Twitter Versus App.net

Last weekend, a day or so before the self-imposed deadline expired, App.net reached its funding goal of $500,000 and by the time the initial funding process ended had exceeded it and raised a total of around $800,000. App.net is, as far as I can tell, not meant to be a direct replacement for Twitter. Rather it is a social feed that encourages third-party developers to create applications that utilise its back-end in some, any, manner. Obviously the initial apps, including App.net’s own Alpha service all strongly mimic Twitter but I expect that to change over the coming months and years as the API develops and people start to play around with the possibilities.

The interesting thing about App.net at this stage is that it is a paid-for service. You pay an annual subscription (I hope that they eventually allow monthly subscriptions too) and you get access to the service via whichever apps you then choose to use and the functionality they offer. One of Dalton Caldwell’s primary reasons for devising the project was a growing discontent with Twitter’s push towards being an advertising-funded service. Essentially the users become the product and the advertisers are the customers. It is free for anyone to use Twitter but they will be shown adverts and, as Facebook does, their Tweets will be analysed so that adverts can be targeted towards them.

Yesterday Twitter published a blog post with some updated news for developers about this. Essentially, as had been known for a while, Twitter are clamping down on third-party client applications (things like Tweetbot and Twitterific). The reason is ostensibly that these client applications can and do filter out the adverts whilst Twitter’s web site and their own client applications don’t. Advertising is starting to become more important to Twitter than user experience and whilst this isn’t popular with some it does make perfect business sense.

Since Twitter published their blog post my Twitter and App.net streams have been full of people claiming that Twitter is doomed and that App.net should immediately drop their membership price and let thousands of users who are waiting for access to the Alpha service have it immediately. This is all nonsense.

Twitter is not doomed. All it has done is annoy current third-party client developers and the people who use them and, for now at least, only a portion of them because nothing is likely to actually change in terms of user experience for weeks or months. A minority of Twitter users rely on third-party client applications and therefore the majority of their users won’t realise that anything has changed. Nor will they care about Twitter’s continued push towards an advertising-funded service. They still get to follow friends, celebrities and businesses for free and that’s all they want.

The key thing to remember is that Twitter’s early growth was driven by geeks and the tech-savvy adopting it, pushing it, developing client applications and recommending it to friends and family. I think the same will happen with App.net. However Twitter went mainstream some time ago and the need to cosset and please the geeks and tech-savvy has diminished. We are a tiny percentage of the total number of users and we are no longer a significant, important part of their ecosystem.

App.net does not need to take advantage of the disgruntled ‘masses’. Opening up the service without care and control will simply lead to their servers keeling over and their equivalent of the Twitter Fail Whale that we all knew so well in the early days of that service. They need to stick with their plan of controlled expansion and stick with their conviction about the membership price. Careful organic growth along with the appearance of third-party client applications are essential to the service surviving.

App.net and its members face an exciting and interesting future but the changes announced by Twitter were not unexpected and should not influence Dalton and his team or encourage them to do anything rash. Let App.net grow organically, let it discover its place in the world and stop looking on it as a rival or threat to Twitter. It isn’t and as a paid-service won’t be. The user numbers will never be as high as Twitter’s but then it doesn’t need them to be in order to survive or be successful.

By all means switch your devotion to App.net. Abandon Twitter if you wish. Just don’t assume that Twitter will wither and die and that App.net is the natural successor.