App.net dreams of a brighter future for social networking

Dalton Caldwell is unhappy with Facebook, and he doesn’t care who knows it. He is one of many developers behind App.net, a paid social networking service that a group of frustrated but hopeful developers want to build for everyone who is fed up with advertising taking precedence over members.

The team behind App.net started its Kickstarter-esque funding drive on July 13th, but with just 10 days left until the $500,000 goal needs to be met, the project isn't even halfway there. App.net will not be launched if it does not reach its goal. If App.net hopes to reach its funding goal in time, it will need to stir up more attention than it has so far. That’s where Caldwell’s open letter to Mark Zuckerberg comes in.

The letter is not an attack on the employees of Facebook, but rather the model the company has instituted to sustain itself. Caldwell explains that he feels Facebook shuts out developers with good ideas because it does not want to have to compete with anyone; acquiring them is much easier. At the end of his long, informative letter, he predicts the downfall of Facebook, Twitter, and all ad-fueled social networking:

I believe that future social platforms will behave more like infrastructure, and less like media companies. I believe that a number of smaller, interoperable social platforms with a clear, sustainable business models will usurp you. These future companies will be valued at a small fraction of what Facebook and Twitter currently are. I think that is OK. Platforms are judged by the value generated by their ecosystem, not by the value the platforms directly capture."
A portion of the App.net interface. [Credit: Ian Mintz/App.net]

The question is, are people willing to pay for what they can already have for free? It’s an age-old question, sure, but Facebook has proven time and time again that despite massive changes with overwhelming disapproval from its community, its membership numbers continue to grow.

App.net has the monumental task of proving that paid membership without advertising is preferable to a free system. It will not be an easy road (providing the project is even fully funded), but as soon as someone can do paid social networking successfully, the entire online ecosystem could begin to shift.

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