Clamouring for your friends, please…

In the last week I’ve taken notice of three ‘new’ Facebooks. Or rather, actively decided to compare them after the other two came to my attention; the world is clamouring for Facebook’s inevitable demise, just as Myspace fell before it, and looking at the next tool of internet oneupmanship. However, every single one of them has a catch that was not previously apparently in the initial flush of signing up to Facebook, but has since become apparent. Are we simply more conscious of the catches, having been caught out once and are now more vigilant? Or are these alternatives bound to fail, their achilles’ heel too noticeable to be attractive to millions of users?

Let’s establish the problem:
Facebook has reached the ubiquity of life – something that a lot of people use, and even rely on, but something that everyone loves to complain about. Like power companies, but with more 21st Century superfluity. However, the whinging only got it’s bite last year, when mere buggy inconvenience (Facebook Chat) and incessant redesigns (like a more fickle Steve Jobs) became an actual problem. And that problem, was privacy. Facebook chopped and changed so much people didn’t realise how much they were actually exposing themselves online – through smugness or baiting an advertising trap, most of Facebook’s users are not the savvy college students who remember to check all that crap. Or even the thick ones, who don’t – they’re people who don’t check because they’ve got better things to do, in the same way no one reads EULAs because fuck that shit, Adobe updates fucking weekly and I’m not reading all of that crap weekly.

It can take a lot to unseat something that is ever called ‘ubiquitous’ but one false move and the company can unseat itself; Myspace became a buggy, spam stuffed and phished up mess of annoyance, but had Facebook not been there offering a clean, less fussy and apparently more secure service then it might have stayed for a while longer. So do the alternatives offer than clean, more secure, free and less creepy alternative?

The Alternatives:

Diaspora*
Diaspora’s genesis was from Facebook’s crumbled mess of a privacy system in 2010. Started as a well publicised good idea, they managed to collect an awful lot of money in a short time – $200,000 – and duly set about creating everything that Facebook wasn’t: “…our distributed design means no big corporation will ever control Diaspora. Diaspora* will never sell your social life to advertisers, and you won’t have to conform to someone’s arbitrary rules or look over your shoulder before you speak.” Lofty ideals, though they are ones we should expect from a country where all of these freedoms, positive and negative, are meant to be guaranteed. Writing as an English person with no constitution or Bill of Rights in the same way, should those things be expected, as one generally expects others to adhere to the law? But anyway. There are parts of Diaspora which sounded a lot like Ning, another, older, alternative social network, mainly that the pods sounded like the personal networks you could create on Ning (more like a platform than a network itself). However, Ning succumbed to Le Crunch and is no longer free – pay up or export your crap. Since Le Crunch often hits the good ideas first, this shouldn’t have surprised me:

image

They’ll get it to me soon, but they’ve been telling me that for about five months. Last check it was ‘in October’, but we’re at the end of October now. I appreciate the pressure of the world looking for a gasping alternative to the blue and white hell creates a lot of pressure, but do not be coy: at the end of the day, it looks like you have to pay for Diaspora. I know you’re not in this for the money, but the world won’t go round without it.

Unthink:
Another American tale of starting something because you’re pissed off with what’s gone before. Unthink was started by a lady who disliked the Facebook Terms and Conditions when she read them, as her son wanted to join. The video promoting Unthink is what you would generally expect from a technologically savvy helicopter mom:

no offence helicopter moms of the world, there’s just something so reekingly middle class about this even if I wasn’t at my particular university I think I would have nonetheless raised my eyebrow.

And Unthink is a nice idea. Where Diaspora’s discourse theme is about nature and plants, Unthink’s is about Freedom and telling corporations where to shove it. Natasha Dedis, who founded Unthink and sticks out like a sore thumb in the field of Social Networks merely by her gender (a good thing), has maybe read one too many of the strange American Warrior Women marketing books which reads to a cynical English person like me a bit oddly, but Unthink is not as hipstery coy as Diaspora; there’s a paid version, and a free version. Free version naturally has advertising, but not of the selling your soul kind like Facebook. Oh, wait.

For all Unthink’s good ideas, its ‘scrappiness’ may be its undoing. I’m frankly surprised that a lady who considers herself a pretty good businesswoman and ‘citizen of the world’, would call the advertising mechanism ‘iEndorse’ considering Apple’s immensely litigious reputation. Techcrunch’s review of Unthink incited such hilarity in how it phrased how iEndorse works that it might become a popular feature for that reason:
                      Wandering Sight, sponsored by Coke.
I know my friends would find that hilarious, whether due to the fact I do really like Coke the drink, or bar a three month ‘is this any less boring test’ with alcohol I’m pretty straight edge.

Global Post reported today that Tuenti is seeking to expand outside its Spanish base. Tuenti’s focus is on quality, not quantity, in terms of your friends, and its users have turned it into something rather more like LinkedIn rather than Facebook; semi professional and invite only. Each Tuenti user can invite 10 friends to the site, and demographics and studies taken of users reveal that Tuenti’s are younger, but spend much more time there on Facebook. The main place where Facebook clearly cuts about Tuenti is in international reach, so many users maintain profiles on both sites, and idea quite anathema to most social network companies. What makes Tuenti different from say, Orkut or Renren is their maintenance of a ‘one up from Facebook’ attitude and their ownership at the hands of a more traditional company – Telefonica, giant European comms company, has paid for Tuenti to create its own network and have users send messages to each other, via Tuenti, for free: it’s up and coming as a cheap alternative to a smart phone plan, much as Blackberries are. While Tuenti might be looking to expand beyond its borders, it too could easily become another Orkut or VKontakt. Though with hopefully less spam than VK.

Has the giant killer arrived yet? No, not quite. Will it come? Most certainly. The next startups simply have to learn from the errors of those which have gone before…

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