My take on app​.net

As a fair­ly pro­li­fic pos­ter and emo­tio­nal­ly invested par­ti­ci­pant in app​.net who is not immu­ne to the emo­tio­nal tur­moil that has deve­lo­ped sin­ce the Sta­te of the Uni­on pos­ting, but par­ti­cu­lar­ly over the last few days, I want to sha­re my per­so­nal per­spec­tive on the deve­lop­ment of app​.net and a few thoughts that I have regar­ding pro­jects set up to be a suc­ces­sor-in-spi­rit of sorts.
As the­se things go, the­se obser­va­tions are pure­ly my own. I am acu­te­ly awa­re that I only have the limi­ted per­spec­tive of a regu­lar user. I know not­hing about the inter­nal dealings of app.net’s foun­ders, their rela­ti­ons­hip to inves­tors and tho­se par­ties prio­ri­ties. I try to not make assump­ti­ons about them, but I might be fai­ling at that in a few points.

The ori­gi­nal out­look of having an alter­na­ti­ve to Twit­ter – a pro­duct in many ways ali­gned more with ide­als of one who grew up in an Inter­net that was not pri­ma­ri­ly dri­ven by a quest for ad reve­nue – was so pro­mi­sing I backed the ori­gi­nal crowd­fun­ding dri­ve fair­ly quick­ly. As soon as I had access to the sys­tem, I fair­ly quick­ly spent less and less time on Twit­ter and more and more time on the micro­blog that was app​.net at that time. New cli­ents emer­ged, peop­le put in time and ener­gy to sup­port a gro­wing infra­st­ruc­tu­re. It was fun to be the­re. But not long after the pro­ject took of, the first high-pro­fi­le per­so­na­li­ties left the net­work: @gruber and @marco, and a few others. The first cli­ents got aban­do­ned: moApp and appe­ti­zer – their aut­hors also lea­ving the net­work behind. But that didn’t chan­ge the tone of the net­work. Stuff still hap­pen­ed, the net­work still felt most­ly like being built up and being main­tai­ned.

But over time, things chan­ged. Sud­den­ly, we heard that Micro­blog­ging was not the pri­ma­ry focus of app​.net. Rather, it was about infra­st­ruc­tu­re and pro­vi­ding plum­bing to other, novel app­li­ca­ti­ons that were not about micro­blog­ging. Ten­ta­ti­ve steps were taken in that direc­tion, and a few apps did show up. Also, deve­lop­ment hap­pen­ed around the micro­blog­ging ser­vice that took it ent­i­re­ly new pla­ces: Pat­ter, Tre­e­view – all stuff that sim­ply was not pos­si­ble with Twit­ter. Stuff thought up and imple­men­ted by inde­pen­dent deve­l­o­pers, but depen­dent on the stuff app​.net pro­vi­des – and the micro­blog­ging com­po­nent .But the offi­ci­al line of foun­ders con­ti­nued to be that the micro­blog­ging stuff was only a show­ca­se app­li­ca­ti­on of the actu­al pro­duct, the infra­st­ruc­tu­re. Often-requested fea­tures on that side were not imple­men­ted; a few things in the API remain in a less-than-ide­al sta­te until today.

What app​.net did to encou­ra­ge new pro­ducts to take them up for their offe­rings, how they spo­ke to deve­l­o­pers who might have had an inte­rest in inte­gra­ting app​.net in their stuff I don’t know. And while the­re were new app­li­ca­ti­ons inte­gra­ting app​.net in their offe­rings (Sun­lit and Momen­to come to mind), it appears that they were more gea­red towards tho­se users who alre­ady were on app​.net ins­te­ad of brin­ging in new users who would also pay for their usa­ge of app​.net.

And as a deve­l­oper, I remain uncon­vin­ced of inte­gra­ting app​.net in pro­ducts. I do not see a bene­fit of using that infra­st­ruc­tu­re over using my own. The user base is not lar­ge enough to be inte­res­ting as a poten­ti­al tar­get audi­ence; and I would essen­ti­al­ly be brin­ging ano­t­her com­pa­ny custo­mers. Why would I not want to have that money come in to my own com­pa­ny? And I know for sure I am not the only one who sees things that way.

But what the shif­ting focus of the app​.net team also meant that the­re no lon­ger was com­mu­ni­ty manage­ment. The cul­tu­re degra­ded; and while many noti­ced and drew their own con­clu­si­ons, no chan­ges were insti­tu­ted to work against that. The­re were no role models or media­tors; things just went down­hill. But not loo­king at the com­mu­ni­ty seems to have been inten­tio­nal: no struc­tures were put in place to help tend the com­mu­ni­ty; no resour­ces were invested in making sure that the posi­ti­ve cul­tu­re of the ear­ly days was encou­ra­ged.

What I per­so­nal­ly take away from this? If you have a pro­duct, it pays off to have a clear, easi­ly-com­mu­ni­ca­ble value pro­po­si­ti­on. I do not see that in app.net’s case. If you start buil­ding a com­mu­ni­ty, you have to make sure you have the resour­ces to work with the com­mu­ni­ty and to shape it the way you want. And if you want your com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons chan­nel to be used by more than a very spe­ci­fic seg­ment of the popu­la­ti­on, you need to make sure that diver­si­ty hap­pens, becau­se only then are enough topics appa­rent enough that new peop­le com­ing in will find ways to con­nect. Just with­drawing and focus­sing pure­ly on tech­ni­cal aspects is – to me! – not the way that makes an endea­vor like that suc­ceed. Do I think it’s easy? No, not at all. Encou­ra­ging good com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on habits, set­ting good examp­les for new and old users is very hard work to get right. But I see litt­le alter­na­ti­ves to make an open net­work work.

 

 

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