Is App.net the new John Galt?
Not really, but there’s something similar going on here.
Remember Pinboard? That was the hot, retro, paid bookmarking website - a Del.icio.us replacement - that was heavily promoted by tech bloggers and the inside-crowd a few years ago. It’s still alive and staying true to its retro-cool, HTML circa 1995 look, and as of a year ago boasted 15,000 users. The Internets tell me Delicious, in comparison, had a million or more users.
Pinboard defenders will point out that (1) they don’t really care about numbers, and (2) Pinboard makes money (perhaps even enough to be sustainable) unlike Delicious which has been bouncing around from one owner to another. Both points are correct. But the real question is, why hasn’t Pinboard’s model worked for more users? What is the lesson that it offers as an experiment?
App.net, which is nothing new as an alternative to Twitter, raises the same question today. For the answer, take a look at the public feed, which is eerily similar to Google Plus, where a majority of posts are either about the service itself or are earnest if strained content generation by the converted. One App.Net’er claims, in an AppNutella (my term for an AppNet tweet; it’s terrible) that has been ReAppNetted by many, that the usage of the service is a moral issue: “Pay for software you use” i.e., this is beyond a question of business model! It’s a moral crusade. People using free services are immoral bastards!
If by now you are not hearing echoes of John Galt, let me lay out my wacky argument in better detail:
- A small set of well-appointed insiders decide that the public is freeloading and rebel against the injustice of it all.
- So they retreat to a private enclave protected, by mountains or some such in the case of the elusive Mr. Galt, and by a $50/year fee in the case of App.Net. And no I don’t drink coffee at Starbucks, so we can dispense with the “price of a coffee” shaming. $4/month is about 10% of what people pay for the entire pipe (yes, the Internet is a series of pipes; Ted Stevens was right). If they paid $4/month for Twitter/App.Net, $10/month for Facebook, $5/month for Flickr, $2/month for Pinboard, $3/month for Instapaper, so on and on, there won’t be any imbibing of fashionable tar sludge from Seattle.
- And on a meta point, this 1% elite convinces a small but significant following to identify themselves with the movement (and attendant eliteness) to pontificate about the morality of it all.
Come now, you must see some similarity?
Oh yes, Twitter is despicably playing with app developers like mice (though at least two developers — Tweetbot, Twitterific — do not seem to mind). And yes, people writing software need to make money. It’s just not very clear how posturing is going to solve these problems. A tiered pricing model might do the trick i.e., if the intent is to really serve as a better substitute for Twitter.
Attribution: The technique of adding a question mark to legitimise a preposterous claim is owed to FoxNews.