At this time of year, many college students are trying to decide where to store their belongings over the summer months. In an attempt to reach out to students and become more accessible to them, many self storage companies have begun to advertise student discounts on their Facebook pages. But teenagers and twenty-somethings can be a difficult group to reach -- just as many businesses were making their first ventures into Facebook, college students and other Facebook users began to flee the site. Some ex-Facebook users are heading for a new social networking medium invented by college students: Diaspora*.
Self storage companies, like many other businesses, use social media like Twitter and Facebook to make announcements and to make consumers aware of discounts and special deals that they are offering. By participating in social networking sites, some self storage managers feel that they make it possible for consumers to search for self storage while doing something that they already make time for: networking with friends and coworkers. They also hope to become more easily available to a social demographic that often has a need for self storage: college students.
In fact, earlier this month, Ray Self Storage of Greensboro and Burlington, North Carolina, announced that it will be posting information about its college student specials on its Facebook page. And ezStorage of Columbia, Maryland, announced today that it will accept entries for its 2010 College Store Your Stuff & Win through its Facebook page. Using Facebook and other social media to promote self storage is a first for ezStorage, as it is for many self storage companies. “We have always offered college specials, but this year we decided it was time for something fun, and more in tune with the college customer market than the usual print advertising,” ezStorage President Todd Manganaro explained in a statement released earlier today.
But over the last few weeks, many Facebook users have become concerned about the privacy of their information. In April, Facebook unveiled new features that allow websites to cater to each user’s interests, using information from each user’s Facebook profile. The site also made it possible for websites to tell you what actions your Facebook friends have taken on the site, or what content Facebook friends preferred. The changes, intended to make Facebook more user-friendly and more universally-applicable across the Web, backfired. Many users were appalled to find their personal likes and dislikes being broadcast on other sites. In early May, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and 14 other public interest groups filed a complaint against Facebook with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Responding to privacy concerns, four computer programming students from New York University’s Courant Institute -- Daniel Grippi, Maxwell Salzberg, Raphael Sofaer, and Ilya Zhitomirskiy -- are developing their own social networking site, an anti-Facebook. The students started the project on April 24 and financed it by posting a request for funding on Kickstarter, a website developed to help creative entrepreneurs find funding for their projects.
Diaspora*’s programmers believe that a decentralized social networking system will be much more secure than a centralized system in which personal data is stored on the Internet by a large corporation or organization. Talking to a New York Times reporter on Tuesday, Sofaer explained, “In our real lives, we talk to each other....We don’t need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn’t that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren’t really rare things. The technology already exists.”
Diaspora* works by giving each user a “seed,” a personal web server. The seed securely stores pictures, videos, and other personal content, and shares them with friends who are designated by the user. Because personal information is stored on each user’s personal web server, individual users should have complete control over who can and cannot access their content.
It’s not clear yet whether or how businesses, such as self storage facilities, might use Diaspora*. Since Diaspora* users will be able to share content directly with each other, computer to computer, it is unlikely that there would be any place for advertisements. However, businesses could obtain Diaspora* software, like anybody else, and set up their own “seeds.” Perhaps it will be possible for businesses to make the information in their seeds available to the public. Then a self storage company could tweet an announcement saying that it was holding a special event or offering special discounts, and interested tenants could access that information via Diaspora* -- without compromising their own privacy.
In addition to starting a Facebook alternative, the four NYU students were also creating summer jobs for themselves. Funding raised through Kickstarter will be used to pay the four to work as computer programmers all summer. Once the software for Diaspora* is written, its creators plan to make it available to everyone, free.
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“Do you use Twitter or Facebook?” Self Storage Talk.
“ezStorage uses social media and Apple iPad to promote college sweepstakes.” EarthTimes. May 13, 2010.
McCarthy, Caroline. “Diaspora* about to hit $100,000 in donations.” CNET. May 13, 2010.
“Meet Diaspora*, the ‘anti-Facebook.’” CNN SciTechBlog. May 12, 2010.
Paul, Ian. “Facebook plans a privacy summit.” PC World. May 13, 2010.
Salzberg, Maxwell. “Decentralize the web with Diaspora*.” Kickstarter.
Sutter, John. “Some quitting Facebook as privacy concerns escalate.” CNN Tech. May 13, 2010.