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Posted at 07:00 on 17 September 2010

I was hoping that Diaspora would prove to be a Facebook killer, but somehow, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Their choice of technology stack — Ruby on Rails with a MongoDB back-end — has seen to that.

Rails is something of a darling among geeks, and it is great for web applications that you only install on your own servers. So too are the plethora of NoSQL databases that seem to be all the rage among that kind of crowd these days. However, they are totally unsuitable for distribution to the general public.

Why? Simply because most cheap’n’nasty web hosts do not support them.

This is something that the WordPress core developers understood. Their decision to continue supporting PHP 4 long after its end of life brought howls of derision from WordPress plugin developers everywhere, but they were thinking first and foremost about their users — people with only limited computer skills who would deploy WordPress on their own shared hosting accounts. They wanted to get the widest possible audience.

Diaspora should be targetting run-of-the-mill Facebook users, not geeks. If it had been written in PHP with a MySQL back end, it would be more likely to see widespread adoption. However, by opting for Ruby on Rails, they’ve placed a barrier to adoption in front of the kind of technically-capable-but-not-particularly-geeky users on a tight budget who would otherwise set up Diaspora seeds for local schools, churches, clubs and so on. They risk turning it into a geek ghetto.

Sigh. Perhaps I’ll just have to put up with Faceborg after all.