App.net is not over

A rough patch

App.net is experiencing a difficult moment. Yesterday, in an update on the official App.net blog, founders Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg wrote:

The good news is that the renewal rate was high enough for App.net to be profitable and self-sustaining on a forward basis. Operational and hosting costs are sufficiently covered by revenue for us to feel confident in the continued viability of the service. No one should notice any change in the way the App.net API/service operates. To repeat, App.net will continue to operate normally on an indefinite basis.

The bad news is that the renewal rate was not high enough for us to have sufficient budget for full-time employees. After carefully considering a few different options, we are making the difficult decision to no longer employ any salaried employees, including founders. Dalton and Bryan will continue to be responsible for the operation of App.net, but no longer as employees.

[…]

App.net will continue to employ contractors for help with support and operations. In addition to operational and support help, we will also be utilizing contract help for specific new development projects.

[…]

We will be open sourcing a larger and larger percentage of the App.net codebase. We would love to get community contributions and improvements. Today we are launching a new open source page at opensource.app.net. The first new piece of software we are open sourcing is our microblogging web application, Alpha. The source code to Alpha is available here.

The emphasis is theirs, but apparently it was not enough, judging by the wave of defeatism I saw developing on my timeline. As I posted yesterday, I frankly don’t get the ‘thanks for all the fish’ attitude on many App.net users’ part. It’s a difficult moment, sure, but the service is not closing down. Now’s the time to stick together, not to run around like panicked mice fleeing the (allegedly) sinking ship.

Then the pundits chime in

…And their attitude doesn’t help, either. Mind you, I’m not saying they’re wrong (they’re not). I’m just saying that their contributions — promptly popping up little after Dalton Caldwell’s announcement — are limited to being negative remarks, an occasion to reiterate their criticism towards App.net, but offer very little in the constructive department. Telling their readers See, I told you App.net was doomed only emphasises the perception of how doomed App.net is, instead of spreading a message like Look, App.net is facing a critical moment. Mistakes were made but it’s a platform that deserves support, which is certainly a more helpful attitude. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re not on App.net but you trust the opinion of Gruber, Arment, and the like, would you want to join after reading their commentary?

Everyone, of course, is entitled to express their opinion and criticism, yet I can’t help but feeling that this kind of attitude is wrong and a bit unfair. Do you want to read something that actually offers more constructive criticism and a few strong ideas and possible solutions to better shape App.net’s future? Read Time to get SNAASty by Oluseyi Sonaiya. His closing paragraph perfectly describes my same feelings on the matter:

There’s an air of despair around ADN right now that disappoints me. People are acting like failure of a company’s first business model is a death sentence, like the collapse of a podcast aggregation/syndication startup called Odeo didn’t give birth to a little service called Twitter.

Mount up. We have work to do.

Holding App.net wrong

It sounds borderline hypocritical to me that these prominent pundits, after remarking how doomed App.net is, go on saying good words about Caldwell & Co. and their work, yet the majority of them never really got involved with App.net and didn’t renew their yearly subscription. Brief aside: $36 per year is not a fortune. They keep insisting how paying for apps and services is the right thing to do. What’s the harm in giving $36 as a donation to support the cause, even if they’re not active App.net users? Or why not switch to a monthly subscription, try to get involved again, see what happens?

Some say that App.net’s concept has been too vague, and that it’s never been clear what App.net is supposed to be. I beg to differ. This is what the Join App.Net page said back in September 2012:

App.net is a different kind of social platform.

For members: App.net is an ad-free social network.

It’s your real-time feed, a home for meaningful conversation, where you control your data. Find the apps you love and make App.net your own. Connect, play, and discover.

For developers: App.net is the open API you can trust.

App.net is your new platform, a backbone you can rely on. We’re the pipes you can build your web, mobile, and desktop apps on. Our API is here for you, and we won’t shut you out. Find your audience.

It seems pretty clear to me. Yes, maybe over time App.net has lost some of the initial focus; maybe it lacked a strong campaign to invite people to join the platform, either as users or developers, but I also think that many people (prominent pundits included) made the terrible mistake of viewing App.net and Twitter as an either/or proposition. Joining App.net didn’t — and doesn’t — necessarily mean leaving Twitter behind. They could have taken the opportunity offered by App.net to expand their network and extend their reach, instead of trying to replicate their Twitter experience. (For what it’s worth, it’s what I did. I’m both on Twitter and App.net and try to actively participate in both networks. I appreciate differences and what ultimately matters is people and where the conversations are.)

And what’s also ironic is that, strictly speaking, App.net offers a superior social experience than Twitter. There are no ads or promoted posts, a single post can be as long as 256 characters instead of 140 — which makes a big difference if you really want to communicate and have conversations instead of just broadcasting your witty quips. Private messages can be as long as 2048 characters, and you can include links without problems. Also, there is virtually no spam, thanks indubitably to the fact that App.net is mainly a paid service and that free accounts are limited in a way that doesn’t encourage the creation of spammy bot accounts. (When I pointed this out to a Twitter aficionado, he said that Twitter got really better at handling spam as well. Sure — it only took Twitter six years or so. I’ve lost count of how many spam accounts I had to manually block/report since 2008.)

And these are just a few superficial benefits you get as a user of the social network. I’m not a developer, but over time I’ve seen all the neat apps & services developers have created for the App.net platform and I’ve always heard positive things about the developer-friendliness of App.net.

Final remarks

There are a lot of quotable posts I could extract from yesterday’s debate on App.net as it unfolded in my timeline. I especially like these two very much:

  • I’ll say this for App.net: They’ve had the decency not to seek acquisition and selling all my info to vultures. — Joe Cieplinski
  • No matter what is said, @dalton and @berg never fucked over their users or developers. I can’t think of many other companies that fit in that category. — Ben Brooks

 

Again, while I agree that it’s up to App.net to find a way to improve things for the future, getting all defeatist and fatalistic does not help at all. Those who still believe in this platform should stay and keep doing what they’ve been doing best: engage in conversations and share food for thought in a way that I’ve never seen happening on Twitter since I joined six years ago. Those who like to pontificate and point out whatever mistakes App.net’s founders have been doing so far, should also offer some constructive criticism and actually propose something they think could be a more effective solution, remedy, course of action; otherwise a great way to help is to just shut up.

I don’t have concrete solutions myself, but the aforementioned post by Oluseyi Sonaiya is really worth reading. I simply wanted to write something that could convey both my irritation towards certain negative reactions and attitudes following the recent App.net news, and a more generally positive ‘hang in there’ message. I don’t think App.net is doomed, but defeatism can be so easily contagious in the current tech debate.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!