09 Aug 2012, 11:38

Why I've pledged money to @AppDotNet and why you should too


#“Why I’ve pledged money to @AppDotNet and why you should too”

There have been lots of concerns about the future of Twitter recently. App.netwas recently announced as a pay-for alternative to Twitter with a powerful API, no ads and a deep commitment to not constantly change the rules on users and developers to suit an ever-changing business plan.

I always find it funny how people believe that the thing they are using now will never be replaced; from smoke to horses to telegrams to Friendster to Twitter. Creative and commercial destruction is inevitable and is often a good thing.

For $50, I think it is worth a try. Even as anhonourablefailure, if it shakes things up just a little or gets 10 more teams to try the same thing, then it’s really a success. Also, if it doesn’t succeed, you don’t pay your money. The Alpha site which is built on their APIs is surprisingly great. Exactly like early Twitter with lots of chat and banter and not a snake-oil salesman in sight.

They are trying to raise $500k on Kickstarter by Aug 13th and at the current rate of progress, they will not meet that target. I’ve already pledged the Developer Level $100 and have been using the “Proof of Concept” site, which they build in 2-3 weeks, for the past few days.

The lack of support on Kickstarter tells its own story. Not enough people see the problem. Possibly too busy reading about Justin Bieber. But give it time. I think the App.net guys should have waited for a crisis moment. The ideal time in the future will be when Twitter breaks API access for Tweetdeck AIR (and you know that’s coming eventually). Then you’ll really see the shit hit the fan with Power Users.

This blogpost has actually been swirling around in my head for months. I have been having deep issues with the direction of Twitter for a long time now and find myself genuinely worried about it.

I joined Twitter in February 2007. Apart from the 100 day war with Jaiku, I’ve been a fanatic ever since, through good and bad. I have come to believe that Twitter is the most important advance in information dissemination since RSS, and possibly since the internet itself. Several year ago, Steve Gillmor nailed it when he said Twitter is the new dial-tone.

But here’s the thing about dial-tones. When you pick up the phone in Bandon Oregon, your local phone company provides that tone and let’s you talk to me in Bandon Ireland when I pick up the phone on an Eircom line.

A few more examples to bang you over the head with the point:



Rail (gauge nerds, please desist from commenting :-) ):


What they all share is an agreed standard that enables products and bits to be moved from place to place irrespective of the sender, receiver or shipper. They are robust, multi-vendor solutions, not, as Anil Dash would suggest, some hippie utopian open protocol.

And now we come to the problem. Twitter is, and should be, the phone company. A solid staid infrastructure business. Unfortunately, Twitter wants to be the E! Channel, because their VCs think (rightly) there is more money to be made telling us what Kim Kardashian is doing right now.

To use as crass an example as I can think of: It’s like Alexander Fleming discovering penicillin and deciding that he should focus on the lucrative blue cheese market.

And you know what, that’s fine. Their site, their apps, their advertisers, their rules, their eventual Bebo-ification, MySpace-ification.

I’m not going to prattle on about how Twitter has treated developers over the years. Building your entire business on someone else’s API can only go one way, very very badly. I’ll simply show you the email I got from them this week. The tone of that email tells you everything you need to know about the current mindset in Twitter towards third party developers. In summary, they screwed up but spend most of the email warning us not to screw up in the future. Or else.

Fred Wilson has a good post on free ad-supported businesses and equates Twitter to TV and magazine companies in this regard. He is clearly one of those who favours the E! direction of Twitter. But infrastructure companies don’t rely on ads. Imagine having ads in the middle of your phone calls (wait, some bozos tried that didn’t they?).

We pay for services that are important to us. Phone, internet, gym, monitored alarm, SMS. So why not realtime information?

Real-time messaging is too important to leave it to one company to screw up on their terms. Just as many early innovators were not the ones who properly exploited their innovations, it is time for others to build alternatives (plural) to Twitter.

For a microsecond I thought one alternative might be Google+ until I realised it was just Buzz without an API and with better SEO. Way back I also thought identi.ca might be a strong contender. Nope. And Facebook’s search results can be 3 hours old, so that’s a complete waste of time.

Another horrible thought I had on my holidays was that the ideal companies to build a distributed, multi-vendor, standards-based, realtime messaging system were the mobile phone carriers. Of course, they’d charge you $1 per Tweet and it’d end up as useful and interoperable as MMS. So let’s quietly put that to one side. (Sidenote: I’ve always been surprised Vodafone or similar didn’t build a simple pure SMS-based Twitter clone. All theinfrastructureis there.)

And then we have theannouncementof App.net. $50 a year for no ads, a great open published API with a strong focus on a federated system and a belief that we can do better.

If I’ve made you sufficiently concerned and you want in on something new and genuinely fun, you can pledge your $50 here.

You can find me over there as APP@conor

(A big thanks to T@McMoop aka APP@Osh, for his edits on this)

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