After a few weeks of pondering the merits of App.net, three days ago I finally decided to bite the bullet, back the crowdfunding campaign and jump into the alpha version of the service, which is already open and in use by an army of keen users.
Given the summer news lull, it’s not surprising that Dalton Caldwell’s drive to win public backing for his ‘Anti-Twitter’ has got as much press as it has. I mean, this is the third post we’ve published about it in 24 hours! In my defence though, I wrote most of this yesterday before the other two posts went out, so don’t judge me for joining the media scrum.
With two days to go, crowdfunding sits at the time of writing at $396,200 – still somewhat short of the $500,000 Caldwell has set as the tipping point to guarantee the project goes ahead. It could still make it, but barring the chance of a last-minute intervention from a big backer, there’s still a chance that the project will collapse in less than 48 hours from now.
Why to back App.net
To join a fledgling community largely disillusioned by Twitter:
I’ll admit, I’m far from disillusioned by Twitter and I’m still a happy user. There are some serious questions hanging over its future relationship with its current community of third-party developers though, meaning that Twitter in a year from now may be very different to what it is now – so it’s interesting to see what else is on offer.
It turns out that the current App.net userbase is largely made up of developers looking for new toys to play with and geeks who feel Twitter has lost something of what excited them. Here are some example answers I received when I asked App.net’s current users what the appeal was (update: link to the full thread):
It’s easy to dismiss the optimism around App.net as being blind to its flaws (see below) but if you miss the early days of Twitter or just like watching new online communities emerge, App.net is a good place to be. Many of these people were early Twitter users, and they’re keen to reboot the microblogging concept and send it in a different direction that learns from the perceived mistakes Twitter has made
To reserve your username:
If App.net really does become a viable rival to Twitter, at least in tech circles, you’ll want a good username, right? App.net currently offers the ability to claim your Twitter username for the service, or another if you prefer. Although I joined too late to grab @martin, I did get @martinbryant, something I didn’t event try to get when I joined Twitter as @MartinSFP to promote the music I was making at the time. By the time I considered changing to my real name, it was too late. Not this time!
Obviously, committing $50 to reserve a username is some form of insanity, but if you’re an early adopter, these things can be important. Getting in now is a good way of making sure you’re covered.
To develop the first wave of apps:
Over 1,300 people have signed up for developer tier access at $100. As we reported yesterday, developers are already building iOS and Web clients for App.net using its fledgling API. If you like being a pioneer at sculpting a new service into new shapes, it could well be worth joining.
On the other hand, why NOT to back App.net
Of course, there are strong reasons to take a ‘wait and see’ approach when it comes to App.net, and it’s not just down to not wanting to commit money to a project that might not take off.
By charging an entry fee, App.net will never be exactly what Twitter could have become if it had opted to focus on being a platform company over a media and advertising company. Much of the joy of Twitter comes from the fact that you can talk to anyone you like, and anyone can join in seconds.
‘Twitter with a paywall’ simply can’t have that same mass appeal. As useful as many ‘non-tech’ people find Twitter, it’s just a nice addition to their lives, not important enough to pay for. If they don’t pay to use App.net, they won’t be interested in buying apps for it either. That has serious implications on the economic prospects for the developer community App.net is trying to encourage. Sure, there might be the potential for some successful apps, but economically, the ‘anti-Twitter’ seems to make a lot more sense for Dalton Caldwell than it does for its developer community.
Caldwell has suggested a revenue share model, where a proportion of subscription fees received by App.net are distributed to third-party developers, but he admits it would be complicated to administer and it remains to be seen if it can work in a way that will be satisfactory to all parties concerned.
Still, despite its flaws, there’s a chance that App.net could become something worth paying for, and it’s an interesting experiment to watch unfold. That’s why I backed it and why you might want to do the same this weekend.
Image credit: Sushi Ina