It strikes me that even many of those who have stumped up their cash to join App.net are still not certain of exactly what it is.
Dalton Caldwell himself explained that he saw Twitter as having the potential to be "a real-time protocol to connect various services in a novel way" so wants App.net to become what Twitter could have been. This doesn't mean a Twitter clone without ads, this doesn't necessarily even mean that services using such a protocol would need to be a social network of any sort.
Product or platform?
App.net is aiming to be a platform, a means to move data, a standard method that anyone can use to generate or consume a real-time feed and share it with others who use the same API.
Alpha.app.net exists by way of illustration of what the service can do but most have jumped on this and taken it to their hearts as a Twitter alternative. The current crop of third-party apps are all focused on App.net being this social network when they should be aiming much higher.
There has been an element of confusion over exactly where App.net sits and the project has, unfortunately, been framed in multiple contexts. The aim of App.net has been described as creating "a financially sustainable real-time feed API & service" - a common platform to build on but then standard user accounts (rather than developer accounts) are also up for grabs indicating a desire to create an end-user environment.
If Dalton succeeds in his vision of making App.net a backbone for the web for real-time data movement then there is no guarantee that "Alpha" in its current form will still exist. As Martin Kopischke points out:
"it is antithetical to the whole concept to be both provider and privileged consumer"
Ideally, App.net as the service host should not, in the long run, be the company to provide such a social network due to potential conflicts of interest. To avoid alienating the very developers the application was (perhaps mistakenly viewed as) set up to serve, "Alpha" might need to be repurposed or even sold to another company or the current cauldron of anti-Twitter sentiment could find itself a new target. As has been pointed out, disposing of Alpha could leave it in exactly the same position with regards to funding as Twitter, but there is also the potential to transfer the user accounts with the product so that it stays self funded and ad free.
The distinction must be re-emphasised between Alpha the product and App.net the underlying service as well as clarification as to exactly what App.net really is and where the goals and priorities lie.
Image by seeveeaar