Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Diaspora’s Next Act: Social Remixing Site

If you were to come across a group of people sitting in a room together, all with their own laptops out, sending each other jokes online, you might think that was a little weird, right?

“Antisocial” is one word that comes to mind.

The team all share a single laptop, for once: Maxwell Salzberg, Daniel Grippi, Kayla Holderbein and Rosanna Yau

Not for Maxwell Salzberg. “So many people are worried that technology is mediating us, but I think it’s just giving us a new way to hang out with our friends,” says Salzberg, co-creator of, a “collaborative Web remixing tool” where users try to one-up each other by posting funny captions on pictures, a la lolcats.

We last heard from Salzberg as one of the creators of Diaspora, the highly anticipated, crowdfunded, open-source distributed social network that was going to take on Facebook. is a Diaspora project.

Much has changed about Diaspora over the past year — including the tragic loss of a co-founder — and while the network is still alive, the remaining team has turned to this new project.

Salzberg and original co-founder Daniel Grippi, along with designer Rosanna Yau and intern Kayla Holderbein, are the new Diaspora/Makr team. They live in a house together in Sunnyvale, and are part of the ongoing Y Combinator class.

It turns out that making a Facebook clone that’s respectful of privacy is … hard. And a little dreary. “Diaspora is in our blood,” said Salzberg, “but we’re a little goofier than that.”

The inspiration for Makr came the week after Diaspora co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy committed suicide late last year.

Salzberg recalled that he and about 20 friends were sitting in his living room grieving, each absorbed in their own phone. They started sending out tweets to each other, riffing on each other’s jokes in a way that lightened the mood but allowed each person his or her private space.

That feeling of collective creation inspired Makr (pronounced like it’s not missing an “e”), which is now live to the public. The site is quite simple — basically, users can overlay captions in various fonts onto photos. Then other users can take them apart, modify and repost them. It has a lot in common with 4chan founder Christopher Poole’s company Canvas.

Makr has started holding parties, both physical and virtual, where users gather online at a set time and post together. They host an in-person version in their garage in Sunnyvale. Right now, the social network is small enough so the Makr team contacts people who are participating from elsewhere and has pizzas delivered to their homes.

Yau told me that at one recent Nic Cage-themed Makr party, some friends of friends showed up at the house with beer instead of laptops. Awkward!

Last weekend, Makr had another BYOL party, this one devoted to the Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week. Well, kind of. The house doesn’t have cable, so it was basically a party devoted to people posting images of sharks with funny captions for a few hours on a Sunday night.

Something like 150 people participated, with remote gatherings in places like Portland, altogether generating about 300 posts.

It was like a prime-time social TV experience, except without any actual TV.

At least for now, it seems like this is more about the social experience than about creating lasting content. Perusing the Shark Week posts after the fact, I’d say there are a few funnies, but mostly a bunch of had-to-be-theres.

The idea behind Makr, in part, is to lower the bar for online participation. On other social networks, Yau noted, many people participate in only a very modest way, by doing things like resharing, fave-ing and liking other people’s content. On Makr, it takes little effort to create something yourself.

And in a way, Makr is not that huge of a leap from Diaspora, because each remix evolves through multiple contributions. “It ties back to our core Diaspora mission of what does ownership mean,” Salzberg said.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work