Diaspora Is Now Community Property: ‘It Was Never Supposed to Be a Startup’

Don't call it a pivot.

Mr. Salzberg (Photo: Darren McCarra via Sociable.co)

Earlier this month, Diaspora cofounder Max Salzberg told Betabeat that the team would turn away from the highly-anticipated, but daunting enterprise of building the anti-Facebook and instead devote its “main focus” towards Makr.io: a photo remixing tool that makes sharing and creating image macros more social. (All your memes are belong to friends, etc.)

It sounded an awful lot like the dreaded p-word to us, but Mr. Salzberg framed it as a natural evolution for an open source project. To that end, the team, which is working on Makr as part of Y Combinator’s current class, posted a message entitled, “Announcement: Diaspora* Will Now Be A Community Project,” on the company’s blog today.

On the phone with Betabeat this afternoon, Mr. Salzberg compared Diaspora to WordPress or Mozilla. “Lots of open source projects are community run,” he explained, referencing two incredibly successful standouts. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, you’re leaving?’ But that’s not it at all. We can have side projects.”

Devoting the majority of your time to another venture sounds like more than just a side project, but Mr. Salzberg insisted that “It’s like people in bands can have multiple bands. [Diaspora is] something I did and I’m really proud of it. It’s bigger than just me. We’re never going to stop making cool stuff, we’re not really a one trick pony.”

In fact, Mr. Salzberg framed handing over the keys to Diaspora’s Pivotal Tracker as a sign of the initiative’s progress. “It speaks to the maturity of the project and that there are stakeholders other than the two guys who started it. Thousands of people love and use Diaspora everyday so the community needs to have some decision making power itself.”

Mr. Salzberg said he wasn’t sure exactly how many people were using Diaspora. “I don’t actually know because there are thousands of installations around the world,” he said. “People can run it and I’m not sure what they’re doing to it.”

Now that’s it opened up to the community, he added, they can be in charge of things like feature development and launching fellowships. “This is how noncommercial open source projects work,” he argued, adding that “Diaspora will probably have some foundation that’s the steward of the code.”

“It was never supposed to be a startup or something,” said Mr. Salzberg. Despite once telling New York magazine that the attention from the early success of its Kickstarter project “almost paralyzed us,” he told Betabeat that the team was “just sort of doing something for fun.”

Would a leaderless community be able to put in place the kind of governance structure an open source project needs? “I don’t think we’re going away, but there’s never been a third seat to the community,” Mr. Salzberg said.

Here’s how Mr. Salzberg and his cofounder Daniel Grippi described it on the Diaspora blog (emphasis theirs):

Today, we are giving control of Diaspora to the community.

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. We still will remain as an important part this community as the founders, but 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.

If you look around, you’ll see that we’ve made an effort to open up to the community more to help better serve it. We’ve opened up our Pivotal Tracker for community developers help join in (You can sign up here), we’ve launched a tool that deploys one-click installations to the Heroku app hosting service, and we’ve updated joindiaspora.com to be more community-centric, showcasing other pods a user can join.

Diaspora Is Now Community Property: ‘It Was Never Supposed to Be a Startup’