Diaspora Founders Continue Quest for Free and Private Internet

Lora Bentley

When customer displeasure over Facebook's privacy problems reached its peak a while back, users went so far as to stage a "Quit Facebook Day." At the same time, a social network claiming to be the "anti-Facebook" came to the fore.


Diaspora, founded by a group of New York University students, is a decentralized social network that actually gives each user control of his or her own information as well as control of how it will be shared. The group began raising funds - from venture capitalists and everyday individuals alike - late last spring, and then released the code, thus launching the open source project, on Sept. 15, 2010.


The students, Maxwell Salzberg, Daniel Grippi, Raphael Sofaer and Ilya Zhitomirskiy, summed up their philosophy in their Kickstarter pitch:

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We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms.

Fast forward to September 2011. The founders had completed what they called "the first stage of a new social web," and they began sending out invitations to the alpha version. That led to an increase in community activity, greater publicity and more donations to the project's PayPal account. When PayPal started blocking the donations, a startup called Stripe stepped up to host the group's donations while the PayPal issues were being resolved.


The issues were indeed resolved quickly. PayPal began accepting Diaspora donations again in a matter of days. However, group members also chose to also maintain the Stripe donation option, as well as a Bitcoin alternative. The project is a community effort, after all, the founders said, and community members requested the options.


Everything was again as it should be. Until last week, when 22-year-old Zhitomirskiy died unexpectedly. His colleagues call him "a crusader for freedom, privacy, and openness on the Internet. He believed in the power of technology to make the world a better place." In helping to create Diaspora, he did just that, they said in a blog post.


The loss of one so young serves to remind all of us that life is too short to spend it doing anything other than what we love. As the late Steve Jobs reminded Stanford University graduates in 2005:

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life ... Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

From what I've read, Zhitomirskiy did just that, and his friends will honor his memory by continuing his quest for an Internet that's open, free and private.

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