Why decentralization doesn't work yet for social networks and why it is unavoidable?

People like centralization. It is easier to understand. There is no choice to be made and, as such, you cannot make any mistake. People like following as blind sheeps because it remove all the responsability from their shoulders. The service was down or was hacked? No question if it was a good choice to use this service. And, anyway, everybody is in the same bucket!

And, to be honnest, there is no real decentralized success since the good old email.

XMPP chat : that one is probably the most successful decentralized social tool after email. But it looks like most users are simply gmail users with gmail only contacts. Also, besides chat, XMPP still fail to succeed for audio and video conference. The reason? It is simple: it simply doesn't work most of the time. We are in 2011 and there is still no XMPP client capable of delivering easy and good quality audio/video chat.

Identi.ca : the most popular micro-blogging platform. But, it is decentralized only in theory. Most of status.net users are using identi.ca, just as a centralized service. And if you open your own status.net server, you will miss a lot of features. If anybody on identica mention "@ploum", only the user ploum on identi.ca will see it. All other ploums on other servers will not. As such, identi.ca is simply a Twitter rip-off, using decentralization as a commercial argument but there is no future. It would have been smarter to associate an account with a mail address, so mentioning someone is unambiguous.

Diaspora : here, at least, you have an "ploum@diaspora" id. Diaspora also introduced the concept of Aspects, which are very similar to G+ circles.
Problem: diaspora reinvent the wheel everywhere: no use of an existing protocol (where XMPP would have been a smart choice), implementation of messages (please!), not very much feature, hard to install and extend.


So, is decentralization doomed for Social Network?

Not really. The only thing that matter in a social network is the concept of address book/contact list. For each service, we have to build our contact list. And, no matter what, there will always be people who are not on the same centralized service as you.

No matter how hard you try, how good your service is, there will always be people using something else (for whatever reason).

Geeks are now closing their Facebook account while "normal people" are still discovering it. Politicians are very proud to open a Twitter account while I read articles saying that it is now "has-been".

Google plus looks shiny but it is not different than anything else. A lot of people will not join Google+ for privacy reason. And I expect a lot of people to leave Google+ in the next 5 years because there will be a new "shiny, definitive service".

No matter how hard we try, decentralized protocol is the only way to make Social Network part of our daily lives.

Wait, we said that the key aspect is the contact list. But we already have one in our XMPP roster!

There is a huge opportunity here for Google: build a XMPP-based protocol that would make Google+ compatible with some other implementation. Make it the first step of a real decentralized social network.

Seems unlikely? They did it with Google chat.

Why would they do it? Because, like I explained, freeing your customers is the best way to keep them. Centralized services can disappear in the blink of an eye. If a few influent people leave it, an haemorrhage immediately follows. Even if your service is the best one.

In an decentralized world, you keep your customers by making your service the most attractive one. And Google is good at it.

Let's cross our fingers…
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