Yesterday evening, while checking my App.Net (ADN) timeline, I learnt that on 14 march 2017 ADN will shut down. Yes, the common reaction outside of ADN has been, What? Is ADN still around? Why yes, and I’ve been a proud, active user since subscribing in November 2012. Although I was aware that the day may come (ADN has been in ‘maintenance mode’ since May 2014), nevertheless I am very sad about the shutdown.
When ADN launched in 2012, I had my share of scepticism. Like others, I superficially viewed ADN as a sort of Twitter alternative. Many were unhappy with Twitter at the time, but I wasn’t, so I could very well have ignored ADN. I know that the service was more ambitious and aimed to offer many more interesting features that went beyond the social superstructure, but still — and despite my being fine with the experience I was having on Twitter — I decided to give it a try and signed up. I chose to pay monthly, so that if the first months weren’t satisfactory, I could leave and be done with it. But after a few weeks something clicked. I was loving the place. I thought the first interactions and mutual follows would involve people I knew (and knew me) from Twitter; instead I was welcomed by others I didn’t know from anywhere. A sense of ‘community in the making’ was quite palpable.
And things only got better from there. I’m speaking about my experience, of course. ADN felt like the early days of Twitter, possibly even better. A basic feature like having 256 characters available in a post, instead of Twitter’s 140, turned out to make a huge difference. Conversations lasted longer, got deeper, and with longer posts, people could explain themselves in a much better way than the average quipping in Twitter’s exchanges. Private messages, too, could be longer (2048 characters). The whole atmosphere was different than Twitter’s. To me, it felt more like certain close-knit forums or mailing lists or user groups driven by people who share the same passions, willing to help and have a conversation. I felt a level of camaraderie and ‘tight ship’ I never really experienced on Twitter. ADN felt like a place where people paid attention and cared, not a social network where basically everyone shouts and spills sarcasm from their pedestal, broadcasting themselves more than having a real two-way conversation, like on Twitter (with exceptions, sure, but I have to generalise here, you understand).
Perhaps it was easier, given the small scale of the ADN user base, but another aspect of ADN that positively impressed me was its self-policing. Spam on ADN never became an issue (thanks to the fact that there weren’t free accounts, at least at the beginning); the few people who engaged in questionable behaviours were soon marginalised (if I remember well). In short, morons on ADN didn’t last long. On Twitter, on the other hand…
I have loved the ADN community these past four years, and I’ve done my best to support it. Since I’m not a developer, I haven’t been able to contribute to it in an operative/creative way, but (a) I kept paying for the service monthly instead of annually, so that I could give ADN a little bit of extra money; and (b) I’ve been purchasing and using most ADN clients and related apps over time as a way of showing my support and saying thank you to the various developers who invested their time and energies to provide different ADN-based solutions.
I’m presently too irked to sit down and analyse what went wrong, but one thing that has always annoyed me during ADN’s run was a certain generalised defeatism in how ADN was viewed and treated on the outside, undoubtedly fuelled by the lukewarm reaction and commentary of many prominent tech pundits. Their scepticism didn’t help ADN at all, and it has eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When ADN went in maintenance mode in 2014, in App.Net is not over, I wrote:
…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.
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.)
It’s interesting how everyone seems to complain about Twitter (and Facebook) on a daily basis, wishing for a better product, a better network, a better and less abusive place, but no one or very few people really gave ADN a chance — ADN, which has been a better network and offered a better experience the entire time. It’s a bit disheartening to see just how ADN could have thrived had people been more supporting, shown more commitment, been less cheapskates, and so forth. Sure, ADN wasn’t perfect, but again, it’s interesting to see how, at the first sign of things not going 100% well, everything immediately translated into a failure, which in turn generated more talk about how ADN was doomed, which in turn drove more users to abandon the platform, in a sad and stupid chain reaction. While many, too many users are willing to put up with how bad Twitter has become because, uh, they don’t want to compromise the great exposure it gives them? And similarly, too many users are willing to put up with all the shit that comes with Facebook because they have apparently no other way of keeping in touch with their friends or following the news. Really, I find it hard to understand the Twitter and Facebook complainers who never quit the networks they seem to loathe so much. It’s like witnessing people in an abusive relationship or (not) dealing with substance addiction.
And yet, despite not being an engineer or software developer, I don’t think building an alternative is that difficult. The collective brain power and skills of a small percentage of the people I follow would be enough.
I’m hoping that in these two last months of ADN activity, something new, a new project, a new initiative, even a temporary place, will come up. Something big and interesting enough to keep the last group of hardcore ADN users together, avoiding a social network diaspora. I have accepted an invitation to join 10Centuries, just in case, and pnut is another effort worth mentioning.
I’m also keeping an eye on Manton Reece’s latest initiative. Micro.blog looks like an interesting and well thought-out project, whose spirit doesn’t seem very different from ADN’s. Reece is one of the ‘good guys’ and is respected by the Circle of Cool and Influential Pundits, and that certainly is going to be a good push towards success. Snark aside, I do hope Micro.blog succeeds and becomes another great place as ADN has been.
My sincerest thanks to Dalton Caldwell, Bryan Berg, and everyone who contributed to make ADN such a great network. Thank you to everyone I’ve met there, for the conversations, discussions, pieces of advice, humour, support, and attention.