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Less than three weeks ago, four New York University students launched a please-fund-us page on Kickstarter, a site where people attempt to raise money from donors for worthy projects.

Their goal was brazen: To create an alternative to Facebook that, like peer-to-peer file sharing networks, doesn’t have a central repository of information. But instead of trying to hide bootlegged music from the RIAA, Diaspora’s goal would be to preserve individual users’ privacy, something Facebook has repeatedly been accused of not doing.

Diaspora struck a nerve among people with money to give. In 12 days, the group had met its $10,000 goal. By Tuesday, it was close to $25,000 from 750 backers. That’s when the New York Times ran a story on Diaspora with a nerdy-but-charming photo of the four young men.

Boom. The Times’ coverage kicked Diaspora-mania into an even higher gear. In less than 48 hours, donations have shot to $120,000 from more than 3,000 donors. Any entrepreneur who’s tried to raise $100,000 in bootstrap money can be forgiven for seething with envy.

Here’s the 100-word version of Diaspora’s manifesto:

“We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms. We think we can replace today’s centralized social web with a more secure and convenient decentralized network. Diaspora will be easy to use, and it will be centered on you instead of a faceless hub.”

Diaspora has been blessed with the buzz that escapes most decentralized sharing networks, such as Opera Unite. How does that work? For starters, both Diaspora and Kickstarter are based in New York City, where Internet startups and crazy Web projects are suddenly hot in a way that the San Francisco scene was in 1996.

The group’s timing and message were also key. A team of PR pros couldn’t have done better than to launch a blatant anti-Facebook days after Facebook’s f8 developer conference, tapping into the frustration many techies felt about Mark Zuckerberg’s obvious decision to push his members’ personal boundaries on privacy issues, in order to drive them to what Zuckerberg sees as the greater good of sharing, rather than hiding, personal information. Diaspora gave Facebook obsessives with money and a grudge a nice big button to click.

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