When App.net became a thing last summer, everyone thought it was a Twitter clone. That’s a huge marketing problem because most people in the startup community still don’t understand that App.net is offering a development platform for social products, one that comes with a clear business model that foregoes advertising, an active community of users, and exciting implications for improved UX across the app ecosystem.

I think the reason for this confusion is that Mixed Media Labs made a misstep last summer when they released Alpha, the app that demos their platform and API. They didn't do a good job of distinguishing the demo from the platform. Everyone thought App.net was Alpha. A writer on TechCrunch described it back in October as a pay-for-use Twitter alternative. The tech media didn’t get it, the public certainly didn’t either, and I think people still don't get it, but they need to because it could change the way we build social products much as Rails changed how we build web apps.

App.net makes building social apps easier

The value of the App.net from a developer perspective is that it’s an out-of-the-box social network, platform, and API that allows developers to quickly bring their ideas to life. I think that if App.net is going to be successful, they need to sell this vision apart from Alpha, and make it clear that App.net is where startup founders should build their next world-changing product, whether it’s built on the web, on Android, or iOS.

When pitching developers, App.net needs to focus on making it clear that they are offering a development platform for applications, providing much of the foundation required to build apps like Foursquare, Instagram, and Path. The built-in community also helps to decrease the barriers for rapid user adoption.

I like to think of the App.net platform as 'Rails for Social', providing developers with a framework that offers built-in functionality that's foundational to most social apps: user profiles, following/followers, public and private messaging, content streams, sharing for video, audio, and images, geolocation, and more to come. Beyond that, there’s also an app directory that helps new products get picked up, as well as a way for developers to get paid without having to go the advertising route.

The benefits to users are many and great

App.net could win over more monthly and yearly subscribers if they could convince developers to build more awesome products. There are clear benefits to users as more and better applications are built on top of the platform:

  • Users can use one account across all App.net products because they all share the same underlying architecture. This is awesome because it means that if a user downloads a new App.net product, all their profile info would be there, as well as their social connections who are also using that product. That's a big win from a UX point of view.
  • Users need not be subjected to advertising because developers can earn revenue through App.net's Developer Incentive Program. If that program scales, and if App.net were to support a product that grows to 400,000 users paying a $36 yearly subscription, that would be about $14.4 million in revenue for App.net, a percentage of which could be passed to the developers of that product.

It’s also worth noting that while App.net was founded in part to create a sustainable business not dependent on advertising, that developers are free to monetize their App.net products as they see fit, advertising included.

The long road ahead

Building this kind of platform and offering this kind of service is a huge undertaking. I’m excited that App.net taking on this challenge and interested to see whether competitors will start popping up in the coming months.