App.net is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered.

App.netSo, I finally signed up over at App.net.

Getting started feels like stepping back in time 6 years to the early days of Twitter but with the advantage of hindsight.

The service is a blank canvas waiting for the paint, an unspoilt piece of marble longing to be carved into shape. You just know there's something there waiting to be brought out and shared with the world.

Developers have aspirations of producing worthy, space defining applications that go beyond the normal "stream experience" but for the non-developer it is almost like stepping in to a private members club as a guest where you don't know the rules or any of the other members.

It is early days and we still have a global stream but you can't help but feel that this will only be sustainable for a short while - just like with Twitter it will become unusable as the number of sign-ups increases. Even though I am user 21480 (not a big number by any means) the global stream already seems to move faster than I recall on Twitter at such an early stage. Maybe this is just because we are now so much more socially aware and are able to hit the ground running.

Obviously, the big difference to Twitter is that we have the up-front so there is no need for App.net to back track on any functionality (at least that's the theory).

While Twitter continues to grow into its new clothes there is a section of the community that feels abandoned and are I search of a new playground - App.net promises to be just that.

Meta

There are already complaints about posts being very meta but that's unavoidable on a new service, probably more so on App.net as users and developers seek to define exactly what the open API can achieve.

App.net is much more than a Twitter clone but the initial wave of third-party applications is very much a raft of Twitter-like clients. Netbot, for example, is virtually identical to the iOS users favourite Tweetbot. While the release of the app is driving usage of the service the hope is that it, and others, develop significantly or else App.net runs the risk of stagnating and becoming exactly what it is not designed to be.

Personally, I am using the free iOS app Rivr which begins to go beyond the basics (which is the whole idea) but, unfortunately, sometimes seems to do so in a proprietary manner.

Money talks

Money is an emotive subject - oh, the sordid topic of coin.

The decision to drop the fee for a standard user account and set up a monthly payment option was very much needed (especially the latter) and seems to have driven an uptick in both users and activity - let's be honest, it's why I finally took the plunge.

I have noticed in my short time on the service, however, some posts from early adopter developers seeming to complain about this incursion into their private members club and criticising the "discount chasers". Perhaps this is tongue in cheek, perhaps not - in any event, it serves to create a sense of unease for the new user.

Developers pay $100 dollars a year for access to the API (compared to the new price of $36 dollars for a standard user account) but this should not lead to any sense of entitlement.

Third-party client applications seem to generally more expensive than their Twitter equivalents - Netbot is £2.99 ($4.99) whereas Tweetbot is only £1.99 ($2.99) for a virtually identical app - so developers need to resist any temptation to take advantage of the fact that users were willing to pay for the service, and by extension be willing to pay for a client to use it.

The App.net Developer Incentive Program aims to reward developers by distributing $20,000 per month between those who developers whose apps are deemed by users to present the most value. Perhaps this will serve to prevent any over-pricing I clients.

The last thing App.net needs is a sense of elitism from developers leading to an atmosphere of "us and them" which can potentially drive users away.

Comparisons

It's hard not to currently compare App.net to Twitter - just as many compare Google+ to Facebook - as this is the only frame of reference available. Until devs get past the initial stage of learning how to use the API and start developing more useful and varied applications, as is the intention, then it is a comparison that is going to be unavoidable.

Google+ is moving beyond the "Facebook clone" stage due to its integration throughout the whole Google ecosystem - especially search; App.net needs its own eureka moment where the potential is realised and we start getting applications that go beyond the standard social, status update based paradigm dominated by the very service it is trying desperately not to be.

Only time will tell if App.net proves to be a success and lives up to its promised potential. The service itself is a platform so we must try to avoid the misconception that it is merely a paid for Twitter alternative.

It is up to the rest of us to find new and original ways to build on that platform and achieve something different, something innovative.

Until then App.net presents an ideal opportunity to grow a fresh, uncluttered social graph and it will be interesting to watch how things develop.

You can find me here so come and say hello.

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