Monday, September 27, 2010

Beyond Diaspora: Another Facebook alternative has a head start

I just wrote a piece for Google Blogoscoped about Facebook and the problems with it, Diaspora and the obstacles it's created itself, and another effort that probably deserves some more attention. Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Here are a couple of teasers. On Facebook's battle for complete control over our online lives:
In the mind of Facebook, locking in users by holding their data captive is equally legitimate to actually making them want to stay, and it means more power for them. The problem is very simple. They own every piece of information about you that either you or your friends knowingly or unknowingly submit to them. They control who can see every bit of it, and they control how you can access it. You can bet when you delete something, it isn’t actually gone, that when you set something to private, there’s nothing to keep it that way, that when you want to see anything on Facebook, you’ll have to do it the way Facebook wants.

...and this on a promising alternative:
There are many such projects, but thus far Diaspora seems to be the only one to garner widespread attention. The developers were able to achieve instant popularity and raise twenty times their initial goal of $10K because to most people, Diaspora is the only project working towards this goal. It’s main asset right now seems to be mindshare, but it’s uncertain how much promise it holds beyond that. With the recent release of their pre-alpha source code, it immediately became apparent just how many security holes and problems are blocking the project. It will take a lot of work to fix and will almost certainly be impossible to make their public release as planned. Still, that isn’t to say the project isn’t worth supporting. It absolutely is, but it is not the only one you should know about.
What if there was another effort underway to create a federated social network, but based on a project that has already successfully been incorporated into the business of a Fortune 500 company, implemented in multiple public instances with tens of thousands of users, received funding which totals at a cool $2.3 million, and most importantly, already works with federation?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Know of a cool app that deserves more attention? Nominate it for the next Ubuntu post-install guide!

A year ago i saw a lack of easy to understand yet comprehensive getting started guides for new users, so i decided to make one. I spent hours reviewing software, taking screenshots, and other exciting stuff in order to make a post-install guide which helps new users get used to and understand Ubuntu, and also recommend all sorts of apps that may be of interest to users of any level of experience. Please subscribe if you want to catch my next one!

My guides for Karmic and Lucid have gotten way more attention than i could've anticipated, and while some people have shown great appreciation with donations (thanks for the support!), nothing makes me happier than the hundreds of comments and even private thank yous about hear how these guides have helped them spread free software, or open source as you may have it, to their friends and family. Here are some of my favorites:
"Danny, you're a marvel. I'm going to try out some of those suggested apps this weekend and have some fun. I read this article just in time to share it with a friend who's trying out ubuntu on his new laptop. Thanks!"
- Anonymous

"Thanks for posting this guide! I've been thinking of getting my parents off Windows for a while and this is the ammunition that I needed. Thanks!"
- Carlos Rodriguez

"Awesome post, I installed most of them. I converted an old Dell Inspiron 8600 to a Ubuntu box because my Mother-in-law has a old PC from her job with Ubuntu on it. I have to be able to support her and it's been years since I lived in linux\unix since my Unigraphics & CATIA days in Automotive. This story rocks, thanks for sharing."
- Carl Brooks

"Really brilliant well done :)
So many apps and methods that I had no clue about and I've been using Linux for 6 years!"
- Mike

"Wow. This is what a release post should look like."
- Anonymous

"So as pretty much everyone else said, this writing is quite excellent and entertaining! I've bookmarked this as you've pretty much reviewed every other application I've never heard about before"
- sergiusens

"Awesome. Been using ubuntu since the start, and you introduced me to a heck of a lot of new things. Rock On!"
- Anonymous

Now it seems only appropriate to let all of you to nominate your favorite apps to be featured in the next iteration of my Ubuntu post-install guides. Just post a comment with as much information about the app(s) as possible: name, link, description, your opinion, etc. and i'll check it out! 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm back!

Sorry for leaving you all hanging for so long! Between working at the FSF and making friends with awesome people in free software, i hadn't made much time for writing. If you haven't already seen it, please check out the relaunched LibrePlanet project. LibrePlanet is an effort to establish local teams around the world promoting free software. If you're in Massachusetts, join us!

Now, i will be helping out with OpenHatch, applying to schools, and finding some ways to generate an income (suggestions welcome). I started a site for my sinister business: I'm also taking two insanely overpriced courses at Harvard University's Extension School: Intensive Introduction to Computer Science, and Building Dynamic Websites. A new version of Ubuntu is coming out soon, so i'll be working on my next even more kickass post-install guide, with more delicious free software~ yum.

I spent all my the money i earned last summer on my first laptop (which wasn't borrowed or lent to me), a Thinkpad x201 Tablet with multi-touch. I'm hoping this could enable me to do some design stuff later on, and if you have any suggestions on awesome apps for touch-screens, do post a comment!

Here are some links to satisfy you (you may have seen these if you're in the related Reddit communities, or are subscribed to me on