What it is: Diaspora is basically a new social network. But the creators (4 young dudes from NYU) are putting a new spin on the "network" part. Here's how Raphael Sofaer, the youngest member of the founding four, explained the new approach:
"In our real lives, we talk to each other," he said. "We don't need to hand our messages to a hub. What Facebook gives you as a user isn't all that hard to do. All the little games, the little walls, the little chat, aren't really rare things. The technology already exists." - source: New York Times
Above: The Diaspora Masterminds. Source: http://blog.joindiaspora.com/people.html
From my understanding, Diaspora will function much more like a club for you and your actual friends. The exact flow of communication seems a little open to interpretation so far, but here's the gist. Diaspora will be more like WordPress or MovableType; you can host your account through them, or you can download it and host it yourself. The hosting servers are called Pods, and your account is a Seed. Your friends are Aspects, and you share information with them and only them. That's the big idea, as strangely simple as it may sound.
What it isn't: Diaspora is not the "next Facebook." The founders have seen a need for a way to share that is easily controlled by the user. The recent privacy concerns that have plagued Facebook is part of what inspired them to create something that the user could control.
I'll avoid using too much nerd-speak here, and say that the Pods part is what's going to help with this. There's a heavy amount of emphasis being put on the encryption of your personal data (who you are and what you're sharing) between accounts. Right now, everything you put on Facebook is kept on their servers, being processed by their computers. You are being assessed based on your likes and dislikes by them taking your information and picking it apart. Sounds pretty scary to me. Diaspora wants to put something as social as Facebook in your hands, so that privacy is easy and straightforward.
As far as I can tell, it could be so private that you could create a small community for just you and your family, or a few friends. You can do that now using things like WordPress MU and blogs like lbobi, but I think this could be better if they get the security figured out.
What do you think? Would you be interested in joining something like this? Or is it just another "drop in the bucket" for the social interwebs?
Also, visit the Diaspora website and check them out for yourself. They have a few great interview articles under the Press section of their site that are very informative.