In the early days of P2P networks, people used them to exchange MP3 files using Napster and Kazaa, until the Music industry stop them with lawsuits. Although they were used only shortly, it was amazing to see what power these networks have. Today people use Facebook to share information, although it would be perfectly legal to share their own information (files, photos, tweets, etc.) over a P2P network. And it would be technically much better: faster, easier and more secure.
It is easy to build a file- and information-sharing site for a few thousand Harvard students, even if you hack it together with unstructered PHP, but it is much harder to build a site for billions of users. If you use the wrong architecture, it becomes a nightmare. And the architecture of Facebook is wrong. They have allegedly 500 million users, but only one site and one datacenter. It is a scalability nightmare. Facebook is evil. And if it shuts down tomorrow, you would theoretically lose everything you ever posted to your profile. Congratulations.
Obviously, people want to share their information with their “friends”. And they want to store it in a safe and secure place. But who said it all has to be stored in a single location? Wouldn’t it be better to store it on their computers *and* on those of their friends? A P2P architecture would fulfill both wishes. The redundant storage is the perfect protection again data loss, and it enables fast data sharing.
The idea of Diaspora shows how it could or should be: personal data belongs to personal servers. Your photos, your memories, your data and your informations belong to you and no one else. A person can host a seed on an own server, and this data can be copied only to places where it belongs: to the immediate family, extended family, maybe even a few close relatives or friends.
The Diaspora blog says about Diaspora:
“Diaspora aims to be a distributed network, where totally separate computers connect to each other directly, will let us connect without surrendering our privacy. We call these computers ‘seeds’. A seed is owned by you, hosted by you, or on a rented server. Once it has been set up, the seed will aggregate all of your information: your facebook profile, tweets, anything.”
A major challenge for Diaspora is that the majority of the people consists of non-technically oriented users. Facebook targets this non-technically oriented crowd and offers them an easy way to share information (“We will connect you to your friends if you give us all your private data”). If Facebook alienates people *and* Diaspora manages to attract the non-technically oriented crowd with a super-simple UI, then it will have a real chance to be successful. I hope it will.
At the moment looks like Facebook is unbeatable. Can Diaspora still win? Yes, it can win. First of all it can win the hearts of the users. And it can be the better platform, with the right architecture for the right purpose. Facebook can not grow anymore. Diaspora can, and it can do it right. When it comes to sharing large amounts of data, P2P wins again centralized central-server architecture in every aspect: performance, reliability, scalability, storage, protection against network partitioning, etc.. I am a fan of underdogs. May the underdog win.