Social networks in the enterprise

Inner Circle

© Lead Image © fabio formaggio,

© Lead Image © fabio formaggio,

Article from Issue 213/2018

If you want to use social media and microblogging platforms, you do not need to leave your data sovereignty to external corporations. This month, we look at free decentralized software alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media and examine whether they are suitable for use in the enterprise and other organizations.

Social media and microblogging platforms can drive involvement and discussions between employees of a company and between employees and consumers. However, the suitability of well-known services such as Twitter or Facebook is limited. In addition to security concerns, data protection and user privacy are concerns, especially if the operators of the services then market their customers' data commercially.

Today, however, you can find services and software that promise improved security and – as open source projects – more transparency. In this article, I take a look at Diaspora [1], Friendica [2], GNU social [3], and Mastodon [4]. In addition to their general capabilities, I also examine the conditions for the internal use of these services in companies and organizations.


The requirements for a microblogging service in the enterprise differ significantly from those for purely private use. For example, certain encryption methods are unavoidable. Advertising, tracking, and other unwanted content have no place in microblogging at work. Cross-platform availability is also important for users. Thus, the short messages should end up not only on the smartphone, but also on the workplace computer, and the computer must be able not only to receive tweets and posts but to send them.

Ideally, employees will not need to install an additional application to use such a service. In certain areas of the company, the possibility of sending or receiving multimedia content, such as individual pictures or short videos, is also relevant, in addition to pure text messages on a small scale.

However, very large companies and organizations often still rely on traditional proprietary solutions like IBM Lotus Quickr, Lotus Connections, Salesforce, or Microsoft SharePoint Services. Instances of these products are usually operated in the corporate data center; they are complex to manage and, what's more, functionally often significantly oversized – at least for small to medium-sized companies and organizations. For the latter, heavyweights like these are usually not suitable for cost reasons alone.


Diaspora [1], written in the Ruby programming language and published under the AGPL license, is one of the more popular social networks with functionality similar to Facebook. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, Diaspora is not a centralized service. Instead, it comprises many decentralized servers (known as pods). The software offers possibilities for both time-staggered and real-time communication.

Thanks to a modular and decentralized structure, the admin can extend the application's functionally and retain control over the data distributed by it.


A list of existing Diaspora servers (pods) can be displayed by clicking the Join us! button on the web page and then selecting the Sign up option. If you click on the corresponding URL, you end up on the start page of the Diaspora server. When you get there, create an account, for which you only need an email address, a nickname, and a password. Once you have logged in with this data, you can upload a photo to the profile page and enter various tags, which roughly describe your areas of interest, through which others can find you.

The main Diaspora page initially seems a bit overloaded with streams, but it ultimately follows a familiar structure. The dashboard is arranged vertically on the left. To the right is the message area. At the top, a horizontal action bar has a drop-down menu for the user's settings options. You can reply to messages immediately without having to open a separate input area (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Diaspora start page seems a bit confusing at first.

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