Facebook alternative hopeful Altly inches closer to a launch

altlyWe were first introduced to Altly about a month ago, when ex-MySpace exec and former CEO, Dmitry Shapiro, tweeted that he was creating an alternative to Facebook. Other than that vague premonition, the site’s been coated in a thick layer of ambiguity. But now it appears it’s got some legs in the form of $1 million Shapiro has raised – with one of the investors being none other than Tom Anderson of MySpace fame himself.

The site has two major problems with Facebook : Privacy and the size of users’ pool of friends. And from the sounds of its lengthy mission statement, the site would embody a key element of controversial new California legislation requiring social networks’ default towards hiding information. Altly also wants to create a realistic social network – one that doesn’t consist of meaningless acquaintances you have no intention of ever communicate with. Here’s a closer look at what Altly doesn’t like about Facebook and how it plans to give you a real alternative to it.

Privacy

The problem: This is the biggie, obviously. Really, Altly lodges the same complaints about Facebook that everyone has at some point in time: Users are pressured to share too much information, privacy settings are hard to understand, our every move on the site is being recorded and used for Facebook’s own gain, etc. Nothing revolutionary here, and by now most users are aware that having a Facebook account means offering up your data. If you want that data more carefully protected, you’ll need to pay attention to your privacy and security settings. That’s the price you pay for being a part of the world’s most used website.

Altly’s fix: First of all, the site plainly says that no one thinks there can be a viable alternative to Facebook. “For every Coke there is a Pepsi, for every Ford there is a Chevy, for every PC there is a Mac and for every Facebook there is…a void!” it proclaims. While there are no concrete features being explained in this early stage, the site basically says it will do everything Facebook isn’t, i.e. make privacy the main concern, let users choose everything that is shared and shown, let users control and own all their data, allow social sites to inter-operate and employ generous amounts of platform transparency.

A realistic social network

The problem: According to Altly’s fundamentals, we’re not good enough friends with our Facebook Friends. The site feels users are “pressured” to increase their digital social circle here, and that the site makes it difficult to control who sees what and how to hide our information from certain groups. This feeling of widening our network also leads users to add and confirm more and more people, which can open you up to privacy scares and even let in some people you wouldn’t want snooping around your profile (i.e., potential employers).

Altly’s fix: Details are scarce but from what it does say, the site is big on letting you customize what exactly each of your connections can see and making this a primary feature of your account. It also says users should not only control what people can see, but “benefit from it.”

Color us skeptical

The word “skeptical” is being conservative, actually. Many have tried to challenge Facebook, and none have succeeded on a large scale (yet): Diaspora, MySpace, Friendster, Google Buzz, etc. It doesn’t help that the site’s only explanation about its plans comes off as a typo-ridden tirade. It seems like a lot of ideas to us so far, and not enough strategy. Of course, it’s early, and if Altly can pull this off we will be beyond impressed.

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