I've recently signed up to Dalton Caldwell's new advert-free Twitter-equivalent, App.net. Launched in February 2012 with go live conditional on raising $500,000 (which is 10,000 users buying in at the yearly registration fee of $50 - met ahead of schedule) App.net is an online community with a difference. The latest user numbers are high tens of thousands and of these a significant proportion are app developers. Whereas Twitter and Facebook allowed applications to connect in only as an afterthought, App.net has been set up to be developer friendly from the start. This raises intriguing possibilities about where the network will go. "In the long run, App.net will become whatever apps developers build, and whatever apps members use", says Ben Friedland on the App.net blog.
But what has struck me most about joining App.net is the way that it strips the concept of a social network back to basics. Developers have already created applications that can scan your Twitter followers and the users that you follow to find out who is on App.net. Of the 400 or so people I'm connected to on Twitter only three were on App.net - Professor Brian Cox, who posted three times on his first login and disappeared back to Twitter, Stephen Fry and a fellow software developer from Softwire UK. Everyone starting on App.net is in the same position, which mean that just like when you start at university, it's easy to make new friends.
Celebrities who are drowning in followers on Twitter welcome the change of pace. It must be a relief to be saved from the near non-stop spam and chatter from fans. "*Hides under the warm welcoming skirts of ADN after causing a DDoS-style server outage on a friend's site*" confides Stephen Fry, reveling in the lower follower numbers on App.net (2,300 vs 4.7m on Twitter).
So will it succeed? The skeptics point out that people almost never pay for something that they can have for free, even if they claim that they would. Bitter articles about low cost flights from companies like Easyjet and Ryanair abound, yet these companies are driving higher cost, better service airlines out of business. App.net does have one advantage over rival free sites like Google+. Charging for a service gives it a higher value, at least psychologically. It's hard to imagine people who've paid $50 or $100 (for developer access) not giving the new network a good go before writing it off - I know I will be. The crunch time will come in about one year when people need to renew their subscriptions. If numbers aren't up substantially by then it may well signal another nail in the coffin for the advert-free model.
Managing Director of Softwire, technology and backgammon presenter. Plus a little bit of new music radio.