App dot not

With a big last-minute push from all the internet celebrities who signed up for it early, the perplexing app.net surged past its $500k Kickstarter-like goal this weekend and is going to be a thing. What kind of thing and why a bunch of smart people want that thing is still a mystery to me.

The nominal reasons people give for backing app.net are pretty simple. Brent Simmons laid out most of them a couple of days ago:

I’d say things like “because I fucking hate ads” and “because I fucking hate celebrities” and “because I fucking hate trending topics.”

The other reason that’s often mentioned is Twitter’s ominous behavior toward third-party client programs.

As best I can tell, there’s no real desire for app.net itself, these are all just complaints about Twitter. Let’s look at each of them.

I’m going to combine the “hate celebrities” and “hate trending topics” complaints into a single “hate stupidity” beef. This is both the most common complaint and the one that makes the least sense. No one is forcing you to follow Justin Bieber or any of his fans. And there’s no requirement for you to wade through the morass of dumbth that is Trends (née Trending Topics). I know there’s a yearning for the good ol’ days when everyone on Twitter was strong, good-looking, and above-average, but unless your Twitter ID number is under 100, there’s never been a time when you didn’t have to be selective about who you followed. And Twitter has always given you control over what you see in your home timeline.

Or nearly so. Twitter has been mixing ads (“Promoted Tweets”) into everyone’s timeline on the home page, but as far as I know, those haven’t made their way into the official Twitter apps, at least not since the Dickbar debacle of last year. They certainly aren’t showing up in the home timeline that the API serves.

I would, of course, prefer no ads, but even if they started coming through the API, I can’t say I’d be all that bothered by it. (The Dickbar caused such a stir because it was really, really intrusive and it forced you to look at Trending Topics in addition to the occasional ad.) After all, I read several blogs—some from people who are backing app.net—that mix ads into their RSS feeds.

Which brings us to the issue of third-party apps. Twitter has recently cut off some functionality to both LinkedIn and Instagram, and this, combined with Twitter’s own statements over the past year or so, has people worried that it may cut off apps like Tweetbot and Twitterific entirely. My feeling is that the LinkedIn and Instagram examples are special cases that have more to do with tribal warfare among social media companies than with a true crackdown on third-party clients.

If Benjamin Mayo’s figures are right, 20-25% of tweets come from third-party clients. Although Mayo thinks otherwise, I think that’s a big enough number to make Twitter hold off on lowering the boom on Echophon and HootSuite and their kin. And if Twitter folds ads into the home timeline, there’ll be no need to do so.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of those who complain about the (potentially) shabby treatment of Twitter app developers are either developers themselves or good friends with developers. If everyone hated Craig Hockenberry, I bet this would be less of a concern.

An unstated, but I think powerful, motivation for people to sign up for app.net is the fear that it will take off and you’ll be late to the party. Too late, perhaps, to get the username you want. One of app.net’s appeals is thinly veiled extortion. Nice Twitter handle you got there. Would be a shame if somebody else took it.

I guess the real question is whether those who’ve signed up for app.net are actually prepared to leave Twitter for it. So far, it looks like most of them are still tweeting, and I’m curious as to how many of them can leave. John Gruber, for example, makes his living by getting people to read Daring Fireball, and he’s said that most of his referral traffic comes by way of links on Twitter. Can he afford to disengage from it?

Gruber may well be a special case; I can imagine him being able to leave Twitter with no ill effects. But it’s hard to believe that less popular bloggers—and pretty much everyone is less popular—will be able to do so. And if they can’t, will they really want to maintain a presence on both networks? If they have to choose one or the other, you know which one they’ll stay with.


12 Responses to “App dot not”

  1. Robert says:

    The cool kids paying for their own table in the cafeteria.

  2. Gef says:

    Last Friday I had to use the official Twitter app on my iPhone for the first time ever - was surprised to see multiple “promoted tweets” for a mobile operator and a cloud service. After reading this post I’ve checked again (haven’t used it since) - no new ads, only those from 4 days ago. Bizarre.

  3. Cameron Higby-Naquin says:

    I feel like “I hate celebrities” is a proxy for “Twitter isn’t cool anymore.” And while there are a couple of Twitter alternatives (e.g. status.net, identi.ca), none of them have really achieved the inexplicable coolness-critical-mass of app.net.

    But coolness, buzz, and hype only last for so long in this realm. Once the clamor dies away, what are we left with? Another microblogging service, this time with a “Don’t be evil” motto. I’m not sure that’s worth $4/month to me.

  4. Lauri Ranta says:

    Even if you ignored trending topics or being told to follow celebrities after signing up, there’s no way ignore what they imply or the overall image of Twitter. In a true blog comment fashion, I’d generalize hate stupidity even further as just feels annoying.

    App.net (based on its name alone) doesn’t seem much better though.

    It’s not just that Twitter isn’t being nice to third party clients, but it wasn’t originally meant to be used with them. App.net was designed with an API and their own iOS application from the start.

  5. David Brush says:

    I joined, and not because I even use Twitter that much or even hate twitter. I joined because competition is a good thing. I joined because I think there is something to be said for brand-agnostic social tools that act more like ‘e-mail’ than ‘Aol-mail’ or ‘G-mail’. App.net is not everyones cup of tea, and that is okay. You like Coca-Cola and I like Pepsi, (actually I prefer RC cola) no big deal.

  6. Andrew White says:

    I held off, and ended up joining at the 11th hour. The only reason I joined is because I’m sometimes called on by clients to help with “social media strategy”, and I know the subject will come up with some of the more techy ones. I very much doubt any of my friends who don’t make their money with this kind of stuff will ever follow.

    I also think $50/yr is too high for the long term, and $100/yr for a developer is nuts. $100/yr gets you Apple dev access. Are these things even anywhere close in value?

  7. katie moffat says:

    Not sure why everyone is so fixated with it being a replacement for twitter. These two pieces articulate it better than I will: http://gigaom.com/2012/08/13/think-app-net-is-just-a-twitter-clone-then-youre-missing-the-point/ and http://www.orianmarx.com/2012/08/13/how-app-net-can-change-everything/

  8. Jake says:

    Most people supported App.net for at least one of two reasons, I think (discounting the “hate stupidity” thing).

    There’s the principled aspect: Twitter seems to be pulling something of a bait-and-switch on the very developers who, when invited to build on their platform, helped propel it to the level of success it now enjoys.

    Then there’s the pragmatic aspect: if and when Twitter does end up doing something like cutting off third-party clients, I’d like to have some sort of contingency service ready, rather than having to scramble to find or develop a service that meets those needs.

  9. Sam Davies says:

    I think the username extortion angle isn’t fair. If you are famous enough that you care about what your theoretical App.net “brand” will be, your fans will follow you regardless of what your handle happens to be. Or, if you care enough that it’s worth $50, then it’s worth $50. It’s analogous to speculatively buying domain names you might use. Is it worth the $10-15? That’s up to you.

  10. Dr. Drang says:

    If you’re really interested in app.net as an open platform for microblogging, you should take a look at Dan Sandler’s writing from back in 2009. He was working on a decentralized system to act more like email.

    Since picking up his Ph.D., Dan’s disappeared into the dark recesses of Google, seldom seen or hear from anymore. A shame.

  11. T. M. says:

    An open standard for micro blogging, you say? Has no one heard of identi.ca?

  12. Dr. Drang says:

    T.M., I believe you’ve hit upon the key characteristic of identi.ca.