Current and future development

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This article is a work-in-progress.. .
This article is currently a speculative draft based on user feedback and developer needs. As such, it should not be interpreted as a canonical source of future information until the details are more further refined. improve the article by updating it. There may be additional information on the talk page.

Introduction

We often get asked about the development of diaspora*, and when a particular feature will be available. Hopefully this article is help to answer your questions about development!

The development of diaspora*'s software is done entirely by volunteers, so what gets developed is really dependent on what those developers want to work on. We do have a core team of developers – themselves volunteers – who help other developers by reviewing their code and giving them some direction. The core developers concentrate their own development work on code which will improve diaspora*'s architecture and performance in ways which might not be immediately visible. It can be easy to feel that nothing is happening even when there's a lot going on in the background, as development in a large project such as this can take a long time. However, we're trying to improve communication within the community, so that everyone is better informed about what's going on and what progress there is on certain aspects of development.

Needless to say, if you think you can help in any way with the development of diaspora*, please make yourself known in our GitHub repo. Use the search bar at the top of GitHub to see if there is an existing open issue for the element you'd like to help develop. There is a specific "newcomer" label which marks projects suitable for someone who's new to diaspora*'s code; these can be found here.

You are going to find links to Discourse on this page. Discourse is the tool we use to discuss the future direction of the project, and to vote on proposals concerning development. Everyone is welcome to join this discussion, so if you'd like to help us improve diaspora*, read our article on using the Discourse instance and join us there.

Fundamental code

First there are the fundamental parts of the software that make the diaspora* network operate.

Sort out federation

'Federation' refers to the sharing of data between pods in a distributed network such as diaspora*. It worked pretty well when diaspora* launched but, as the network grew in size (both the number of pods, and also large numbers of users on certain pods), flaws in the design became apparent and more problematic. Since then a lot of work has gone into trying to solve these problems so that data stored on one pod are successfully and instantly shared with all other pods which need to receive them. However, this has been without doubt the most complex problem facing diaspora*'s developers, and as yet the issues have not been fully solved. An awful lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to improve diaspora*'s federation. Update: a major overhaul of the way federation works in diaspora* was released as part of version 0.6.0.0. This dramatically improved federation performance.

We would love to set up a working group to continue solving the problems associated with federation in a network of diaspora*'s size. If you'd like to help, make yourself known in the Federation category on Discourse.

Make the code-base modular

One of the things which has held up creation of features is that some fundamental parts of the software are not yet stable. And if they have to be changed significantly in the future to improve network performance, this can cause features to suddenly stop working, which means that all the effort to create them has been wasted. This has happened before, and it set back diaspora* development by a long way, so it's something that we're very keen will not happen again. Therefore, another important task that developers are working on is to make the code-base "modular:" that is, with each element of the software in its own discrete "package." Once this has been done, and elements such as federation have been separated into their own modules, making big changes to those fundamental parts of the code won't have adverse effects on other elements such as features. Update: federation code has now been extracted into its own gem, which has improved the situation.

Create an API

API stands for "application programming interface." It gives a structure and language for apps to work on the network. Once this has been released, it will be far easier to create and implement apps for diaspora*. But like all of the fundamental parts of the code, it's crucial that this be absolutely right first time, and so it is taking a long time to achieve this. At the moment, the official API is still in development, and you can read about some of the difficulties faced in creating this on that link.

Of course, being an open-source project, anyone can develop things for diaspora*, and there is a draft diaspora* API called diaspy, which is written in Python.

Data import/export – account migration

Along with respecting individuals' privacy, having the ability to choose where your personal data are stored was one of diaspora*'s founding principles. Three years down the line, it has yet to be implemented. There is an [1] about how best to implement proper migration of data so that people can easily move from one pod to another in a completely secure manner. Feel free to join in the discussion. This again is an extremely complex issue, and important to get it absolutely right. There are important considerations regarding identity theft, and how to make absolutely sure that it is impossible for a person to "spoof" someone else's identity and thus have all that person's private data migrated to the spoofer's server under false pretenses. Update: currently being worked on by Senya

Make it simple to set up and run a pod

Although the installation and maintenance of a diaspora* pod has been made a lot simpler over the past three years, it is still quite a technical challenge for the average user. However, teams have been working on "packaging" the software so that the process of installation becomes more or less point-and-click." Progress has been made on this for a number of operating systems, including some on free web space, such as Heroku, but there are many other operating systems to go.

Make diaspora* compatible with other open networks

At the moment diaspora* is run by bespoke software, written from the ground up with elements taken from other open-source projects, with its own communication protocols. The idea of making diaspora* compatible with other open-source, privacy-respecting networks has been raised a number of times, and this has also been the subject of a long-running discussion. However, the main problem with this is that as yet there is no obvious contender as a "standard" protocol among open-source networks. If we chose one before this happens, diaspora* could end up the loser when another standard emerges (being the Betamax of open-source networks). Recently, a few protocols, such as Tent, have emerged which may meet these needs, and as soon as one of these emerges as a likely standard, it may well be adopted by diaspora*, along with other networks. Sean Tilley and others have been in discussion with the people behind some of the emerging protocols, and also with other free networks, to try to establish which of the protocols is going to meet the needs of the most networks and therefore which should be adopted. Placing federation code into its own layer is the first step in preparing diaspora* for a time when a clear leader emerges among the federated protocols.

Note: The Friendica network and Hubzilla are already compatible with diaspora*'s protocol.

Features

If you'd like to help create features, go to our GitHub repo.

Features which are frequently requested include:

Photo albums

There have been many requests to create photos albums, which may include features such as:

  • Tagging users in photos
  • Comments/likes on individual photos or complete album
  • Slideshow/full-screen view
  • Hi-res uploads
  • Editing of photos/albums

Update: We have decided that using diaspora*'s system of #tags to group photos will be best. The next step is to work out how best to implement this. There are some proposals, such as this one.

Groups / Events

Groups and events are both important means of organizing communication. We would certainly to implement them in the future, but both will only be useful if federation of data between pods is reliable and instantaneous.

You can read more about these features in the Discourse discussions about groups and events.

Shared calendars

As above.

Chat / Instant messaging

After much long discussion and several false starts, prototype instant chat, based on the XMPP protocol has recently been developed. Update: This is currently being developed using Prosody as the XMPP server.

To find out more, or if you'd like to help create this feature, see this discussion.

Video conferencing

It may also be possible to implement video conferencing as part of or alongside instant chat.

Apps for iOS and Android

Much energy from community members went into creating apps for mobile devices in the early days of the project, and some apps for Android still exist. However, it was decided that it would be better to create a mobile version of diaspora* which worked really well and was easy to use on mobile devices. This mobile site is getting better all the time.

If you do decide to use an app to access your diaspora* account, get reviews on it from people you trust, and check that it is still being actively developed, before installing it.

Privacy

Privacy is at the heart of diaspora*, and as such we always want to make it possible for users to be as private as they like, and to know that their personal data are secure at all times.

Encryption

One means of ensuring privacy is through the encryption of data. This includes encryption of data stored by pods, encryption between peer and server (i.e. between user and pod), and encryption of notification emails. Currently all traffic between pods in diaspora* is encrypted, but these instances mentioned above (apart from email notifications) are not encrypted. There are complex technical issues to sort out in order to make this work, especially in a distributed system, and encryption of data stored on pods, for example, would be likely to have an adverse impact on performance.

Find out more in this discussion.

Have separate public and private bios in profile

Some users have requested separate biographies in their profile: one to be shown to people in their aspects, and the other to be shown to others.

There are currently no plans to implement this, but if you would like to have a go at creating this function, we'd like to hear from you.

"Public to diaspora*" / pod-only posting

This is a much-requested feature. In fact it is technically impossible to make it 100% safe, since everyone (even Google) could set up their own pod and receive all messages published as "public to diaspora*." So having this option would give users a false sense of privacy. For this reason, "public to diaspora* only" will not be implemented.

It would be a different matter to allow posts to be visible only to members of the same pod, because a pod could prevent "public to this pod" messages from leaving to another pod (and, potentially, search engines). Nevertheless it is not the spirit of diaspora* to communicate only on one pod. You can, of course, if you are part of a pod which is being run for a community or interest group, add everyone on that pod to an appropriate aspect and then post just to that aspect. In that way, everyone on the pod, and only those people, will see your posts.

Functionality

Comment likes

One of the most common questions in diaspora* is "Why can't I like comments?" Comment likes were available when diaspora* first launched, but had to be removed as the network started increasing in size, because the likes on larger pods they were massively increasing the size of the databases and causing those pods (and therefore the whole network, as other pods continually tried to communicate with the affected pods) to slow down. It's definitely part of diaspora*'s plans to have comment likes again, but it can't happen while there are still such huge pods unless this problem is solved. We're working on ways to reduce the load on the biggest pods. One of the best ways to do this is to reduce the size of those huge pods, so if you want to help improve diaspora*'s performance and are registered with one of the biggest pods, do consider moving your account to a smaller pod.

More connected services (G+, Libertree etc.)

You can currently connect your diaspora* account with Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and WordPress, and we'd like to enable our community members to connect with more services. When Google+ launched, its API was read-only, which meant it was not possible for external apps to connect with it. However, as and when it becomes possible to link diaspora* with other services and networks, and as and when developer time is available, we'll hook up with more services. If you'd like to help us make this happen with any particular service or network, drop in to GitHub.

Aggregation of reshares

It would be great if we could find a way to aggregate multiple reshares in the stream, and perhaps the comments made on those reshares. However, this would need to work from the query which generates the stream, and this is not currently an easy thing to do. A feature like this might have to wait until various elements of the stream generation have been rewritten. If you'd like to help with this, post on the GitHub issue.

Preview of comments and private messages

Our post preview feature, introduced in version 0.1.0.0, has been one of the most popular features. It would be great to introduce a similar preview feature for comments and private messages, and we hope this will happen in the future. Update: under construction

UI toolbar to format text

Along with being able to see a WYSIWYG preview of your post, some people have asked for a formatting toolbar so that formatting can be added at the touch of a button rather than having to manually use Markdown code. Update: Now available!

Allowing use of HTML in posts

Some people have requested that it be made possible to use full HTML markup in posts rather than the more limited Markdown. There are dangers in this – for example, some people might go completely overboard and your stream could end up being an unpleasant mess of colors, fonts and images. At the moment, Markdown works well for most purposes. We might consider introducing HTML support at some point in the future, but currently it is not a priority and no decision has been made on whether it would be desirable.

Customization of stream

There have been requests to be able to customize the stream, so that it can be viewed, for example, chronologically by time of posting (the current view), or chronologically by latest activity on each post (the view used in My Activity), and that it would be possible to "pin" certain posts to keep them at the top of the stream. Another feature sometimes requested is to be able to color-code posts. Each of these are things that may be useful to introduce, but depend on someone to step forward and create them.

Filtering stream by tag

At the moment, you can show a stream filtered to show only posts containing a certain tag, by clicking "#Followed tags" in the side-bar and then on the tag you want to see. However, there is no way of filtering out certain tags. This would be good to have, but is not a critical feature and not likely to make it to the top of the list of priorities any time soon. However, if you'd like to work on it, let us know. There's an existing discussion about this.

Filtering stream by language

Language recognition by software is not an easy thing to achieve. However, someone is currently working on this.

Editing posts

This is another very frequently requested feature. However, there are some good reasons not to allow editing of posts once the post has been made. One of these is that if someone comments on a post and it is then changed, that is unfair on the commenter, as it may make their comment look irrelevant, ridiculous or offensive. Another is that, in a distributed network, it can lead to different versions of a post existing on different pods. For these reasons, it's unlikely that editing of posts will be allowed in diaspora* until such hurdles can be overcome. One interesting suggestion would be to keep and display revisions of posts which have been edited, so that people can see the changes and when they occurred. You can find discussion of this feature in various threads on Discourse, for example this one.

While editing posts is not possible, it's easy to edit and perfect your post, including formatting, using the preview function before you post it. If you really need to change it once you have posted it, copy the text of your post, delete the post, and then correct and repost it.

A related feature which is often requested is to be able to change the visibility of a post from aspects only to public. However, here there are important privacy considerations: anyone who has commented on the post when it was limited will suddenly find that their comment, made to a limited audience, is now visible to the entire internet without their knowledge or approval. For this reason, it isn't desirable to add this option. Again, if you want to make a limited post public, copy/delete/repost as public.

Being able to reshare non-public posts

Just as above with changing a post from limited to public, there are important privacy considerations in this: if someone made a post limited, they did it because they only wanted the people they have placed into their aspects to see the post. They don't want all your contacts to be able to see it as well – if they did, they'd have made it public. This is why it is not possible to reshare a non-public post. It is possible, of course, to copy the text and post it yourself, but this isn't really in the spirit of respecting each community member's privacy.

If you want to do this, it's best to ask the person who originally posted if they're happy for you to "reshare" it in this way.

@mention members in comments

This is something that we really want to introduce. However, first we need to decide who can be @mentioned in a comment. Can you mention anyone in your contacts list? Or anyone who has taken part in the conversation? Or both? There are technical considerations for each of these options, as well as privacy considerations. We're trying to work out the best way forward, and what will work best for our community. Discourse discussion. Update: The backend for this has now been implemented. It requires a UI before it can be made available.

Subscribe/unsubscribe button

This has sometimes been requested so users can follow a discussion without posting on it, or stop receiving notifications after posting on discussion. At the moment, the "like" feature is the way to follow a discussion, but there may be ways to improve this functionality. We're open to suggestions! Update: Now available!

Improve search

There are many ways to improve the search function in diaspora*.

There are two essentials when searching for a person:

  1. To be able easily to identify the person you're looking for;
  2. Getting all possible results to a search from all pods.

On the first, there have been calls to be able for example to search for people by real name, but part of respecting privacy is allowing each person to reveal exactly as much or as little about themselves as they want. No one has to use their real name anywhere in diaspora*; each person can use whatever name they want, whether this is their real name or simply "X" or a symbol. If you know someone and want to connect with them on diaspora* but can't find them using a search, one thing you could do is to give them your diaspora* ID (which looks like an email address) so that they can find you easily.

The second point – receiving all possible results for your search – is a federation issue and should improve as we sort out the remaining problems with federation between pods.

The search function in diaspora* currently allows searching for a person (by name or ID) or a tag. One possibility could be enabling search using Boolean expressions: for example, "person && !#nsfw" would return every post written by this person except ones containing the #nsfw tag, or "Fred Bloggs || #diaspora" would return every post written by Fred or containing the #diaspora tag. If implementing something like this, it would be useful to provide a UI so that users don't have to remember the Boolean codes. ­