Why App.net won't work, and why nobody will care
App.net has been in the news a lot recently. Firstly because it relied on Facebook to support its financing efforts, until Palo Alto eventually found out that it could threaten their own user base and abandoned its original plans to help App.net become popular on the Internet. And sceocondly because after all, this did not stop App.net and its founder Dalton Caldwell from pushing the service out to users. The only way to do so seemed to be a Kickstarter-like campaign with a funding goal of $500,000, which the startup just recently passed.
But what is App.net? Ultimately, there are only two things you need to know about, since the service itself is alpha and simply looks like Twitter as of today, with more features to come:
It's a social network, and it's chargeable instead of being ad-supported.
That means when signing up, users will be able to opt for a basic membership for $50 or a developer membership for $100. Rather 'famous' people like John Gruber from Daring Fireball and Marco Arment, creator of Tumblr and Instapaper, have openly declared loyalty via Twitter by announcing they had backed App.net's project or by simply saying: 'Thanks for trying something awesome.'
But I say App.net won't work, it won't work at all, and the average guy on the street won't even know. This statement doesn't underly a complex analysis or some sort of business evaluation, but instead a simple discovery: The concept of social networks is based on the concept of communication. It's essentially an extension of this natural form of exchanging information, which has been constantly evolving ever since the beginning of mankind.
30,000 years ago, people drew simple sketches on the walls of caves, etc. as they wanted to express their minds or transmit a message to their colleagues - all free. Appr. 5,150 years ago, writing was invented in Mesopotamia, and whenever they wished to do so and had stylus and clay plate handy, Mesopotamians were able to write down their ideas or what they thought - all free. 8 years ago, a guy named Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, a social network where people could express their opinions and chat with friends whenever they wanted to do so. Facebook has around 900,000,000 users as of today who never payed a cent for the service.
This free form of communication therefore proved itself over and over again, and have we ever heard somebody complaining? I guess not.
This is the reason App.net won't work. Communication itself is a free good, people don't expect to pay for it - and certainly not on the Internet. Surely it's nice to see what friends are up to, without being annoyed by advertisements that try to convince you you most urgently need a new vacuum, a new email address, or a new deodorant, but human beings will always choose this over spending money for what has been free ever since they came into the world.
Additionally, advertisement has become an important part of our society over the last couple of decades. Imagining a world without it is admittedly a very nice thing but also very hard, since it has grown to be an important part of our lives. Our brain is able to block out certain ads, thanks to the experience we got from evaluating wether a particular thing our eyes see is important or unimportant for us. We saw so many flashing billboards and disturbingly colorful commercials in our lives that we enter some sort of standby mode when yet another ad pops up somewhere. It is a fact of evolution that we are not receptive for this sort of media anymore, which is a very good thing.
When, however, we see something being advertised that might possibly offer advantages to us, our brain 'opens itself', and from time to time we click on something or look at a billboard for more than one second. This is not necessarily a bad characteristic. Companies that create a product and then opt to run a campaign for it have a reason to do so: The product helps certain people. Without advertisement, we would not know about so many things that make our lives better, and therefore we can conclude that it is actually important. The way this concept is realized, however, is often complete bullshit.
App.net should hence concentrate on making advertisements enjoyable for the user instead of sending them to hell.