A Paid Social Network – Is App.net worth the $50/year price?

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Ever heard of App.net? The tech community has, and it’s built on a simple premise: being a different kind of social platform. As it’s creator Dalton Caldwell said in its video announcing the project, “our product is what we sell, not our users.” It also promises to be ad-free and will respect its developer community. Sounds like a dream service to use. But, there’s a catch – you have to pay to get in.

Yes, pay. Those who want to get into App.net will need to pay $50 per year, or $100 per year if you want to access its API key. Seems weird, right – especially when you consider the fact that App.net is more like Twitter.

Except, Twitter is free. And while it’s ad-supported, it is not intrusive and as what both Stewart and Chris said in last week’s TECHGEEK Weekly, it is very easy to ignore and rarely appears.

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This argument of paying for access is something that the newspaper industry can relate – are you willing to pay money to access news content when you can get it for free from The Guardian, the BBC or even the ABC. However, in that case, you can look for content to be the main selling point. People will pay if your content is the best, and that has worked for the New York Times and for The Australian.

For App.net, like I’ve said, it’s basically Twitter.

TechAU’s Jason Cartwright asked me to “explain to me why it’s worth $50 [per year]“. And to be honest, there isn’t anything there that sets it apart – well not yet anyway, but that’s to be expected. App.net has no privacy settings on posts – like Twitter. However, you cannot make your account private or send direct messages to a user. There are also hashtags and an expanded character limit of 256 (get it?), but those are relatively minor in comparison to the lack of some privacy controls.

But why join if it similar to Twitter and there isn’t anything that sets it apart? I joined because of the curiosity (a side note, the Mars Curiosity is also on app.net) and mainly so I could cover it knowing full well the other tech blogs will do the same. Others joined in because they felt Twitter are screwing over developers.

Another person told me via App.net that they’re on the platform “to find more signal, less noise” – and that’s a valid point, the audience is more techie and geeky on App.net and you won’t find people banging on about One Direction or Justin Bieber. But is that a reason why App.net is worth the $50 per year? Obviously no.

But what App.net has is the luck of timing. With developers’ anger with Twitter being further exacerbated with the recent changes to its API, App.net is positioned well to be a more ‘developer-friendly’ platform compared to Twitter. For users, there are already several mobile apps out there – a lot of them in alpha. For Windows Phone, there is one called DotDot in the works; while there is a lot for Android and iOS.

There are also desktop apps (even one for Linux and Windows 8), a search engine and a push notifications service. Many other developers are working on getting ways to display media inline on App.net and share and annotate web pages. You can see the full page of services on its wiki, and its growing by the day – which is good news, given that the API itself was released to developers less than a fortnight ago.

Even developers have created their own little conventions – reposts (essentially a retweet, ‘post’ being the App.net equivalent of a tweet) are prepended with RP, and quoting the post is a “double angle” quotation mark. Even there’s a RS convention – or Re-Stream – to mark repostings from Twitter.

Essentially, App.net is following the old days of Twitter, where its API was used by developers to build any sort of app that extends the plain old functionality of sending text. Of course, Twitter still lets you do that, but developers will find it tough to compete with Twitter’s own implementations given that they are used by default. But while you are given much freedom to do whatever you want with it, the price tag seems off-putting.

App.net appears to be mostly aimed at the developers anyway, not the user. I feel that it wants to be the ‘third platform’ – an alternative to Facebook and Twitter where developers will integrate it into their products as a way to sign in, or to post to. It already has some support in that direction such as Storify adding App.net to its list of sources for building a Storify page.

It’s not to say that it won’t attract users. It will, but most likely those who are enthusiastic about technology and not mainstream. Though, that said, there is one celebrity on that – and that is Stephen Fry. But Fry is known to be a tech enthusiast, so it’s not that surprising he would join the social network.

But it’s all early days – and don’t forget, this is in alpha. What I say can be completely wrong if there are major changes between this and a beta.

You can follow the author on App.net – alpha.app.net/terencehuynh. It will also be a semi-curated TECHGEEK.com.au news feed to make sure you are still kept up to date with latest content on the blog.

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