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Hands on with App.net, the pay-for Twitter disruption platform

global steam alpha app.netThe Dalton Caldwell blog post-inspired App.net has been hatching plans to take on Twitter with its pay-for model for weeks now. At last report, the platform was well short of its $500k goal, but over the last week, the hype and interest was enough to tip App.net over the edge ahead of its deadline.

“Thank you for believing,” Caldwell wrote on Saturday. “I know in my heart that what made join.app.net succeed was your willingness and openness to give App.net the benefit of the doubt, to read our github documentation, to ask to participate in the alpha, to write blogposts in our support. Thank you.”

Now, the alpha version is up and running.

Interface

App.net’s interface is, to summarize, bare bones. You have a mere four landing pages you can check out: Your personal stream (posts from those you’re following), your posts, mentions, and the global feed. It’s certainly more sparse than Twitter, both in what and how you navigate, and its looks. While you have a Facebook-like profile page complete with a personal picture and cover photo, the rest of the site is quite stark.

app.net stream app.net my posts app.net mentions

And front and center, in big, bold, plain type, is a export tool for grabbing all of your App.net-posted data.

app.net data export

Actions

There’s a lot of work to be done, clearly, so plenty is going to fall onto the “what’s missing” list, but that’s to be expected. That said, let’s dive in.

Instead of 140 characters, you get 256. You can reply to other people’s posts (which a small handful are referring to as “appdates”), but there are no “retweet” or favorite options. You can select and view individual posts for backlinking purposes, which is incredibly helpful when using content for news breaking reference. 

It can probably go without saying that multimedia features like sharing photos and videos haven’t been added to App.net, but the developer community is so enthused about the platform that the building is coming fast and furious.

In development

Which brings us to a quick note on all the building that’s happening around App.net. Much of the reason for starting App.net in the first place revolved around how platforms exist and interact with their third-party developer ecosystems. Twitter’s continued distancing between itself and outside developers was a big part of the inspiration. So it’s only fitting that much of the discussion on the alpha site revolves around the third-party community.

Web and mobile apps are in the works, as are desktop and browser extensions. You can check out the in-progress catalogue over at Github. And there are a few fun tools already at your disposal, like this app that finds your Twitter friends already using App.net, and this one that shows an endless stream of posts as they’re published, in real time.

Users

app.net user truthThere are a few problems that come with alternative social networks. The main one, of course, is building the userbase. As it can be assumed, Twitter’s numbers are far greater than App.net’s… obviously. And the fact that there’s no native way to find people can make diving in a little intimidating. You’re just sort of thrown in the mess, although you can use the aforementioned tool that helps you find Twitter users you know using the application to help out.

The other intimidating thing about jumping into App.net is the community – or rather, it can be intimidating. Think about the type of people interested in paying at least $50 to start using a real-time communication application – so yes, it’s pretty tech-oriented. There’s a lot of developer-speak and a lot of App.net-speak. It’s pretty narrow.

To be fair, this means that the obnoxious drivel that Twitter often dissolves to hasn’t hit the site (at least not yet). It’s a relief not to be flooded with constant celebrity news and pictures of food, if we’re being honest.

The other element that hasn’t invaded App.net (again, yet) are spambots. The price gate is certainly helping, as is its just-launched status, although there’s no chance the platform will be able to remain spam free. Regardless, it definitely shouldn’t dissolve into the massive cesspool of fake users that has engulfed Twitter’s basement.

Conclusion

App.net is ambitious and exciting, but it’s not a solid bet quite yet. There are also already rumors that there will be a free tier of App.net, and I’d certainly suggest waiting until we hear more on that.

As it stands, it’s interesting to be part of the early crew. And if you ever wished you could have been a part of the early Twitter machine and all the user-sourced development that happened way back when, then ante up that $50 and come on in. Otherwise, wait until there’s more outside app integration and native built-in controls.

The larger question, of course, is: does App.net stand a chance? It’s hard to say yes, but given Twitter’s fickle heart these days, it actually seems possible. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but Twitter isn’t the company that it used to be; it’s priorities are shifting. We can criticize and yell about it, but if Twitter wants to go ahead and become a media company (and it’s in a really good position to do just that), then that’s Twitter’s prerogative — even if it frustrates core users in doing so. 

That means the timing is right: We have this brief moment where real-time communication is important and popular and where the largest player to date appears to be creating some market space. Paying for apps is a hard hurdle to cross, but it could deliver us from many of the issues our social networks have trapped us into.