Things You Notice About App.net

OK, I’m in. I’m using App.net. Well, “using” is a stretch; I’ve got no followers, and even disgruntled Red Sox players have sent more messages this month than I have. But I’m warming up. And I’ve noticed a few things.

If you don’t know what App.net is, but you’re inclined to find out (a group that I imagine is fairly small), you’d be well served to watch the service’s intro video. My stab at an explanation: App.net is an attempt to create a new, crowd-funded platform that can support important social internet applications - and their version of Twitter is already here.

Coming from a Twitter background, here’s what I’ve noticed about App.net so far. Feel free to send along corrections (and/or Red Sox trade suggestions).

• There is no word for a “tweet” yet. (I’ll call the App.net version a “post” to avoid confusion). I don’t know if this will be a top-down decision, crowd-sourced, or something emergent. Maybe there won’t be one. But if there is, it won’t be “tweet”.

• There is no official way to “re-post” (ahem, re-tweet) yet. You can of course quote a post and give credit, but there is no systematic way to do so, and no informal vernacular has been established. Obviously, “RT” won’t really fit (see #1).

• Posts max out at 256 characters, not 140. (Editorial note: this changes things a ton for the better, and very little for the worse. The soul and poignancy that comes from crafting a great short message remains; but the constraints start to evaporate. It’s still perfect for one-liners and little jokes, but 83% more space seems to enable 1000% more subtlety, nuance and thoughtfulness. And since Twitter’s original limit was famously based on SMS text-messaging limits, there’s really no reason not to rethink the exact character count, while retaining the spirit of the “short status” idea.

• Conventions like “@” and “#” work exactly the same way as they do on Twitter.

• There is no official way to favorite a post yet.

• There is no way to create and/or share lists yet. (Editorial: as someone poking around for people to follow, this would be very useful to me, and I hope it’s a high priority.)

• There is no way, officially or unofficially, to Direct Message somebody yet; likewise, there are no such things as “Private” or “Locked” accounts yet. How to handle private posts and/or accounts is up for debate.

• When you follow somebody, you see everything they write in your timeline - including @’replies to others. On Twitter, those aren’t private, but they aren’t shown to you either.

• You can reply to, and be included in, a conversation without explicitly @’replying somebody in it (which to my knowledge isn’t how Twitter works) - but they won’t be notified about it unless you include their handle.

• I might be missing something, but you don’t seem to be able to link directly to single posts if they are part of a conversation - just a conversation view with individual posts highlighted.

• There’s no native way to attach a photo to a post.

• There’s no systematic URL shortener like Twitter’s t.co, and It’s not clear how URLs will be counted against the 256-character limit. I’ve even heard rumblings of hyperlinking, which would obviate the issue.

• The web client (alpha.app.net) is surprisingly robust, though it’s only handling traffic from several thousand users (instead of Twitter’s several hundred million). Still, it’s a very solid first effort for an alpha product. (Editorial: I’d like inline access to conversations, but again, that’s the point: it’s my job to find, support and/or build the App.net client I’d like to use.)

• The founder, Dalton Caldwell (@dalton), is very responsive. Updates to the product happen regularly, and now (seemingly) with community input.

• The global stream - a running view of every post, by everybody on the service - is still modest enough to read every single thing. There are currently a couple of posts a second at App.net’s busiest times. (I’m not even sure bots can keep up with the Twitter firehose.)

• There isn’t yet spam on the service (well, there is a guy who re-writes other’s posts to make them about butts and farts, but when Twitter spam is your context, the “butt” guy sounds like he’s reading the Magna Carta).

• The people include a ton of social media and tech thought leaders, and unsurprisingly, a ton of people who care about the future of Twitter. The average IQ seems really, really high. I’m sure I’m part of a wave that’s bringing down that curve a bit, but again, there is a “butt” guy there already.

• There are no ads or “sponsored” posts on App.net. There won’t ever be, natively.

• …which means you have to pay to interact with the service - right now, $50 gets you started as a member, and $100 gives you the right to use developer APIs - and that’s just for one year of access. Current purchasers understood (well, at least I thought it was implied) that those initial prices included some “let’s get this off the ground” padding, but it’s not clear what the pricing model for future access will be. The way the service reacts to its first wave of users and matures over this initial year will make all the difference there.

• This is kind of hard to wrap one’s head around, but conceptually, App.net is bigger than “building a better Twitter” - if I’ve got this right, it’s about creating sustainable, open “plumbing” that will enable all kinds of social networks to talk to users and each other. Unpopular changes at Twitter made creating a “Twitter-esque” service powered by App.net an attractive first demo, and likely a very useful long-term project, but it’s by no means the overall goal of the service.

(Editorial: it’s been said that Twitter and Facebook have crossed a threshold from startup social services to “internet plumbing”, like http and email. It can be debated if that’s true or not; App.net is essentially based on the idea that a) it is true, and b) logically, you want plumbing-level stuff run by people who want to make the best plumbing possible, not people who want to make money and don’t care how they have to change and rip up existing, proprietary plumbing to do so. It’s Twitter right to change its terms of service, change the access points to its technology, change its business model and change its architecture; and they are in the process of doing just that as they figure out how to make money. App.net is saying social networks like Twitter have become too important allow them to be unreliably yanked around in the name of making one group a profit, and it’s time to start treating them like utilities - if you’re a consumer, pay fairly and get access to the service; if you’re a developer, pay fairly and get access to the common good that you can build upon. Some say that’s utopian, but to me, it’s no more utopian than the actual plumbing that runs through our neighborhoods today. Which actually is pretty utopian if you think about it.

From my perspective, App.net is an experiment that must happen to see if it’s a plausible response to the changes at Twitter and Facebook. I mean - what’s the alternative, “nationalizing” popular social delivery platforms like Twitter in the way countries previously have done to infrastructure with a universal interest, like plumbing, railroads, highways, telephone and internet networks? It’s worth $50 to me to find out.)

• In light of the above, “App.net” is a) a fitting name for the plumbing project, and b) kind of a confusing name for the “Alpha” Twitter-esque client service. It seems like they should be split apart; I’d call the status update service “256” or the like, so you could say “yeah, I’m on 256 - it’s powered by App.net”.

• Despite the fact that App.net makes any kind of client service possible, the dream of a “unified” Twitter/alpha.app.net client is mostly dead because of Twitter’s new restrictions on what developers can build. Which is why App.net was created. Which made the idea for a unified client attractive. Which is what Twitter is intentionally quashing. Which is why… but, you get the idea.

So, I’m here, I’m not sure what I’m doing, I’m learning and I’m enjoying it. Sounds like everything else on the web I’ve ever liked. I hope it works out.

  1. m-willis posted this