Founder and CEO of App.net, Dalton Caldwell. (Photo : App.net)
Remember Dalton Caldwell? The young tech entrepreneur made news when he published an angry open-letter to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, angry that they simply tried to buy him out rather than work with his enterprise. In retaliation, he began seeking funds to create an ad-free social network, so that innovation and partnerships wouldn't be stifled by the whims of fat-cat advertisers. His undertaking, named App.net, has passed its fundraising goal of $500,000, and is now open for an initial run through. For it to be successful, however, it cannot simply bank on an ad-free experience - it has to provide a new, groundbreaking feature.
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The media seems to think that App.net is nothing more than another Twitter experience without ads. A Forbes headline reads, "Dalton Caldwell's App.net Meets Funding Goal To Launch Paid Twitter Alternative." Many other headlines also refer to Twitter. Therein lies App.net's biggest problem: it's already compared to an established and successful, and easy-to-use older brother. If it merely tries to build on a Twitter-experience without any ads, why would people switch over to a new network? The strength of a social network lies in how many people important to you are on it. If the social network is relatively new, then it must do something to grab your attention.
Take Facebook for instance. Before Facebook gobbled up almost close to a billion of our social lives, there was MySpace. MySpace offered all the barebones social networking that was considered satisfactory at the time. Facebook, however, offered more. Groups, Friends, the infamous "Like" button. Photo tagging. All these features were either brand, or executed in a much smoother manner by Facebook, and it's these features that helped it overtake a MySpace juggernaut to become the most popular social network in the world.
Twitter also innovated. It gave us the "tweet." It dumbed down social networking to 140 characters and gave us bite-sized doses of information. Hashtags simplified the process even more, and Twitter is now also a source of news.
Even Google Plus offers its own services that only Google can deliver by tying it into the entire Google account interface. It didn't hurt, of course, that Google is also a worldwide phenomenon which billions use.
While the interface is still fairly straightforward, App.net does offer you more space for your thoughts: 256 characters instead of Twitter's 140. Caldwell and his team plan on focusing on the backend development, and leaving it up to third-party developers to figure out how to make the social network better. By keeping its hands off the delivery of the content, App.net hopes the developer freedom will allow people to get what they really want.
The service costs $50 to use though, and this may be a turnoff for some consumers. Hopefully, the third-party developers will have some innovative apps up and running very soon. If not, App.net might have to roll up its sleeves and do what it began as a protest to: innovate from the inside.
If you would like to sign up to use App.net, head over to www.join.app.net.