I’ve been wondering about my lack of enthusiasm for App.net. It’s certainly related to the $50/year fee, which seems a bit miserly. I can surely afford that, and I would like there to be a service that’s not beholden to advertisers as Twitter now appears to be.
Is it perhaps simply not worth $50/year to me? I don’t think that’s it. It’s a bit of a circular argument, but if all people - friends and peers - in my industry are all using App.net (as is looking increasingly likely), then, sure, it’s probably worth $50 to me - as is Twitter.
I think that’s actually the root of my worry though. It’s worth it to me and others like me, but at this price, it’s surely not attractive to all - especially those to whom Twitter doesn’t feel as ‘necessary’ as it does to me. Because of that, I don’t think it can be democratising in the way Twitter was (and is). No Arab Springs will fruit from communications on App.net.
Are there better ways? I would say yes.
One would be to allow users to sign up for free and charge developers of apps built on the service for access. This is also limiting, of course, but it doesn’t limit who participates in the service in the same way as the $50 upfront fee.
Another, and I would say better, way is a federated service like email. No-one (much to Facebook’s chagrin) runs “the email company”. Instead, email from all sorts of entities just works together using a common protocol. Federated Twitter-like protocols already exist. Of the the two I know best, the most high-profile is StatusNet, which is best known for powering identi.ca, and there’s also the newer BuddyCloud, which powers the synonymous BuddyCloud.com service. Both of these will interoperate with other providers using the same protocol. Unfortunately, neither of these protocols have caught on. They still may yet, but I don’t hold my breath - they lack the momentum that App.net seems to have generated, and I don’t see a way for them to build it.
App.net is a gated community in a dystopian society, not the altruistic public good it’s presenting itself as. Can’t we create a better society instead?