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App.Net goes free. Hopefully not into free-fall.

The Twitter-alternative social network known as App.Net (ADN) has gone free, in a way, as of today.

Launched initially as a paid service, ADN has had a special feel about it as the signal-to-noise ratio is excellent, with spamming non-existent, and actual conversations between what seem to largely be real people. The value proposition was that being a paid service, we users were the customers, not the product.

In the press release today, ADN founder Dalton Caldwell (@dalton) was almost apologetic in his justification for introducing free accounts. More importantly, however, he overviewed the ways in which the free accounts will be limited. Apart from having to be invited by a (paid) member of ADN, there will be other restrictions…

Free tier accounts are similar to paid tier accounts, but with a few limitations. These limitations are as follows:

  • Free tier accounts can follow a maximum of 40 users
  • Free tier accounts have 500 MB of available file storage
  • Free tier accounts can upload a file with a maximum size of 10 MB

Over the last few months, ADN has dropped it’s subscription price, and then added storage space for use with apps. It looks like they’re trying to get app developers to use ADN as a backend with a social network attached, rather than a Twitter alternative social network with a back end attached.

Marco Arment (@marco) sums up a key issue with ADN’s confused value proposition:

Worse yet, if I build an app that requires App.net, it still effectively requires a paid App.net account for my customers to use it, because the chances that they’ll already have been given a free-account invitation from another member are nearly zero.

A major problem with Twitter is that as a freemium service, we users are the product which Twitter sells to its advertisers. The signal-to-noise ratio is out of control, with a lot of spamming, and predominately broadcast based messages from various celebrities.

ADN offered us an alternative world, but it looks clear to me that this world has failed to get sufficient momentum. High profile users like Stephen Fry have dropped their accounts, and powerhouse users like John Gruber, John Siracusa and others have reduced their participation.

I suspect that ADN is confused about what their product actually is.

  • Is ADN a social media network? If so, where are the users?
  • Is ADN a storage platform? If so, what is the compelling proposition against Dropbox, Amazon S3 or CloudApp? And why would we pay for it in addition to the cost of the app?

I want ADN to survive and thrive. But as a founding user, I am not at clear anymore as to its value proposition. I hope that by going free, ADN isn’t starting down a path to a free-fall.

I am @desparoz on ADN. Come and say g’day.

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