Twitter doesn’t really have a whole lot of legitimate competition. Sure, there’s Facebook and Google+, but those social networks are fundamentally different in how they function. And it seemed like Twitter would be the only relevant microblogging service on the web for a while. That was until yesterday when App.net raised more than $500,000 via Kickstarter to fund a competitor.
Envisioned as an ad-free alternative to Twitter by Dalton Caldwell, App.net is unlike any other major social network we’ve seen yet. It’s different in one way: users pay to use the service. Aside from a few niche networks and paid-options for sites like LinkedIn, this is a whole new concept for social networking. It’s all for one reason, according to Caldwell, and that’s to put users’ needs before those of advertisers. According to Business Insider, “the company compares its service to how Twitter functioned ‘before it turned into a media company.'”
Time Magazine’s Harry McCracken pledged $50 to App.net so that he could have access to the very bare-bones alpha version of the service, and said the service is intriguing. “So far,” he writes, “App.net feels a bit like the Twitter of a few years ago — before trending topics and Sponsored Tweets and embedded photos and videos and a bunch of other features made the experience richer, but more cluttered. And just as the conversation on Twitter once centered on Twitter itself, most of the people on App.net are spending most of their time talking about App.net. They’re a smart group, and for now, at least, using App.net to discuss App.net is fun.”
There is one distinct difference between how Twitter and App.net functions. Unlike its predecessor, App.net allows users to use nearly double the characters (256!) that Twitter allows. McCracken write that because he’s so used to tweeting that using the extra space feels “sinful,” but just like Twitter’s hard 140-character limit, it might just take some getting used to. And now that App.net has received more than the half a million dollars it was raising, we will see just how effective the network will be in attracting users.
It will be an uphill battle for App.net to sway avid Twitter users from leaving the comfortable 140 characters they’re used to. In fact, that could potentially be its Achilles heel. Twitter and Facebook are both free for people to use, so advertising is the only way the companies can put money in the bank. Also, aside from the usual temporary backlash that occurs whenever there’s any change to either Twitter’s or Facebook’s layout, functionality, etc., few users make the choice to up and leave.
McCracken again makes it clear why an advertisement-supported social network isn’t a bad thing. He said, “…the folks I hang out with on Twitter are an engaging bunch. It’s them that make Twitter so rewarding, not any feature Twitter has built or might build.”
That’s the crusade App.net must take up. The new microblogging network needs to convince users that paying for a service they’re already using for free is worth it. Only time will tell is Caldwell and his team have what it takes to put a chink in Twitter’s armor. Do you think it can legitimately compete with Twitter?