Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

App.net is struggling

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Screenshot of app.net's State of the Union announcement

Last week a ‘State of the Union‘ blog post was posted to App.net’s blog, stating the outcome of the first round of subscription renewals. App.net, if you remember, originally started as being a competitor to Twitter, but with paid accounts and a more friendly attitude to third-party developers. It was founded in late summer 2012, when Twitter started limiting the number of users that third-party clients could have, initially as a paid-only service. A ‘freemium’ model with limited free accounts was adopted in February last year.

The announcement was very much a case of ‘good news, bad news’. The good news being that enough users renewed their subscriptions to keep the service running, but the bad news is that it isn’t enough to pay its founders, or run its Developer Incentive Programme. Consequently, the incentive programme will be wound-up, and its founders will work for free. With no paid employees, this presumably means that App.net will be treated as a side-project rather than a job for its developers.

I never subscribed to a paid account on App.net. My account has always been a free one, mainly because I’ve not seen the value in paying for one. I’d pay to use Twitter because I use it all the time, as those who follow me will know. App.net? Not so much – I log in once a day at most, and anything that I post there is cross-posted from somewhere else. In other words, my presence there is only because of its open API and the fact that I can automate posts using IFTTT and the like. Not that I get much engagement from my 10 followers.

App.net had a lot of potential, but there are couple of big issues which, in my opinion, are inhibiting any possibility of future growth. One is engagement – not enough people are using it. But the main problem is describing what App.net actually is. I think it’s supposed to be a kind-of social ‘glue’ to maintain an identity between multiple apps, including storage for photos, location checkins and status updates. But most people see it as a Twitter clone, and Twitter works well for most people.

This second reason is perhaps why Google+ hasn’t been universally well-received, as it’s seen as yet another social network alongside Facebook and Twitter. But whereas Google+ has the benefit of piggybacking on the world’s most popular search engine, email service and video sharing site, App.net, well, doesn’t. This is despite the two having very different API policies for developers – the open arms approach of App.net versus the very closed nature of Google+’s API with only a few developers getting full read and write access.

I liked the idea behind App.net and wanted it to succeed. But I’m not afraid to admit that if it were to disappear tomorrow, I doubt I would miss it.

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