App.net: Twitter or Facebook without ads, would you pay?

(CNN) -- Sure, lots of folks might be excited about a Twitter-like social network with no ads or annoying "promoted tweets."

But would they pay for it?

The founders of App.net think so, and so far they've found more than 10,000 people who agree with them.

The startup promises a "real-time feed" that will never be supported by ads. Instead, they'll charge a fee that, at least for now, looks to be about $50. That's how much it took to support a Kickstarter-like fundraising campaign that has netted more than $670,000 and wraps up Monday.

Founder and CEO Dalton Caldwell says he's been disappointed by the advertising models of sites like Twitter and Facebook and thinks users will be willing to plunk down money for an alternative.

"If we're selling a service, our customers are our users and our job is to make our users happy," he said in a video promoting the service. "If we have a free, ad-supported service, our customers are our advertisers and our job is to make our advertisers happy.

"I think that a lot of the friction we're seeing from these disappointing services are just a reflection that all the financial incentive has to do with pleasing advertisers and not the user base."

The logic contains plenty of not-so-veiled swipes at both Twitter and Facebook. After gaining widespread popularity with no real means of making money, Twitter has begun selling promoted tweets, promoted trends and promoted accounts.

But it's also kept a firm grip on its ecosystem by not allowing much leeway for outside developers to tinker.

Caldwell promises to do the opposite.

The multibillion-dollar profits of Facebook come primarly from advertising, leading to a commonly repeated line that Caldwell appears to echo: "If you're not paying for a service, you're not the customer -- you're the product."

(If that wasn't clear enough, there's also the bristly open letter Caldwell wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier this month, in which he pledges "to never write another line of code for rotten-to-the-core 'platforms' like Facebook or Twitter.")

But the question remains: Will users be willing to pay to use a social network? It would be a model that's never been successful before.

Michael Gartenberg, a tech-industry analyst with research firm Gartner Inc., sees some potential. Avoiding ads and opening the service up to developers could offer a glimpse at what Twitter could have become if its creators took a different path, he said.

"I think people are getting hung up on the $50 thing right now," said Gartenberg, who predicts that a membership fee for App.net will ultimately be less than that.

"It was about, 'Are people serious enough about this as an idea to put $50 on the line to help try to create the kind of service they want?" The success of their fundraiser "shows there's definitely a demand," he said.

According to the fundraiser, $50 amounts to "pre-paying a full year of 'member' tier service." Developers pay $100, and big spenders who pony up $1,000 -- as of Monday morning, 60 folks had pledged that much -- get developer access, phone support and a meeting with Caldwell in San Francisco.

This isn't Dalton's first crack at social media.

In 2003, he co-founded iMeem, a social site on which users shared music and videos, and in 2010 launched PicPlz, a mobile photo app that allowed users to add visual effects. iMeem was acquired by Myspace and, in June, PicPlz announced it was shutting down as Facebook-aligned Instagram continued to dominate the photo-sharing space.

Is App.net bound for the same fate? Other efforts that generated initial buzz have faded.

Most notably, Diaspora became one of Kickstarter's first success stories, raising $200,000 in 2010 to launch a "privacy-aware," open-source alternative to Facebook. But it took months to actually launch and, two years later, remains a relatively tiny network that's home only to the most dedicated techies.

App.net "is a really interesting experiment," Gartenberg said. "Time will tell if there's a business here. But when Twitter started, I don't think anyone knew there was a business there either. It was a way to tell people what you had for lunch."

App.net is currently open in an early "alpha" version for donors. Caldwell emphasizes that a great deal of work needs to be done before the platform is finished. But he wanted to provide something to show backers that the service is on its way.

"Along these lines, there are still a great many questions that need to be answered before App.net should be thought of as an operating service, rather than just an alpha prototype," he wrote.
 
™ & © 2012 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments

Read more

Can dogs read? Dog trainer Maureen Ward says she taught her mini Australian Shepherd how to read Can dogs read? Dog trainer Maureen Ward says she taught her mini Australian Shepherd how to read

If you think a smart dog is one who can roll over or shakes hands on command, you haven't met Mia. Mia, can read. Or at least Mia's owner says she can.

Scan reveals 1,000-year-old mummified monk hidden in statue Scan reveals 1,000-year-old mummified monk hidden in statue

A golden statue of a sitting Buddha, smuggled from a temple in China to a market in the Netherlands, revealed an extraordinary secret -- a 1,000-year-old mummified monk.

'Slurpee' waves hit beach in frigid Nantucket, Massachusetts

After months of deep freeze, one Massachusetts photographer captured some chilling beauty when ocean waves turned to slush.

Here are the worlds Here are the worlds' most popular natural wonders

Want to visit the most popular national parks and nature preserves around the world?

Most popular US dog breeds in 2014: Labs extend record as US top dog, but bulldogs make waves Most popular US dog breeds in 2014: Labs extend record as US top dog, but bulldogs make waves

America's fondness for Labrador retrievers is still setting records, but bulldogs are breaking new ground.

Dino Ferrari: Italian fisherman claims he caught 280-pound catfish last Thursday along the Po River Dino Ferrari: Italian fisherman claims he caught 280-pound catfish last Thursday along the Po River

Assuming the world isn't being hooked, this would not be the first time someone has caught a whopper of a catfish and lived to tell the tale.

Disney Disney's 'Elsa' arrested for freezing fountain in Hanahan, South Carolina

Police in South Carolina are doing whatever they can to try and thaw out the long, frozen winter.

Busch Gardens welcomes new baby cheetahs Busch Gardens welcomes new baby cheetahs

Busch Gardens Tampa has welcomed two new three-month-old cheetah cubs.

Shelby Hudgens: Helpful homeless man gets help himself after good deeds caught on camera Shelby Hudgens: Helpful homeless man gets help himself after good deeds caught on camera

A Colorado Springs, Colorado homeless man is receiving an outpouring of support after his good deeds were caught on camera.

Pedestrians swallowed by sinkhole in South Korea (VIDEO) Pedestrians swallowed by sinkhole in South Korea (VIDEO)

Two pedestrians in the city of Seoul, South Korea, disappeared into a sinkhole, and it was all caught on tape.