Diaspora founders hand project back to the community but users give mixed reaction

It was meant to be the next Facebook. But its founders have now moved on to greener pastures.

Diaspora was started by a group of New York University students in 2010, who put their idea up on crowdfunding site Kickstarter and received a massive reception – Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg even donated some cash.

But they have now transferred ownership of the site “to the community” and have moved on to other projects.

The decision highlights how when a crowdfunded projects becomes a runaway success groups of users can take ownership of a project and begin to influence its evolution.

It also comes during a tumultuous year for Diaspora. The community of users was shocked to discover founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy committed suicide in November 2011.

Zhitomirskiy and his schoolmates Dan Grippi, Max Salzberg and Raphael Sofaer put the idea on Kickstarter in 2010. The idea was to create a network based on privacy, so users could keep all their information including pictures and schedules private among their own networks.

The company was always based on the idea users would host different servers, so no one user has more control over any other. As of earlier this year the project had more than 375,000 accounts.

It was a huge success. It earned $200,000 despite only a $10,000 goal and even Mark Zuckerberg donated, saying the project was a “cool idea”.

But now, Grippi and Salzberg have announced the network will be handed over to the community that adopted it.

“As a Free Software social project, we have an obligation to take this project further, for the good of the community that revolves around it. Putting the decisions for the project’s future in the hands of the community is one of the highest benefits of any FOSS project, and we’d like to bring this benefit to our users and developers.”

The pair says they’ll remain part of the community, “We want to make sure we are including all of the people who care about Diaspora and want to see it succeed well into the future”.

The decision, they say, is due to the fact the project became bigger than they expected.

“Diaspora has grown into something more than just a project four guys started in their office at school. It is bigger than any one of us, the money we raised, or the code we have written.

The reaction from users has been mixed. While some welcome the community-based approach, others say it’s a cop-out and the founders set goals that were too optimistic.

Posts on the Y Combinator site reflect this mixed reaction. One user laments, “They failed before they started”.

However, it’s been a tough ride. Silicon Valley was rocked by Zhitormiskiy’s suicide last year. Only weeks before, Diaspora had requested the community donate more cash to keep the project going.





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