's crowdfunders: Taken for a ride?

At least 10,000 people believe in's vision of a messaging platform for Web apps -- but it's unclear whether those people will be peers or sharecroppers

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By the way, I'm in charge currently embodies a hierarchical vision, where a single top-level provider delivers the infrastructure everyone shares. This is quite unlike StatusNet, which embodies a federated vision of social data networking. If you want to run your own private instance of StatusNet you can -- it's open source, after all. Then if you want to join up with the rest of the planet, you can federate with other instances, creating a meshed data bus with many connection pathways. By contrast, appears to want to maintain a commercial control point on the market it hopes to create. seems to solve a problem that StatusNet already addresses, except the latter is federated and protects your freedoms and privacy by letting you choose whether to use the public instance or a private, federated, open source instance. The fact is charging money is not itself the main problem; it is that is a closed system that does not federate with software I can run myself. Thus, I can't control my own data, social presence, and applications without needing to trust the founder of

That's not to say I don't, although the fact Caldwell feels he has to tell everyone they can trust him in many of his blog posts suggests he sees the problem. No, the point is I shouldn't need to trust him; I should be able to develop solutions on this platform without becoming a sharecropper.

While the word "open" is all over the place in the documentation, including in the API documentation on GitHub and in promises of open standards, the phrase "open source" is conspicuously absent and the concept of "software freedom" is never mentioned. Indeed, even the API specification lacks licensing information, which ought to give pause to anyone considering its use.

Trust me because I say so
A federated architecture like that of StatusNet allows me to collaborate with others interested in the same technology without being their client. The value of federated software is that it offers me a trade-off I can choose myself. Either I can join the public instance and allow its host to control my online presence, or I can run my own instance -- federated with the public instance(s) -- and be responsible for the effort of running the service, but remain in control of my information and presence.

So what does have going for it? A proof-of-concept Twitter clone, for sure. A torrent of great ideas, certainly. And $500,000 that's been given as a gift? Definitely. But its main asset is 10,000 people who want an open infrastructure for digital CB enough to risk $50 to see if it works out. That initial user base is worth at least as much as the money and will be a hard taskmaster.

But for all the great words about "open" and "choice" and "ad-free" and all the other knocks against Twitter and Facebook and others, it lacks a vision for a future where open source software implements a federated architecture to create a community of peers who are free to leave but choose to stay. In the end, Dalton Caldwell and need to embrace a vision of software freedom if they are truly to deserve our trust.

This article, "'s crowdfunders: Taken for a ride?," was originally published at Read more of the Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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