Perhaps the most damning critique of Facebook's recent controversial moves has been that a group of programmers have been raising money to create an alternative--and people are donating.
Diaspora, a social-networking project hatched by four New York University programming students in their early 20s, is set to hit $100,000 on Thursday in its quest to raise enough funding from the public to spend the summer building "an open source personal web server that will put individuals in control of their data," using a fundraising platform start-up called Kickstarter. Their original goal was to raise $10,000 by June 1. As of Thursday, they have raised nearly an order of magnitude more than that with 19 days still to go.
"We are 140-character ideas. We are the pictures of your cat. We are blog posts about the economy. We are the collective knowledge that is Wikipedia," Diaspora's home page explains. "The internet is a canvas--of which, we paint broad and fine strokes of our lives with. It is a forward extension of our physical lives; a meta-self comprised of ones and zeros. We are all that is digital: If we weren't, the internet wouldn't either."
Nowhere in Diaspora's language do its creators state explicitly that they're out to kill Facebook. But the project has undoubtedly gained the momentum that it has because animosity toward Facebook is at an all-time high. Recent dramatic changes to profile privacy and the ways in which Facebook shares user data with third parties have left many members wondering what further, more pervasive modifications might be in store.
But even though "micro-financed" funding for Diaspora has far surpassed the creators' expectations already--and people in the venture capital world are starting to take notice, too--the product still does not exist. Though they have a "rudimentary prototype" working on their own servers, the young computer science students are far from having proven that they can build a mass-market, scalable social-networking service. Diaspora's product may also prove too complicated to gain a following among the ordinary Web users who flocked to Facebook's easily accessible interface.
Still, $100,000 has been pledged and there are still over two weeks to go in Diaspora's funding quest--and the higher it goes, the more pressure will be on Diaspora's creators to deliver and succeed.
UPDATE: Diaspora's funding hit $100,000 shortly before 10:00 a.m. PT on Thursday.