App.net: A Developer’s First Impression

In case you’ve not yet heard, App.net (aka ADN) is the new kid on the social network block. At first, the concept of a pay-to-use social network seems a bit odd; I’m sure there are plenty of business folks out there who would be happy to tell you that it is doomed based upon the “free” precedent set by Facebook, Twitter, et. all. In truth, many of these social networks have had to do a certain degree of backpedalling post IPO (or late-stage funding) in order to appease investors. The sudden introduction of ads, paid posts, and handfuls of other gimmicks have left both users and developers with a bad taste in their mouth.

App.net is banking on this. They expect that we users are annoyed enough with being turned into a commodity that we long for the days when we simply paid for a solid product. It was worth my while to jump in early, because App.net is developer friendly — so integrating it into my product (Streamified) made a lot of sense, especially knowing that the audience at this stage is comprised of early adopters, who make good evangelists.

The question is, are we willing to fork over the dollars? Subscriptions to App.net cost $5 a month or $36 a year (and more for developers). Social networks are a classic “chicken/egg” example, where we need a large number of users before the casual observer wants to join in on the fun. Adding a pricetag only increases the barrier to entry, thus making this particular egg tougher to crack.

 

Early Growth

The ADN team freely publishes the user numbers for the month of August. This begs the question: why is there so little data after that?

I extrapolated their growth curve based upon looking at user IDs, and here’s what I found:

 

 

The growth is still impressive (over 27,000 users now in early November) considering the challenges, but it has slowed quite a bit too. Assuming $5 / month and 30% transaction fees (high) but zero unsubscribes, the ADN team is still making about $100k a month in revenue. Not bad at all in terms of cash, but the question remains if it is sufficient to reach critical mass.

ADN Users

If ADN succeeds in the long term, it will be because the exclusivity of the product leads to better conversations. Already, I can say that from what I (and my peers) have seen, the quality of the discussions happening in ADN far outstrip those of Facebook, Twitter, etc.

The user-community is self-policing itself, jumping on people who seem to be there “just for marketing” as the devil incarnate. It’s no surprise, really: being forced to pay for the product means that users place a higher value on it. The fact is, the early adopters of a product set the tone for the rest of its lifecycle. If the ADN users can manage to keep the service discussion oriented (as I would argue it currently is) as opposed to the banal self-serving nature of most tweets, then the service will remain valuable to other users. At the same time, the fact that it does feel similar to Twitter (with a bigger character count) at first glance means that new users need to be introduced to the culture, first, lest they use it in the same way. This, if anything, would be the network’s undoing: if growth happened too quickly, the community would lose the ability to self-police.

ADN Developers

I’ve focused a lot on the ADN network itself so far, but the real reason App.net has received attention is for its focus on developers. I blame Twitter in particular for opening the doors to a competitor, here. Twitter’s brazen disregard (even scorn) for 3rd party developers (by closing off and limiting their API) has left many of us with a very, very bad impression.

ADN actually aims, then, to be a platform for developers more than a social network in of itself. The real “product” is that of the technology itself, which sets a standard protocol for interacting with social networks. My first impression in integrating ADN into Streamified was that it “felt like” a very nice evolution of the Facebook & Twitter APIs. In fact, I was able to more or less copy and paste the classes I used for them, tweak the URLs / endpoints, and viola! I had ADN up and running on our node.js servers within a couple hours. I do have a few minor grips (for example, I’d like to be able to get the replies to a post while retrieving the post, but I can understand why this may have been intentionally left out).

As much as the ADN protocol has smoothed out the rough edges from other APIs, I do worry a bit about an explosion in complexity. The list of endpoints is comprehensive and useful, and it works well for the network as it exists today, but as it grows I just hope that things will continue to be easy. It is much harder to build a product for future evolution than it is to build a product for today.

Final Thoughts

It remains to be seen how ADN will fit into my daily life. So far, the novelty is enough to keep me posting, and the engagement that I receive from my posts is much more fulfilling than that of Twitter.

I’m posting on App.net as @Streamified, and you can find our apps in the App.net 3rd Party Directory

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Zane Claes
I've compiled everything I've learned about happiness and productivity. You might enjoy the posts about craftsmanship or experimentation. Below are some of the most popular posts to get you started. If you have something to share, I'd love to hear from you. - Zane

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