Ready for a better Twitter? Dalton Caldwell, a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, is trying to build just that. App.net looks a lot like the original with a few key differences. The service features zero advertising and users are allowed to drone on a bit more: Twitter's 140-character limit has been expanded to a more verbose 256. What's more, the service is completely open, meaning third-party developers are free to build new services on top of it. Caldwell, whose resume includes music site iMeem and the Instagram-like Picplz, originally floated his idea in a blog post called "What Twitter Could Have Been," which outlined his disappointment with Twitter's attitude towards outside developers and the obtrusive presence of sponsored tweets. He's funding App.net with a Kickstarter-like donations page, offering new users the handle of their choosing for $50 a pop — and his plan seems to be working. Though he originally hoped to raise $500,000 by Aug. 15, App.net has already acquired 12,000 enthusiastic backers, amassing over $800,000 in initial funding. Could a minimalist new ad-free Twitter be the next big thing?
It's incredibly promising: I still find Twitter rewarding, but the concept of App.net appeals, says Harry McCracken at TIME. A community built around people willing to pay "can keep the focus on users rather than trying to please advertisers," theoretically elevating the level of discourse. App.net reminds me of BIX, one of the best social networks I ever joined (in 1988). It cost $99 a year, and was a dial-up, text-only creation. And yet, "the quality of discussion was very, very high." If App.net approximates BIX, "I'd be thrilled."
"App.net: Both Twitter clone and anti-Twitter"
App.net doesn't have a chance: "I hate to be the spoil-sport," but App.net is better as an idea than a reality, says MG Siegler at Massive Greatness. Its problem is two-fold: First, Twitter already exists. Second, a user-supported service can never reach the scale of a free service like Twitter and so will never get a chance to challenge Twitter. Take a look at Google+, which is trying to be Facebook when Facebook already exists. "App.net looks like the hero right now only because it hasn't had the opportunity to become the villain. And it probably never will."
"You either die a hero or you become the villain"
App.net wants to be bigger than Twitter: App.net wants to be more than just an app or a Twitter alternative, says Mathew Ingram at GigaOm — it wants to be the next email. Of course, users can already send an email to anyone else on the internet using a variety of services, like Gmail or CompuServe email. App.net doesn't want to simply be one of those service: It wants its form of short-burst communication to be the web's go-to. Good luck.
"Think App.net is just a Twitter clone? Then you're missing the point"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The 10 best networking tips for people who hate networking
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- 11 scientific studies that will restore your faith in humanity
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- Why baseball is America's most dangerous spectator sport
- 9 Harvard dropouts who became fabulously successful
- Why the West should accept ISIS as a sovereign nation
Subscribe to the Week