The hidden potential of App.net.

I’ve thought a lot about App.net in the past few months, as many of us have I imagine. What started as discontent with the obnoxious corporate machinations that Twitter’s begun to execute spawned a movement to start something different and user-focused as opposed to focused on marketing. I won’t go into the details, because it’s well-documented in about a million other places, but suffice to say, the project got funded, we got an alpha web app and App.net quickly became a geeky subset of Twitter users both curious to try something new and disenchanted with the current state of things elsewhere.

The launch of Netbot kicked the service into high gear for a while and it saw a huge spike in traffic and activity, proving a point many have made, namely that in today’s tech world, to the user, the application is the service. App.net CEO Dalton Caldwell has even said himself that the ‘out of the box’ experience for new users isn’t terrific, and while they’re working to improve that, apps are paving the way and bringing people into the fold. And we watched as Netbot’s influence stabilized and we’ve seen overall ADN conversations trickle off in our feeds. People went back to Twitter, because the conversation keeps happening there due to a massively entrenched network effect that’s undeniable.

Lots has been said about the potential of ADN, and how it really needs to do something special to continue to grow. It won’t beat Twitter at its own game (admittedly, that’s been stated as not a real targeted objective anyway), but it’s got to do… something.

I’m starting to believe all of what we’ve seen is merely prelude to something more. I’ve been bullish on the service since making the decision to back it and I’ve watched it with great interest. I finally got around to listening to the official ADN podcast a few days ago too, and it’s basically Dalton talking about the API development and answering questions from users. The thing is, in hearing him talk about their progress and plans, I’ve started to realize something – two things, actually.

  1. The Twitter-like feed tool we currently see as “App.net” is but one face – the starting point – of a much larger idea
  2. It’s not just about making that tool better – the long play is to build an extensible communication platform not just for Twitter use cases, but for a myriad other outlets

I’d considered other ways in which the service might become valuable, but I’ll admit, I kept coming up short until I heard him talk about their plans. I thought about how it might be used as an external comment platform for blogs, linking threads and conversations back to a post via the service. I could see that being kind of cool, and I think it would definitely (given the price to enter the service) at least preliminarily solve a part of the “commenting problem”. Users willing to pony up some money to be part of a service like this might be less compelled to be dicks on people’s blogs. It’s a long shot, but you can see where I’m headed.

Listening to the podcasts, though, something else became very clear. The private messaging API is going to be the catalyst behind this entire thing. Dalton described how their focus on releasing a capable first iteration of this aspect of the service took great importance as they worked this past few months. He mentioned the concept of the “internet of things” – all the interconnected devices that are filling our lives with notifications and (in some cases) noise. He talked about the immense success platforms like BlackBerry Messenger and WhatsApp have had in the mobile space, and pointed out that no matter how large public messaging is, private messages (SMS and the like) outweigh it by orders of magnitude. He also reinforced the fact that ADN is not rushing to do much of anything – they’ve created a sustainable business model for the time being, focused on user features, and their goal is to continue developing the service, strengthening the hooks to outside applications and enabling developers to create new and interesting things by delivering working code examples with updates to the API.

Most importantly, he mentioned that with his previous company imeem, the final face of the service was drastically different than its first one. As with any software, the users will in large and small ways influence the ongoing development, and discover use cases that the devs hadn’t even considered. This is the core piece that as a market, we’re unable to see yet. We see a Twitter competitor, and one that feels like it’s faltering as Twitter continues to swell its userbase. We see something that we want to succeed, but we’re not seeing the endgame yet. I’m mentally reinvested in the entire idea after listening to him on the podcasts – not because he’s compelling users to foment revolution – but because he’s seeing past the market perception of what the service is supposed to be. It’s only been five months since the blog post that kicked this off, and four since funding. I don’t know many web services that declared victory in any capacity in that timeframe, and it’s worth keeping that in mind.

I highly recommend checking out the podcast if you’re even marginally interested in this at all. It’s changed my thinking; you may discover the same.

Thoughts? App.net | Twitter

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.