Diaspora, the “open Facebook alternative” (NYT story for background if you aren’t familiar), has raised Over $170,000 from over 4600 people in just a few weeks. All for an idea.

That’s an impressive start if victory was measured in press coverage, cash, and cool. Here’s the problem: Diaspora has all the wrong things at the wrong time. Competition that kills isn’t pre-announced — it catches an unsuspecting incumbent by surprise.

They have too much money

They’re at $170,000 today (Sunday, May 16, 2010). They’ll likely continue to pile up the donations until their Kickstarter campaign ends 16 days from now. All this money without an actual product is a liability. Money gives them too much time and too much comfort to take on a fast moving incumbent like Facebook. Their cash to code ratio is out of whack. A good enough first version will take longer to produce with $170K than it would have with $0K.

The spotlight is on too early

You want attention after you’re good, not before. Obscurity is your friend when you’re just starting — especially when you don’t even have a product yet. You don’t need the pressure of outside opinion or the press breathing down your neck before you have anything to show. Millions of eyes — including your competition — watching you every step of the way doesn’t help. All this attention is a distraction. Ship, then seek the spotlight.

Expectations are too high

Some people are really pissed at Facebook right now. Those people are looking for a way to channel this negative energy into a movement. Along comes Diaspora. Diaspora becomes their horse in the race. They want that horse to win. They believe it can win. Their unlimited hopes and dreams of the anti-Facebook are transferred to Diaspora. Diaspora becomes everything and anything to anyone who wants to believe. How can anyone deliver on boundless expectations? Diaspora can’t match the fantasy of Diaspora.

I love the underdog, but I fear for the product-less underdog that has all the wrong things at the wrong time.

I think they would have been better off releasing something first. Let people play with it. Let people see that it’s possible. Then drum up press and public support. Until there’s something real to use, fantasy will just get in the way.