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It was probably around the time that my father got a Facebook fan page that I suspected it was all over.

Dad graduated from college in 1972. Many of his fans are high school students, who haven’t yet attended college. It’s all very charming (“Mr. Luzer says having a Facebook fan page is like attending your own funeral – everyone’s talking about you, the food’s not that great, and after half-an-hour it gets boring”) but it’s far, far away from the network Facebook originally created.

Facebook, which began in 2003 as the project of some Harvard kids, now has like 400 million users. At first the site was limited to Harvard students. Then administrators expanded the site to all Boston-area college, all colleges in the Ivy League, and Stanford. Then Facebook let anyone with a university email address join. Next administrators opened the gate to high school students. Now anyone who’s over 13 and has an email address can get a Facebook page.

That’s kind of the problem. There’s too much information too readily available. According to an article by Jill Laster in the Chronicle of Higher Education, four New York University students have, apparently in reaction, created their own social network:

Diaspora is a planned personal Web server that stores information to be shared with friends securely. Instead of centralized social media, such as Facebook, the server is meant to provide a more secure, decentralized network. Some Facebook users have criticized it for lifting privacy restrictions in recent months; for example, Facebook now classifies a user’s hometown, friends, current city, and other information as public.

So it’s like Facebook, only with limited potential for unwanted, or unknown, people to view (or leverage) your information.

Success in social networking is hard to figure out. Friendster was briefly very popular in the U.S. but then quickly became, well, too Asian. Friendster has 115 million registered users and some 90 percent of them are in Asia. When Friendster surged in popularity in Asia, the network changed to target a different demographic and eventually alienated US users.

MySpace had a much better platform, allowing members to share a lot of information very quickly. But the trouble with that site was it seemed, as sociologist Danah Boyd put it in 2007, that:

MySpace is …home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools.

So it’s all about being exclusive, sort of. It’s a very, very difficult thing trying to try and create a social network that allows users to find absolutely everyone they’ve ever known but only allows people they’re fond of to contact them. Because that’s really what social networking is all about, creating an arrangement that allows people to interact only with people and institutions they know and like.

Diaspora has 2,281 backers and the developers have generated some $96,907 in investment capital. Diaspora is supposed to be available in September 2010.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer