App.net - Dead Before It Could Rise
July 28, 2012
It is an ambitious goal. The kind of goal that can change the whole game as we know it. App.net is trying to build a paid alternative to Twitter. Dalton Caldwell outlined some of the existing problems and the business model. Sadly I see no way it will ever succeed.
The basic idea behind the service is that it will be a paid service. You pay $50, developers pay $100. They do not have to sell your data, they do not need to own it, they do not need advertisers. Sounds like a great idea, doesn't it?
Let us imagine App.net will be released tomorrow. They will have 7000 to 10000 users. People who supported the idea and funded the project.
Now imagine a new user who just discovers that someone increased the version number of the web and understands that we all have to be social now. His first move will be Facebook or Twitter. They are both used by many people. You find your friends, you find your family, you find you favorite bands and actors, you find everyone. They join Twitter, they join Facebook. Follow, list, friend, like, sell their soul - the usual stuff.
Now someone tells them: "join App.net! You only have to pay $50 and you will not see advertisements and this other big company promises you to play nicely - you know, like Google did one time but they make money so they will, of course, keep their promises, right?!"
Most users won't have even noticed ads at this point. Some random tweet in your timeline or banners blocked by nearly any browser extension you can imagine. Even if they noticed thanks to the modern Internet people are used to be looking at some ads. They barely notice them anymore.
The question is: Are people willing to pay $50 for a service they can get for free while looking at some ads they hardly notice? Sadly the answer will be no. Of course there will be people who think it is worth it but those will face another problem.
If you join App.net and join the forces of all those enthusiastic founders, bakers, early adopters and trend whores who do you follow? Do you really pay $50 to follow some people you do not even know, never have heard of, do not care about or one or two friends who also joined or do you use the free service which is already used by "everyone"?.
Free As In "Lol We Have Your Data"
Most people think that social networks are free to use. Some understand that they pay with their time and data. Most do not care because they do not have to give someone money. They still see this as something different and do not feel like they are paying for the "free" services.
Free services do not work as company model. You somehow have to make money. Facebook recently showed this in a big way. Twitter will also go down the same road if the rumors are not true. It looks like Apple showed interested in investing in Twitter.
Google proved that even if you have potential users, just one click away from another "free" service, you still can and likely will fail. A service that requires you to pay $50 to start with will be even worse of. Sadly I have no solution for the main problem. Attracting users and giving them a reason to switch without requiring a business model that makes money is not as easy to come up with as some people believe.
Integrating with existing services will also not be the solution. Imagine XMPP. Run your own server, setup a transport, talk to everyone, no matter which provider they use. Since social networks work thanks to realtime notifications, integrated clients and all this fancy stuff they would have a really hard time providing something that works seamless, if it is possible at all. It would require Twitter, Facebook and everyone else to allow them taking potential data, sorry customers, no wait, users away or showing them why they should switch and make it as easy as possible. Even if some decisions from those companies look like they were made after a 96 hour hackathon with more Vodka and beer than a small country consumes in a year, they will never be drunk enough to allow this.
Do not get me wrong. I would love to see Facebook rot in hell and some people from Twitter who decided to screw developers who helped making the platform big and usable kicked in the nuts. But I do not see App.net being the reason. I think it will end like Google+. Some tech-savvy people will use it and maybe they will be able to survive. But they will not be able to take on the big players.