dwyer is quick to lump his four protagonists Dan Grippi, Max Salzberg, Rafi Sofaer, and Ilya Zhitomirskiy into a category of "man-boys... eating pizza, and hacking at geeky projects." The emotional stakes are extremely high, and when tragedy strikes, Dwyer's characterizations lack the development to really make us feel it.