App.net is something a little different. It is a “real-time social services” (Twitter clone), but one that has a marked difference – no ads. Twitter keeps going through the promoted Tweets and Hashtags feature, whilst keeping the service free for users. App.net is, instead, proposing to charge users $50 a year to be a member with a promise of no adverts.
Their argument for this is that ad-supported free services are at odds with user satisfaction, as advertisers are the customers and the users come second. Their model is different as the users are the customers and therefore are placed first, allowing for the best possible user experience.
It’s an interesting experiment. Just over $4 a month isn’t a lot to pay for something that works well and is engaging. The problem they will find, and indeed the reason they are running the project in a “Kickstarter-style”*, is to get people to pay they need to be able to promise a good and usable product. Twitter is fun because millions of people use it, it has taken them years to get to that point, and that is with a service that is free to join. The barrier of payment, even with the incentive of an ad-free environment, is not going to entice as many people all at once. That is why App.net will only launch if at least $500,000 worth of funding pledges are received by the 13th August.
This is quite a good incentive to join. That level of investment will result in close to 50,000 users (allowing that some will have paid for the higher payment tiers of $100 or $1000), plus those users should be committed to using the network – why else would you pay $50? Therefore, if all goes to plan, this might just work.
It is also refreshing to see the founders comfortable with brands using the service….
“We pledge that we, App.net, will never derive revenue from advertising in any manner. However, we don’t see any reason to restrict commercial messages from appearing on the service from accounts a user follows. If you don’t want messages from a brand – or anyone, for that matter – you simply stop following that brand.”
Traditionally I have been from the “everything should be free” school of thought when it comes to online services, mostly because I grew up using the internet in the 90s when everything was, and I have become used to the Google model of ads funding free services. Indeed, paywalled news media I believe to be a very poor idea and have so far seemed to be a problematic way to fund content.
On the flip side I have found paying for premium tools, such as those that facilitate social media and project management, is beneficial – more like paying for software. How App.net is received remains to be seen. It will be interesting if it succeeds because it will change the way we approach online services and will show a successful alternative funding model to that used by Google, Twitter and Facebook. I won’t be signing up now but I will not rule out joining in the future if it works, and my brands will follow.
*Kickstarter does not allow these kinds of projects and so App.net have had to build their own funding platform to accept pledges.
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