Now that App.net has surpassed its fund-raising target thoughts turn to what it can achieve but is there also a degree of confusion as to exactly what it is?
Investment isn't just monetary.
- Investment is time.
- Investment is relationships and connections.
- Investment is content.
- Investment is developing a workflow based on a specific toolset.
App.net is an ideal, a dream of a real-time social utopia but the yearly fee is a massive psychological barrier to entry.
Facebook and Twitter are mainstream media darlings - an opportunity for citizen journalism and a simple feedback channel; why spend money sending a reporter and camera crew out on the street to canvas public opinion when a free service allows the public to come to you.
Just as with Google+, App.net appears to be causing a degree of confusion with many grasping the notion of it as just a paid Twitter alternative (thanks to its fledgling social network currently in alpha) when it aims to be so much more: an open real-time feed for the web, a platform.
In a way, the App.net ideal can be thought of as more akin to that of Facebook than Twitter. Facebook's Open Graph is an attempt to get one method of social interaction and information collection to percolate across the whole web with multiple third-parties hooking in. The difference, of course, is that Facebook holds the purse strings and all of that information collection is feeding back to the one place: Facebook's walled garden.
The one advantage the new service has over existing networks is that there is a fee right from the beginning, as users or developers we know what we are letting ourselves in for and will not be surprised further down the line - there is no way back from free!
Twitter started out with a similar ideal and, no doubt, would originally never have seen itself on its current path but, as it began free, there was no way to monetise other than advertising without alienating a large proportion of its user base. If Twitter had started charging there would have most likely been a large migration to Plurk or identi.ca but, having also started free, they would have faced exactly the same problem once user numbers and quantity of data grew to the point where funding would be required to keep the service afloat.
Twitter did consider the idea of charging for API usage but left it too long - app.net is getting in on the ground floor so could stand a chance if there is enough support.
One feed to rule them all?
As for being a standard feed for the social web I think that this may be fighting a losing battle. The major social players are now so engrained in society and are so protective of their data that interoperability is out of the window from day one. Consequently, this may mean a movement towards establishing a more underlying network rather than a consumer focused one.
It is obvious that App.net is more attractive to developers than end users and this is likely to be self-amplifying as time goes by. App.net will, therefore, become more of a backbone rather than an actual networkm a backbone anyone can ride and interactive with in any way they see fit and then interact with anyone else using it thanks to the open API.
Thanks to its mainstream adoption no one will be able to muscle in and usurp Twitter so, while it is nice to think about what could have been, we must be realistic. It would be interesting, however, if a standard real-time platform could become so widespread that the likes of Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are forced to hook in to it in order to stay relevant.
Dalton Caldwell has admitted that App.net may not eventually be the service that changes the social web but at least it has kick-started a much needed conversation.
The bulk of this post started as a comment on Mathew Ingram's post "Think App.net is just a Twitter clone? Then you're missing the point" at GigaOm.
Image by ilovememphis