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App.net grows up, transforms from a Twitter clone into a social Dropbox

App.net, digital entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell’s attempt at taking on social media as we know it launched in alpha last summer to much fanfare and even some consternation. After stunning everyone by raising $500,000 in under a week, the service sought to undo the mess that Twitter had made by eschewing an  ad-driven model and instead relying on fees paid upfront by its users.

Now, nearly six months later, Caldwell has announced that App.net will support a file API to manage users’ photos and videos, giving them 10GB of storage to handle their social data. But more than iterating on the original anti-Twitter ethos, App.net is attempting to change how users see and share their information online.

“This is a different metaphor of thinking about user data,” Caldwell told us. “I would say that, in the current way of free, ad-supported social networking, the user does not get exposed to storage-like concepts. You don’t think about bandwidth. You don’t think about storage. Instead, if you go onto Instagram or Youtube or Facebook, you can upload as much as you can as fast as you can, and hopefully you have enough scale that you have enough ads that can offset the storage costs of all this content.”

In other words, centralized hubs of personal data that media companies, depending on their terms of service, can use to turn a profit. Such is the inherent issue facing Facebook, Instagram, and even more recently Vine.

For those paying attention, Caldwell took Twitter, Facebook, and what he called the “advertising-supported monoculture” to task last summer for selling user information in order to target ads. With App.net, Caldwell wanted to make a for-pay platform for communicating and sharing without the risk of your likeness being used in a Sponsored Story.

Adding data storage necessarily expands on that model. Said Caldwell, “What we’re trying to do is take the storage metaphors that you can see from hosting services and apply them to social data.”  In this way, the service can be equated with a social Dropbox. Users have better control of their data, while still trusting that App.net won’t use their information in ways they wouldn’t agree with. While a 10GB data cap is inherently limited, you alone have control over what you share. What’s more, since App.net is supported by a pay model, its developers have no incentive to lock down user information, like what Facebook has done with its Social Graph.

But more than anything else, App.net is meant to be a platform rather than a network unto itself. Caldwell himself imagines the file API used with the already-released messaging API to develop cross-platform collaboration applications. Such apps could be used on both tablets and traditional computers, with files and information shared to build new experiences.

According to Caldwell, App.net currently boasts more than 30,000 paying customers, with more than 100 applications running on the platform. While that pales in comparison to Facebook’s 1 billion users, he has always insisted that that was never a concern. It’s measure of success is in making the platform “as useful as possible.”

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