App.net is a hot topic of conversation at the minute in the intersection between the Twitter and Apple worlds that I like to inhabit1. Just over a month ago, Dalton Caldwell wrote a blog post entitled “What Twitter Could Have Been”. While this initial post could be viewed as a bit of a complaint or a moan, it was also something of a catalyst. He soon followed up with a post that may go down in Internet history: “Announcing an Audacious Proposal”.
In this post Dalton essentially proposed building a new Twitter. A Twitter that was funded directly by the users instead of by the advertisers. He and his company established a KickStarter-style campaign to raise $500k by 13th August in order to fund this new social network. As of the time of writing, there are just under two days remaining, and there is only $69,200 left to be raised.
I’ve decided to back this project because, like Dalton, I’m concerned about what I perceive as a “degradation” of Twitter. It’s not a degradation for many people - in fact Twitter is probably going from strength to strength in the eyes of many of it’s users. But I’m an atypical user. I’m not on Twitter to follow celebrities, to track mainstream news, or to keep up with my friends. I’m mainly on Twitter to receive tech news, to use innovative apps, and to communicate with other people in the tech industry - the industry that is both my livelihood and my passion.
For me, Twitter is degrading. For me, it is becoming less vital, and is in danger of becoming unusable to me. I may be over-reacting, but Twitter’s recent rumblings about third-party clients has not inspired confidence. I use TweetBot for iOS (and now for Mac) fanatically. I don’t want to go back to Twitter’s first-party clients, partly because Twitter are not putting in the effort to maintain them, and partly because I don’t want to use apps that are really just conduits to the advertising model that will become essential to Twitter’s survival. Like many others, I would be happy to pay for access to Twitter, but we’re not being offered this opportunity.
So Why App.net?
I don’t know if App.net can work but I’m happy to put my money where my mouth is, and give it a chance to succeed.
I’m keen to join a social network at the beginning and help it grow. I joined Twitter in 2009 and while I’ve enjoyed my time on it, I sometimes feel like I missed the halcyon days when it was a closer, more tight-knit community.
I’m happy to pay to be part of a smaller community with a more focussed group of users. Part of the problem with Twitter is that there is no barrier to entry. Yes, this is me being a little bit elitist but I feel that it is a valid point. Every day on Twitter I am being subjected to random followers who have no interest in what I have to say. I hope that the App.net community will be more focussed and less likely to resort to such behaviour. I’m also hoping that the App.net ecosystem will be subject to more moderation - where “spam followers” can be reported and ultimately warned and/or banned.
I’m hoping that the requirement to pay a fee will weed out a large number of the people who try to use Twitter as a conduit to spam. Twitter is like email, in that there is very little barrier to entry to start spamming. It’s effectively free to send emails or tweets as spam if you can cover your tracks. Twitter spam is a huge problem in my eyes. I’m subjected to daily @reply spam. I’m hoping that the requirement to pay for the service will reduce the number of spammers who will target App.net, or at the very least make it easier to track and remove these spammers.
I’m interested in a service that transcends Twitter and, because it is paid for by the users, will listen to those users in implementing the features that they need, or want. If done right, it will be directed by the needs of the people who use the service, not the people who wish to sell advertising on the service.
App.net is an ambitious venture. Just getting to $500k does not guarantee any level of success. And while the developer community, or the hacker community, or the whatever-we-are community can drive the success of many things, even we can’t make it succeed through goodwill alone. The threshold may be met, but unless we embrace the resulting service, building the apps, tools, and sites to make it succeed, then it will be doomed to failure.
We’re also putting a lot of faith in the ability of Dalton Caldwell and his team. The fact that funding comes directly from the users means a lot, but this is still not some kind of democracy where every paying customer gets a vote. We’re not shareholders. We don’t belong to a board of directors. We are putting our hard-earned cash on the line, and trusting App.net to make the right decisions, to implement the necessary features, and to implement them on time.
So let’s all pull together. App.net who will build the infrastructure. The developers who will build applications to use the infrastructure. And finally the community who will use the applications. We all have a responsibility for the success or failure of this venture.