App.net, a paid social platform being built as an alternative to ad-supported Facebook and Twitter, surpassed its $500,000 crowdfunding goal this weekend, raising more than $700,000 from more than 10,000 backers as of Monday morning.
The project was launched by Dalton Caldwell, who previously founded photo sharing app Picplz and music streaming service imeem. App.net began as a paid service for mobile application developers to get distribution and track performance data. Caldwell has refocused App.net to become a real-time feed API & service that he promises will never monetize with ads. Instead, users and developers will pay for access. App.net’s focus on the real-time feed puts it closer to Twitter than Facebook, but Caldwell’s vision is to create a legitimate alternative to what he calls the “advertising-supported monoculture” of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others “vying for the opportunity to sell you/your clickstream to advertisers.”
Earlier this month Caldwell wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg expressing frustration with the Facebook platform, claiming that the social network protects its advertising business at the expense of developers and users. He says Facebook tried to acquire his company after he had begun working on a service that Facebook saw as competitive to its own App Center. He also called out Twitter for pursuing an ad-supported model rather than being an open API-focused platform.
“Personally speaking, I am resolved to never write another line of code for rotten-to-the-core ‘platforms’ like Facebook or Twitter,” he wrote.
The result is a basic-looking alpha site with profiles, 256-character updates, a real-time feed and asymmetrical following structure similar to Twitter or Facebook Subscribe. The platform, which released the API less than a week ago, already supports about two dozen third-party apps for the web and mobile. For now, the community seems mostly made up of developers and other early-adopter tech types who paid $50 or $100 to support the project. There are also 60 backers who donated $1,000 to the effort.
The App.net team has a lot of work to do as far as building features and infrastructure, as well as putting together a terms of service, Caldwell acknowledges in a blog post. Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, will be determining a growth strategy. All services, but social networks in particular, are greatly defined by their early users. Few services are able to make the leap from niche community to mass user base, and the network effects of Facebook and Twitter are perhaps stronger than ever. Still, there is growing frustration and distrust among many Facebook users. Whether or not a developer-first platform can evolve into a genuine alternative to the existing social networks will be interesting to follow.
In 2010, four NYU students set out to create a nonprofit, user-owned, distributed social network called Diaspora. That effort garnered a lot of media attention and even a donation from Zuckerberg himself, but has made little dent since then. The social network’s so-called “pods” are hosted by many different individuals and institutions, with each pod operating as a personal web server. There are currently about 333,000 active Diaspora accounts, according to the site.