App.net broadcast channels and an SOS.

What are ADN Broadcast Channels, what could they become? Could a variant be used to reduce the noise and save our streams?

App.net BroadcastAt first glance, App.net's new Broadcast feature could be seen as just an RSS replacement; dig a little deeper and you might see some parallels with Twitter's emergency alerts but what exactly is it?

Dalton Caldwell describes broadcasts over at the App.net blog as follows:

"A Broadcast is a new type of message that is always received as a push notification. A user only receives a Broadcast when they have explicitly subscribed to a Broadcast Channel. No "promoted content", no black box algorithms, just a simple way to subscribe to valuable information that might otherwise get missed in a busy feed or overloaded inbox."

The idea is for anyone to be able to publish and subscribe to push notifications about anything as long as it can push alerts to a broadcast channel via the API.

Do we need more notifications?

You may be forgiven for wondering why we would need yet another subscription/notification system and, on the face of it, I would agree but Caldwell makes an important point when defining how broadcasts should be used:

"A good Broadcast Channel will send at most 1-2 Broadcasts per day, and most likely even fewer. A successful Broadcast publisher will only publish the most important and high value messages to their subscribers."

We respond more positively and consistently to notifications than to items contained within a pool of feeds so a system to reliably deliver important information that subscribers will both see and act upon is desired.

App.net is designed to act as a standard, open social platform (the emergence of the Twitter-like Alpha was largely a proof of concept) so the potential is for us to receive various notifications from anywhere on the web and have them all appear in the same place. Using one app to manage notifications - regardless of their source - makes far more sense than the current scatter gun approach requiring us to switch between multiple apps and services.

The intention is not to be yet another source of notifications but the source.

Beyond broadcast

PushMy immediate reaction in response to broadcast channels was that the process sounded similar to my idea for push curation last year?

While broadcasts are intended for high value, low volume notifications (no "promoted content", no black box algorithms) I see no reason why the model could not be expanded for the purposes of social curation. Along with the targeted channels we could also have broader, more topic focused, dynamic subscriptions.

Perhaps we could set up channels based on user-created filters and the App.net Passport application (or similar) would let us build these filters from posts based on a range of criteria. If we are willing, I also don't see why we could not subscribe to channels that are based on recommendations and algorithms.

When Google Reader was closing I said that it was a perfect opportunity for ADN to show it wasn't just a Twitter clone. I also suggested that RSS functionality could be incorporated within a social network using Google+ as an obvious candidate.

Wheat from the chaff

While Broadcast aims to rescue the important notifications from the chat, we sometimes also need to rescue the chat itself from the deluge of links and shares.

One of my big criticisms of Twitter has been that it rapidly became a sea of links - the company calls itself an information network rather than a social one - so could a version of broadcast channels serve to keep curation within a social network but separate from the primary stream?

We like having curated links within a social network as it means we can get all of our news and conversation in one place but if curation overwhelms the social element, as it has done on Twitter, we start to lose out. A broadcast style arrangement could help us view exactly what we want if combined with better display and filtering options.

Maybe regular curators could use broadcast channels rather than sending shared content to the stream or links shared by "designated curators" could be automatically filtered. Normal client applications could include our subscriptions as well as our usual feeds - viewed separately or integrated based on personal preference.

Just the beginning

App.net still suffers from being considered an ad free, developer friendly alternative to Twitter rather than the social platform it actually is and Broadcasts is the first big attempt to demonstrate its possibilities.

Social news consumption has been touted as an RSS killer for a few years but never quite achieved it. I can imagine, however, that a derivative of Broadcast could become the mechanism for "push curation" letting us rescue our streams and still keep up to date with news or important updates via the same network.

App.net broadcast channels and an SOS.

It’s time for App.net to earn its stripes.

App.netAfter the initial anger at the news of Google Reader's closing came the realisation that this could actually herald a new era for RSS based news consumption.

Feedly have advised they are developing "Project Normandy" a clone of the Reader API and will switch to it automatically and other services such as Digg have announced plans to build their own alternative.

As soon as the new broke developers started discussing how they could replace, or even improve upon, the Reader based ecosystem and there is one obvious place where this might bear fruit.

Google Reader's demise is a perfect opportunity for App.net to earn its stripes.

Opportunity

From the outside, App.net has become little more than a developer friendly Twitter clone where third-party apps are free to innovate but the intent was for much more - the possibilities are enormous.

What is App.net?

App.net is an ad-free, subscription-based social feed and API. App.net aims to be the backbone of the social web through infrastructure that developers can use to build applications and that members can use for meaningful interactions.

That what the about section says and Dalton Caldwell emphasised the need for a "financially sustainable realtime feed API & service" when making his initial statement of intent.

As far back as 2008 there was talk about the folly in Twitter effectively giving away its business for free so something had to change. App.net was born from frustration over Twitter's ongoing efforts to exert greater control over its own ecosystem whilst also appearing to make choices that favoured advertisers over users.

This might have been the genesis of App.net but the vision was far wider reaching and is summed up very simply in Caldwell's proposal:

"Realtime feed API"

A feed doesn't just have to be a stream of status updates. In fact, the App.net API will have been wasted if it achieves little more than being a Twitter clone.

Potential

If App.net wants to fulfil its potential and actually become a social backbone rather than "just another social network" it needs to take on projects such as this and solve real problems.

It’s time for App.net to earn its stripes.

Twitter serving the 40%?Comments

TwitterTwitter acknowledges that around 40% of its users do not tweet - they are consumers and must still be catered for; the company also needs to find a way to encourage them to interact further.

The writing has been on the wall for change for over 18 months.

April 2011:

It is widely accepted that Twitter is not for everyone but this may be a limitation of the timeline format. Perhaps it is time for a bit of a shake-up - they call themselves a consumption company now after all.

December 2011:

By placing an emphasis on content over people Twitter is making moves in a new direction which could encourage users to tweet and I feel that we will see the #discover tab iterate relatively quickly to facilitate this.

and...

Enabling people to comment on stories rather than reply to individual users or tweets Twitter may be able to kick-start the transition from being just consumers.

January 2012

Summify’s ability to filter your feed and pull out the salient items would be an ideal way of enhancing the #discover tab by presenting more personalised news based on your own network rather than a generic list from trending topics.

February 2012:

The feed is dead

Now that our feed is predominantly awash in a sea of links it is not a very inviting place. Perhaps the time has come for Twitter to move away from this means of display and instead use a new enhanced #discover tab as the primary view when arriving at the site.

and...

Could Twitter actually become a place where we “consume” news first and talk about it after? Is this too radical a shift from the service we all know and love or is it a logical conclusion based on recent events?

All fanciful ramblings perhaps.

But now, Dalton Caldwell (co-founder of App.net) has proclaimed that Twitter is pivoting:

The Discover tab is the future. Rather than forcing normal users to make sense of a realtime stream, they can see what content is trending.

and...

The main reason that “normal users” would write messages is as a backchannel to discuss media events such as the Olympics, Election Coverage, or a new television show.

Different message

Dalton is arguing that Twitter will complete its move away from being a social network to an information/media company - the idea is the same but the message is very different.

Where I have argued that Twitter needs to change to better facilitate content discovery in an age where the feed is a sea of noise Dalton suggests that Twitter is abandoning its roots (and consequently its users) in a thinly veiled attempt to further promote App.net.

He asks "how is Twitter going to pull off their mid-flight pivot?" but I have already answered: by making #discover the primary view. The feed will still be there but the average consumer will be watching a media channel.

Sometimes it's hard being a small voice thinking no one can hear you, especially when a big voice stands up to say the same thing 18 months later (albeit with an ulterior motive) and the world takes notice.

Twitter serving the 40%?

App.net may disappoint even by succeeding.

SuccessIt 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

App.net may disappoint even by succeeding.

App.net is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered.Comments

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.

App.net is a masterpiece waiting to be discovered.

Investing in the social web.

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?

InvestInvestment 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.

Mixed messages

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.

A beginning

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

Investing in the social web.