A select bunch of social media idealists are now taking up residence at App.net, the would-be status update safe house for consumers running away from advertisers and developers seeking refuge from hostile platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The network charges its members $50 for rent in exchange for freedom and trust. The only caveat is that enough people have to financially back the cause if App.net is to exist. The project needs to raise $500,000 from supporters by August 13 should it wish to live on for at least a year. As of this afternoon, close to 2,000 people have pledged a total of $154,400, which means Caldwell and team have just 10 days to rally the troops.
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Friday’s early release is an alpha one, and the consumer-facing web app will certainly disappoint the person who expects a better Twitter on day one. But the release has been purposefully timed to give early backers and supporters more than a little glimpse at the platform.
For Caldwell, it’s both an opportunity to prove that his platform is anything but vaporware — an accusation thrown around by disbelievers — and a way to stimulate excitement around the social experience. The latter is clearly the case, at least on App.net, where early users are praising Caldwell en masse and gushing about the platform’s potential.
The product itself echoes the simplicity of Twitter’s status update network with streams, follow buttons, profiles, mentions, and so forth. It also gives members a tad more space in the form of 256 characters to opine as they see fit. The network is lacking in several features, including avatars, cover photos or backgrounds, a way to tell when you’ve been followed, notifications, photo uploads, or anything fancy or flashy. That’s partially the point.
App.net the web app is really just a proof of concept, Caldwell explained to me earlier this week. The real dream is that developers take the API, which already exists, and create the fun tools that make this communication channel useful. Mobile applications, desktop clients, product clones repurposed for other uses, Caldwell wants it all. He doesn’t care that he won’t get to own the experience. In fact, he’d prefer it that way.
The service, however, won’t stay alpha forever. Caldwell has plans to push out updates rapidly and make fixes to the interface and add new URLs later today, he told me. The service is opening up to just a small group of people today. All backers will get access at a later date.
What App.net lacks in features it more than makes for in spirit. It’s as if Caldwell has pushed the reset button on Twitter and gone back in time to rewrite history, this time attempting to ensure that people feel safe and developers who take up residence aren’t thrown out on the street.
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