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$50 per year for ad-free social media: Is it worth it?

What if there was a social network that put users first, before advertisers or proprietary software concerns? With Twitter launching “Promoted Tweet” capabilities for narrowcasted messaging while locking out third-party developers and Facebook… well, being Facebook, that seemingly impossible dream may feel like a cruel suggestion, but App.Net believes otherwise, and it’s looking to crowdfund the proof. Are you ready to put your money where your hopes for a user-friendly social media future are?

The proposed social networking service is the creation of Dalton Caldwell, who hopes to offer something that is essentially Twitter from Earth-2: something that offers users the ability  to post 140-character messages and follow each other in an asymmetrical manner  (which is to say, you can follow people and people can follow you, but you don’t have follow each other in order to view content), but with one important difference from the Twitter we already know, love and feel particularly frustrated about when it crashes without warning: This one will work on a paid subscription model, with subscribers paying $50 annually for use.

Talking about the service, Caldwell told Talking Points Memo that he doesn’t “want to build a Twitter clone, I want to explore what the path would be like if they took a right turn instead of a left one.” He continues, “My thesis is that the communications infrastructure that Twitter has enabled is orders of magnitude greater than what they’re doing with it, which is turning it into some sort-of lame Yahoo! clone, or a weird TMZ competitor and AP Newswire and all these other things rolled up into one. I’m not picking on them because they’re the worst, but because they had the best chance shot at disintermediating the ad-supported model.”

Caldwell likens his idea to another form of communication altogether: “Imagine [the Twitter business model was] how cell phone plans worked,” Caldwell told TPM. “Imagine cell phone plans were free to use but ad-supported: We’d be here in the middle of our conversation and of the sudden an advertiser would jump into the conversation and start trying to sell us timeshares or something. I think that’d be pretty horrible.”

To make his idea a reality, Caldwell has turned to the Internet for funding, asking for $500,000 to bring App.Net’s social platform to life – or, as the site points out, 10,000 users paying the subscription fee. In the proposal’s FAQ, Caldwell and App get into the idea about whether or not someone would/should pay for a Twitter alternative: “We believe that Kickstarter has showcased the ability for a small number of motivated people to realize specialized products they care about by offering up their own money in advance,” it explains, adding that “the beauty of our proposed paid service is that we only need to appeal to a relatively small number of highly committed members to create an interesting and financially sustainable business that is capable of long-term growth, stability, and innovation. So we don’t need 1 million users – although that would be great! – we just need 10,000.”

Will it work? That remains to be seen; with 17 days left to be funded, there are less than 1,500 backers of the 10,000 needed – but that doesn’t mean that the target won’t be reached in some last minute rush. Stranger things, after all, have happened…

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