Diaspora co-founder dead at 22

Ilya Zhitomirskiy, left. To his right is Dan Grippi, one of the four Diaspora founders. Flickr/campuspartymexico.

Diaspora co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy passed away over the weekend.

The 22-year-old was one of four former NYU student developers of Diaspora, an open source social network platform that has been the basis of growing communities world-wide.

Unlike Unthink, Diaspora has so far shunned venture capital investment.

The Diaspora project was launched after three of the students attended a lecture by Eben Moglen, a Columbia University law professor who proclaimed that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg “has done more harm to the human race than anybody else his age” by “spying” on users.

Diaspora is different to other social networks in that it is designed to be run as a number of inter-linked instances with different internet addresses. This allows different groups to run their own copy of Diaspora (called a “pod”) but have it link to all others.

In October, Diaspora adopted the Computers, Freedom and Privacy’s Social Network Users’ Bill of Rights. This represented a commitment to observe principles protecting user’s privacy, data protection and rights to freedom of speech, among other things.

It is unlikely that Diaspora will ever be a real threat to Facebook or Google+. It is currently signing up 15,000 new users a day, drawing on people disaffected by Facebook and Google+ –especially those people who left Google+ over their “Real Name” policies.

But Diaspora already has a different community feel to other sites such as Google+ and Facebook. It will find followers that prefer the community-driven approach to the development of the network and the nature of the members who are already part of the network. Given the nature of the founders, who described themselves as “big nerds”, Diaspora has become a network of like minds.

Zhitomirskiy’s last post on Diaspora on November 7 has become a tribute, with other Diaspora members posting their thoughts and condolences.

The tragedy of someone passing at such a young age is mitigated slightly by his achievements and legacy in bringing Diaspora into being. He will be remembered by many.