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Diaspora: Think about Brand

Charlie O'Donnell had an interesting post this morning on what Diaspora should do with their Kickstarter riches. One thing he didn't mention? Figure out your market positioning and brand. Let's think of this in terms of the possible likely outcomes of Diaspora's work:

Low: The team / product / initiative falls apart for some reason or another. Nothing is accomplished.

Middle: Diaspora creates a product that is useful but is restricted to the tech community and never gains strong adoption. Even techies still have both Facebook and Diaspora profiles, limiting the impact and fulfillment of the mission.

High: Diaspora gains mainstream traction, becoming the first legitimate threat to Facebook in years.

Right now, most of the focus is on the distinction between the "low" and "middle" scenarios: How does the team focus and produce anything at all? How do they build the basic operations of their business? These are important, but they aren't the elements that are going to separate the "middle" and "high" scenarios. And to me, that's the really important distinction -- if they're aiming to open the social graph, they have to reach beyond a small circle. But what are some of those upside differentiators, you ask?

Usability: How easy is Diaspora to install and customize? Does it "feel" nice?

Dynamics: Facebook spread because it is viral. It uses the fundamental structure of the social graph to spread and stick. Can Diaspora capture those similar dynamics?

Brand Association: This is Diaspora's biggest long-term problem. Right now their brand is closely associated with a techie revolt against Facebook, and there are real questions about (a) how long this revolt will last and (b) how "deep" the revolt spreads into Facebook's user base. Diaspora is currently riding a wave that may simply peter out in the near future, perhaps withing weeks if previous Facebook user "revolts" are any indication. In this frame, the Diaspora founders need to take the money they harvested from dissatisfied Facebook users and quickly pivot to a brand that has long-lasting and broader appeal.

Many great companies do this eventually (e.g., Facebook's shift from a geeky Ivy League classes and social site to a full-blown online manifestation of the social graph), but Diaspora risks being pigeonholed sooner rather than later. It's getting lots of press way too early and around a message that may work for them now but probably doesn't reinforce their ultimate goals -- and risks forever framing them as something very specific to a tech audience.

This doesn't necessarily involve a change in strategy or mission -- just the frame. Product is still the king, but brand matters if we're going to be talking about these guys in six months, let alone two or three years.