Eight Things an Alternative-to-Facebook Needs to Have

Right now there is a project that is being funded through Kickstarter called Diaspora which has drawn funding of $188,000.00.  The guys behind the project only asked for $10,000 originally.  The purpose of Diaspora is to create a Facebook alternative.  This is a sign that Facebook is failing its users.  It is failing us so much that we are willing to pay someone else to create something else that hopefully won’t suck as much.

It is possible Diaspora will just become another Friendster, Myspace, and Facebook: a closed walled garden with crappy design and crappy ethics.  That will be frustrating and disappointing.  We really do need an alternative to Facebook.

I don’t fear Facebook taking over the web.  The web is a very big place and there will always be small walled off gardens where people will choose to make their home on the internet, but just like a gated community in real life, there are still bustling city streets and cool things going on outside that community.  In general I try not to fear any technological development because fear, uncertainty, and doubt are usually signs that there is some manipulation going on.  What I want, though, is something better.  I don’t want a single entity to control my identity on the web.  I want to control my identity.

In this line of thought, I developed X things I want from the inevitable alternative to Facebook.

Microblogging

The platform needs to support microblogging.   Microblogging, once referred to as ‘status updates’, is the quick easy way people can share thoughts, ideas, and opinion.  They can share links to interesting websites, news items, or videos from their computers or smart phones.  The idea of microblogging needs to extend a bit beyond Twitter which forces brevity.  Sometimes 140 characters isn’t enough to explain why something is cool.  This microblogging platform does need to be able to replicate Buzz and Twitter updates though.

Blog Reader

I currently use Google Reader to monitor several blogs and to maintain my podcast subscriptions.  I like it but not in love with it.  An alternative to Facebook should incorporate the ability to subscribe to blogs, pull in the RSS feed from any blog and present it in a nice separate tab from all my social graph stuff.  I don’t want the platform to become yet another blogging device.  We already have a plethora of such platforms that do the job just fine.  The alternative to Facebook should enable its customers to subscribe to all the different blogs, vlogs, and/or podcasts in an easy, user friendly way.

Recommendations

I want to be able to quickly and easily share the reviews I write on GoodReads.com, Amazon.com, Yelp.com or well… anywhere with my social circle through the alternative to Facebook.   The value of knowing the products and services my social circle recommends (or doesn’t recommend) is huge.  Having a simple way of tracking any and all recommendations would be amazing.

Picture Sharing

Okay, this is a bit of a misnomer.  I don’t want the alternative to Facebook to be a place where I store my pictures.  Again, there are a plethora of viable wonderful sites that allow picture sharing.  What I want the alternative to Facebook to actually do is allow me to tap into all those picture sharing services and make it easy for me to ‘broadcast’ the pictures to my friends and family.  I don’t want to force family members who have little time or use for social media stuff to sign up for a dozen different services to see all my stuff.  So let the alternative to Facebook take Flickr feeds, YouTube channels, Picassa feeds and allow me to share them easily with my social circle.

Music Sharing

Again, the alternative to Facebook does not have to reinvent the wheel.  There are some terrific music sharing apps out there from Pandora to Blip.fm and beyond.  The alternative to Facebook needs to provide an easy straightforward intuitive interface to these services.

Social Gaming

Yes, the alternative to Facebook needs to provide a platform for social gaming.  Yes, that means Farmville and Bejeweled Blitz among thousands of other options.  Being able to play games with friends and family who are spread across the globe is one of the many things that makes the internet great and the alternative to Facebook can’t ignore this.

Security

I think the best, easiest to understand security is on the Livejournal site.  I get to create groups of people and then make my posts available to these groups of people as I see fit.  Is that so hard?  So the basic security set up is Private.  Yep.  Until the user chooses to open a post, a picture, anything, up to his or her social circle, it remains absolutely private.  And this can never change.  Ever. Under any circumstance.

Better Design

Design is sometimes a subjective thing.  My idea of good design and another person’s idea of good design may not match.  Yet, there are some straight forward elements that are just obvious.  Facebook’s design is better than MySpace’s design, but it is so clunky, not intuitive, and feels – dare I say it? – totalitarian.  Every profile page looks the same.  Yes, that is slightly better than the Myspace anarchy with crazy bling graphics everywhere.  Yet, by locking everyone into the same structure, it inhibits individual choice.  Again, I look to Livejournal that provides a global framework but allows individual journals to look however the individual wants them to look.

The core idea I’m pushing for is an alternative to Facebook that is open sourcedand federated, so anyone can host it – including myself so I have full control over it.  It should utilize the tools and apps that are already available, make the necessary deals where it needs to and think in terms of … well, think in terms of Google.  I know I’m a Google fanboy at times, but Google’s business does better when people utilize the internet – any internet.  I want to see a Social Site that doesn’t need people to subscribe to it in order to thrive, it would simply need people to utilize social apps in order to thrive.

Oh, and give me an option to pay $60 a year and not get served ads.  That may be asking a bit too much though.