UPDATE: After some prodding and community outcry, PayPal released Diaspora’s account.
Remember Diaspora? The group of NYU students that asked for $15,000 on Kickstarter.com to create a decentralized alternative to Facebook, and made headlines when they garnered a shocking $200,000 instead? Yeah, they’re still around, and to my surprise, they have some pretty cool stuff to show for their time and your donations. But now the funding has dried up and Diaspora is passing the hat again.
Recently the Diaspora team sent out an email to reinforce that they are neither vaporware nor a Nigerian prince, and reminded us that we can use their current implementation by downloading the source code or joining a pod to give Diaspora a feel. They also wrote to say that they need money — after all, Diaspora is a non-commercial organization with plenty of overhead to cover including hosting, coding, and $4 burritos. No problem, I’d be happy to contribute to an open-source alternative to Facebook, so I’ll just make a donation to their PayPal account — oh, wait…
PayPal is at it again. Just a few days after Diaspora’s request for donations, the money started rolling in, and just as suddenly, PayPal pulled the plug without saying why. Is this a fatal blow to Diaspora? No, probably not, but certainly a pain for a group of kids that would rather not call mom and dad to help with rent. I think the better question is “should groups ever use PayPal for donations?” With PayPal’s history of arbitrary and unexplained account freezes, even in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it may not be a safe bet to trust PayPal with your charity funds.
PayPal situation aside, I’m interested in where Diaspora is going. There’s something interesting about the group of young people working on this project…a sort of benevolent energy that you just don’t see in a lot of tech organizations. Heck, they even went so far as to show the public how they spent their initial funding. I’m split — I like the fresh-looking app they’ve created, but I’m not sure it will ever take off. Maybe it would work for intra-company communication or project coordination… but is it a realistic contender for the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Google+?
Keep a sharp eye on these guys, I think they’re going to turn Diaspora into something neat, even if it isn’t the Facebook killer everyone hoped. If you’d like to contribute to their cause, leave your loose change here.