On one of the StackOverflow podcasts, Joel and Jeff discussed what made StackOverflow tick, as they usually did. Jeff made a point: anybody could hack a StackOverflow clone over the weekend. It wouldn’t be as polished but the core use cases are simple enough for this to be a weekend project.
StackOverflow did not take over the Q&A space because it’s great software. I think it actually is pretty good on the software side, but it’s been a runaway success because the guys have managed to create a community, fast. Its launch was a mother of all online launches:
- the community was in a dire need of a better solution to Q&A
- the product delivered that solution (that’s the software part)
- by pre-seeding the site with good content and with persistent evangelism, they got enough user mass for the project to take off
People came and kept coming back because the product rewarded them for doing so. Not unlike Facebook that also rewards you for being there, although in a different way.
Speaking of Facebook, what are the chances that Diaspora will give them a run for their money?
Again, it will not be determined by the quality of their code. Open source alternatives to Twitter, for instance Status.net, did nothing to slow Twitter down. By the time these clones have started popping out, Twitter had enough people bought into it that it didn’t matter if you could download a clone and run it on your server.
Why would you? All your friends were on Twitter already.
With Facebook the game is even harder. My dad is there, and so are million other dads and aunts and non-techies. They won’t run their own Diaspora; their highest technical accomplishment is uploading a photo on their Wall.
So, technically, yes I could run my own quasi-Facebook but would anybody come? Hell I run this blog but for many people Facebook has replaced the internet so if I am to reach them, I have to first link to this post from my FB.
Perhaps the question itself is wrong. As The Onion recently reported, “New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It, Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit“. With a plethora of existing tools already at your disposal, you indeed have all you need to share whatever you want to share with whomever.
The guys behind Diaspora would have to answer our need to share in a very different way, and doing so they’d also have to be excellent community managers, just like the StackOverflow team has been. What I think is that Facebook doesn’t suck badly enough for them to have a clear shot at victory. And without a pressing, dire need, no product to satisfy it can be made.
PS Not feeling so social? Check out the Mine! Project for a very different take on owning and (selectively) sharing your data.