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The End of JoinDiaspora. Thanks for All the Fish…

Posted in Free/Libre Software, Site News at 12:40 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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Technical Debt Has Killed JoinDiaspora
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0

Summary: JoinDiaspora will help users move to another pod; but JoinDiaspora itself has only weeks left to live (unless there’s a change of heart/strategy)

EARLIER this month we published a pair of posts about JoinDiaspora [1, 2]. It’s the first pod of Diaspora* and also the largest one. It was supposed to be the alternative to Facebook, being both Free software and federated (not the same as self-hosted but at least further decentralised).

The prognosis isn’t good and current plans are to shut down the site. “Please see this post for an official update, and please follow that account for future updates,” said the pod’s operator, linking to this update (also here). I’ll reproduce it below and respond to it.

They say there’s more time before shutdown, but the plan is still more or less the same.

A couple of months ago we the users were told “there is some unfortunate news to share. Feneas will be dissolved and as Joindiaspora is one of the services. JD [JoinDiaspora] will also be shut down on 1 March. This is unless we can find someone who wants to take over the service. If you think you can handle the task please contact us via [hq@feneas.org](mailto:hq@feneas.org).”

Well, somebody will “take over the service”, but not for the purpose of still running it. Some people did offer to run it, but their requests were either not answered or declined.

Here’s the new plan:

An update on the future of JoinDiaspora.com
Hello everyone.

This is a message from the diaspora* Project Core Team, in collaboration with Lukas, the current administrator of JoinDiaspora.

We know it’s been silent for a while, and everyone with an account on JoinDiaspora has been waiting for an update on what is going to happen with the pod in the near future. We have been busy in the background, and we now have a plan ready that we are happy to announce to everyone.

It’s understandable that they checked within themselves the technical state of the pod before making promises in vain, giving false hopes.

We will explain everything in more detail below, but here is a short summary of what is going to happen:
On Friday, March 4th, at around 20:00 UTC, JoinDiaspora will go down for a long maintenance break. We cannot yet estimate how long this will take. We will use that time to move JoinDiaspora and its data from infrastructure maintained by Feneas to infrastructure maintained by the diaspora* Core Team. This work will not resolve existing issues with exporting account data. Our work on the export feature will start at a later time, see below.
When maintenance is completed, JoinDiaspora will be available again in a limited-service mode. In this mode, you will no longer be able to read or write posts or comments. However, you will be able to manage your account, and you will be able to export your account data.

So basically the site is doomed to shut down. There are reasons for it, which follow the above outline (below we use plain text, no HTML):

While this will be a big task for us, you do not need to do anything right now. We know that some of you have been having trouble exporting your profile and contents, but please refrain from using scrapers or similar means to copy your data. We will make sure that everyone who wants to receive an export will have the chance to do so once maintenance of the pod has been completed. Using scrapers and other means of automated downloading at this point will only cause excessive server load that’s not conducive to our work and the system’s reliability as a whole.

Why is the maintenance break and the infrastructure move required?

Feneas is winding down operations, including the operation of its services. A lot of people are concerned about losing their long-standing account data, and we wanted to help out if we possible could. We want to be able to offer everyone a long grace period to download the profile archives and eventually migrate to a new pod, but we cannot do that with the current infrastructure, as the diaspora* Core Team is not in control.

JoinDiaspora is a big pod, and moving all the data over to a different setup will take a long time. We cannot start this process without shutting down the pod, as the only way to guarantee full data consistency with minimal effort is to turn off the pod. We’ll also use the time to make sure that the pod is updated to the latest code version, and that the general environment is up to date. This will make our future work easier.

While we will prepare as much as possible, moving the final set of data and getting the pod running on the new hosts will take some time, and we cannot make any guarantees about when the pod will be available again.

Why can’t you just continue running JoinDiaspora as a full pod?

We’re aware that some of you would like us to keep running JoinDiaspora as-is, and you’re not happy to learn that this is not going to happen. We feel you.

JoinDiaspora is not just an old pod, it’s the oldest pod out there. JoinDiaspora started as a demo-instance, created by the original project team, and it continued its life as the most widely known pod, and one of the biggest.

diaspora* looked a lot different back then. Not only was the interface completely overhauled multiple times, the internals were as well. JoinDiaspora and its data went through lots of different database concepts, database engines, code architectures, schema changes … and all of that has taken a toll.

Some of the architectural changes from the past has left parts of JoinDiaspora’s internal data structures in an inconsistent state. The project team is aware of lots of small and weird bugs and inconsistencies that are specific to JoinDiaspora only, and it’s hard, if not impossible, to address them all. The older JoinDiaspora gets, the harder it becomes to maintain. There is already a set of JoinDiaspora-specific workarounds in place that
allow it to work at all, and those will only grow larger over time.

As a project team, we have a lot of experience with debugging the “weird edge cases” of diaspora*, and we’ve also helped a number of old pods to fix their internal data.

After careful evaluation and lots of internal discussion, we concluded that “fixing” and continuing to run JoinDiaspora is not feasable [sic]. All good things must come to an end eventually, and JoinDiaspora has unfortunately reached that point.

So basically it’s technical debt. And nobody can fix that now. Already, as some users have noticed, some functionality was broken and some images (even profile pictures) had gone missing. Too much complexity leads to it…

Then there are some further clarifications, reproduced below as the original will go offline along with the pod.

I am currently not able to export my data. What will happen to my profile?

Some of you are currently unable to export your profile data. You might either see an error message, or it might look like nothing is happening at all. We are aware of this.

After the infrastructure migration is completed, we will start investigating the issues with account exports. Everyone who wants a data export will get one.

If you’re currently facing issues, please do not keep retrying the export over and over again. Please don’t use automated tools like scrapers to manually acquire a copy of your data. Doing so will only cause exessive server load, which only makes our work even harder.

As we don’t know what’s actually causing the export issues and how we can best fix them, this work will take some time. For each export, we have to observe its progress and intervene manually if errors arise.
We don’t know how long it will take, but everyone will get their account data exported.

How long will I have to export my data?

Our current intention is to keep JoinDiaspora running at least until the profile migration feature has been released to a stable version of diaspora* and a significant number of pods have updated to it. This will give everyone who has an account on JoinDiaspora the chance to migrate their old account to an account on a new pod.

We are unable to offer a timeline or an estimate, but we will update everyone when an update is warranted.
I do not consent to the diaspora* Project Team handling my profile data.

If you do not consent to the project team handling your profile data as part of this migration, please head to your account settings and click the “close account” button. This will irrevocably delete your personal data.

Where will you post future updates?

We have created this diaspora* account, joindiaspora-sunset@pod.diaspora.software, specifically for this purpose. Any updates we have will be shared as posts via this account.

You can read posts from this account even if you do not have a diaspora* account yourself by accessing this account’s public profile using this link.

I have a question or concern that’s not answered here.

If you start sharing with this account, it will automatically share back with you. This allows you to send private messages to this account, which we will answer as soon as possible.

Alternatively, you can write an email to joindiaspora-sunset@diasporafoundation.org.
Please be patient while we work on resolving this situation. We’ll do our best to help you all move smoothly to a new home of your choice, as soon as we can.

I want to deeply thank the developers and the sysadmins who ran this platform for so long, usually on shoestring budget (I did contribute my share in donations).

Sadly, to me, this is also a wake-up call. I’ll try to explain this patiently, even if it’s better done in a video (harder to misunderstand tone that way).

Based on the initial replies, the obvious lapses are not overlooked. One person asked: “What will happen with the domain? It could be used for a general landing page for Diaspora in general. I think it would a shame if some domain grabber fetched it.”

There’s this assurance: “The domain has been transferred to the project team. Even in the far future, when all users had a chance to migrate away and we finally turn off JoinDiaspora, we will continue holding that domain, and we’ll host a landing page that explains JD has been shut down and links to the project website.”

“Retaining control over the Joindiaspora.Com domain name would avoid issues with poachers, squatters, or worse. That is addressed above,” said one person.

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine does come up. But it won’t be used. This is deja vu to me. The Wayback Machine was used as a sort of excuse by Evan when he threw away tons of identi.ca data as part of the ‘upgrade’, which in effect ‘killed’ the site.

This situation is so frustrating because it keeps happening over and over again. It’s like nothing on the Web can last even a decade.

If this pod will be shutting down after all (seems unstoppable at this point) and all they offer is help with data export, a lot will still be lost in the process. I’ve asked them, will I be able to import elsewhere? They assured me so. But where to? How long will that other pod last? Nobody knows… in the case of the Fediverse, I received assurances that one instance would last at least 5 years, but it didn’t last even two.

Over time I learned from my mistakes or wrong assumptions. This is why I try to meticulously keep static copies/files of things I post (and to some degree comments I get), both in my personal site and in Techrights IRC channels. That’s the only way to keep them existing for longer than a few years.

“With a paper journal or magazine or newspaper if there were a million subscribers,” an associate told me this morning, “any one of them could keep a copy of their own with each site being centralized it takes only one person to pull the plug on the million subscribers…”

All this “social media” stuff has repeatedly failed when it comes to preservation because the central/single point of failure lacks a financial incentive to preserve things that many other people posted. Sometimes the data is just sold rather than preserved.

“Social control media is mostly a waste of time,” our associated noted, “and the rest of it is just manipulation. Studies on Facebook usage have shown again and again that there is no safe level of exposure. However, the worst part of all is that mainstream news consider social control media a news source and government officials consider it an acceptable replacement for official channels of communication, such as web sites. Both groups mistake it for a communications medium, when it is all about manipulation. The very few that acknowledge even one of those point all appear to consider (wrongly) themselves immune to the adverse effects. Which they are not.”

Well, it is too early for me and for TuxMachines to make a decision on social control media as a whole (like quitting everything), as I wish to first understand if importing to another pod is at all a possibility and which other pod can even guarantee it’ll last into 2030.

I have a long, long history losing accounts (and not for being rude or doing something illegal). First I lost everything in Digg.com, then identi.ca (even link shorteners died, so many posts there linked to nothing usablr, including the ones used inside “tweets”). Then I lost 3 accounts in the “Fediverse” (mostly instance shutdowns), I quit using Gab , and MINDS had me fighting a few times to get the account back. Same with Twitter; they cannot get their moderation right and eventually they always admit their mistakes. Now with Diaspora* it is the same as identi.ca (more or less). All of this hassle isn’t just time-consuming; it can be mentally draining.

As our associate noted, “link shorteners have a short life span; I and others warned about them from day one. They also impose a privacy problem, an authenticity problem, and a general security problems.”

“It’s all transient, social control media is the worst of the transient effects. Also see “Heart Sutra” and Impermanence.

At the moment I very seriously consider just quitting all social control media (altogether, including MINDS, Twitter etc.) because it’s an unwanted overhead and its shelf life (or lifespan) is too short to be worth an investment. People would be better off setting up a Gemini capsule, self-hosting preferably, then focusing on that for decades to come. Some people have run their Gopher sites for over 30 years and they’re still going. Those are cheap to maintain!

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