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App.net is shutting down (app.net)
339 points by antinanco on Jan 13, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 187 comments

So to recap, Twitter exploded onto the scene in 2007, the "fail whale" appeared a lot, developers made all sorts of wonderful programs hooked into Twitter, the fail whale disappeared, Twitter started to destroy the app ecosystem, App.net launched to great fanfare in response to Twitter's knuckleheaded anti-developer stance, Britney Spears and Justin Bieber arrived and knocked all the nerds out of the top spots on Twitterholic, Donald Trump came and bludgeoned everyone with his bombastic prose, and now App.net is shutting down.

And after all this, Twitter still does not have a viable business model.

> And after all this, Twitter still does not have a viable business model.

...more pertinently, App.net didn't have one either - and they had an open API, charged real money and did all the things HNers' idealized version of Twitter would.

Right - it seemed at the time it might become e an idealized version of Twitter. My hope was that by having to pay money to get in, it would keep out the shills and noise. I was a paid member for several years but it became clear that none of the people I followed moved so it became a ghost town.

> My hope was that by having to pay money to get in, it would keep out the shills and noise.

Interesting. I'd expect something entirely opposite - with one platform, pay-for-entrance, shills / marketers can just write the entry costs off as a small marketing expense. OTOH I can easily imagine a lot of smart people with interesting things to say shying away from spending money on such a platform.

It's not like using Twitter doesn't come with costs; you need to learn how to use it, you need to follow people to stay up to date, you should probably reply to some of the people tweeting at you; and last but not least, you also need to spend time on actually coming up with things to say. That's a massive time investment. The opportunity cost of that time is a lot more than the $5 app.net used to cost per month.

I assume that $5 a month is only a problem for occasional users -- but I doubt that those add a lot of value to the ecosystem (aside from higher numbers of total users signed up and other vanity metrics)

Many regular users start out as occasional users. A fee impedes this.

Maybe because the reason people use twitter isn't because it is useful but rather because


It is cool. So we must use it.


Everyone else is using it so we must use it too.


140 characters? Feature?

Everyone can read everything? Feature?

The two biggest technical "features" of twitter can be arrived at by dumbing down either google+ or facebook 98%.

I consider "everyone can read everything" one of the most important parts of Twitter.

I wouldn't use Twitter if it was limited to people I already know, for instance.

But every other platform has that as well.

It is just that twitter only has that option.

Facebook has become much less interesting once it started constantly reminding people about privacy options and almost everyone went from default-public to default-friends, or often even more restrictive settings.

They only did that due to user demand though. People didn't want their private life wide open for the world to see.

My problem wasn't default public but rather that I am fairly certain they retroactively made pricate stuff public.

Yes, but most other platforms don't have the same level of vibrant public discussions.

On things like Facebook, discussions are mostly between friends or "friends of friends", with no chance of an outside opinion, for instance.

Well going further than that, on Facebook, for a lot of people the majority of their 'friends' are school friends (for younger people often their entire school year, even the years above/below), and extended family, people that they feel obligated to add (due to Facebook's pressure to have a high friend count).

These are ultimately people they wouldn't choose to follow the conversations of at all, given the choice.

For me Twitter was like starting with a clean slate. I just follow the people I want to follow, basically no 'friends', just interesting people.

I have no idea why anyone even likes Twitter. Beyond broadcasting, there is nothing of value on it. Every tweet has absolutely inane replies. You can at least find some half-decent commentary in Facebook post comments, but Twitter is just insane babble

See, that's the funny thing. For me Facebook is full of inane babble and people being superficially nice to each other and incredibly ... provincial? It's like a bad sitcom.

Twitter on the other hand is full of interesting conversation, people speaking their mind, and great interaction and interesting insight. The amount of tech things I've learned from cool people on twitter is far far greater than Facebook.

Experience of both mediums prob depends on who you're interacting with. For me, Twitter is where the interesting people are.

Or as someone put it once: Facebook is for people you used to know, Twitter is for people you want to know.

How a social platform looks like to any given person depends on the people that person associates with. If twitter is inane babble to you that says more about what you did with twitter than about twitter itself.

In my field (marketing), it's overrun by spam.

And anytime I've looked at anything remotely political, I had to take a bath afterwards

Marketing and politics are probably the two worst areas to try to find any humanity in.

I use it for things like gaming, talking to locals (almost everyone I know in my current city I met through Twitter, or through someone I met through Twitter), getting local news, and keeping up with friends.

I haven't done anything with twitter. Technically I do have an account, but most times I visit the site, I'm not logged in. I can't find a way to get a toehold toward anything but inane babble.

Two reasons:

1. It's where the people are. I don't think anyone is 100% loyal to it, but you have to respect its reach.

2. Instant answers. I can get insight on news via Twitter well before I can get it anywhere else. On top of that, I can get it from the people I want, many of whom are Tweeting hours before they are able to get an article published. This is great for sports, politics, etc.

I personally don't use Twitter nearly as often as I once did, and I rarely find reason to Tweet, but I do enjoy browsing it from time to time.

Where else in can you follow DeepMind and FAIR researchers discussing the latest OpenAI research paper?

It seems to me that discussion is pretty much the opposite of inane.

For instance, infosec and developer community is mostly on twitter. Great for trolling and has clean interface unlike notorious Facebook clumsy UX.

Everyone has their own preferences. For exmaple, I have no idea why anyone even likes Facebook ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Twitter is the only Social Network I use.

Don't think of it in terms of technology, think of it in terms of people. We live in the future where not only can you watch your role models on TV, but you can also follow them on Twitter and read their daily thoughts and opinions in real time.

On Twitter you can banter around with famous people you'll never meet in real life and who won't friend you on Facebook.

You're forgetting that by the time app.net came up twitter was already "the" platform for this sort of stuff. App.net didn't improve on the model in any way. No awesome features, no additional value. It tried to compete with a service that's already used by millions with terrible branding (starting with the name) and a pricing model that's good for SaaS companies (because they work with business that use the solution to make money) with consumers (who don't).

Having a business model is nice. Having the right business model is essential. Twitter has a business model now, and while it isn't ideal it's in line with their type of product/company and if you scroll through some of the other comments this model isn't all that bad.

Twitter can improve it, but that's a story for a different thread.

Twitter finances (TTM):

revenue: $2.52B gross profit: $1.49B

It's only losing money because of stock grants.

> It's only losing money because of stock grants.

That's like saying "We're only losing money because we have to pay our staff"

They do pay their staff. Unfortunately the stock compensation was based on the … highly optimistic … story they told around the IPO about growing to be as large as Google or Facebook. Why spend prudently when you're about to be stupid-rich?

I can't count the number of companies I've seen die or collapse because of this mentality.

Okay, but don't these stock grants substitute for salary? It's not like Twitter could just stop granting stock with no ill effects.

They pay pretty competitive salaries as well. The stock grants will eventually roll off as people's plans vest and are replaced with smaller ones(new employees have been getting smaller ones for a while already)

NYT story on the matter: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/27/business/dealbook/twitter...

TL;DR -- Twitter paid out about $680M in grants

Which is a lesson in how VC can easily destroy a viable, profitable business with a "money-chasing-money" strategy.

How do you figure that?

1) VCs own hardly any shared of Twitter[1]

2) Stock grants are used as compensation for people working at Twitter, NOT something that benefits investors (except in the sense people are working at the company the investors invested in I guess).

It's easy to blame VCs for everything, but I don't see how this makes any sense at all in this case.

[1] http://www.recode.net/2016/8/11/12417064/twitter-stock-owner...

Who is in line for a buyout before other investors and at what multiplier? That information is usually not public and can be more important than what percentage of ownership a particular investor has.

They are a public company, with a single class of shareholder. They can all choose to buy or sell via the public market.

Your comments would make some sense if they were pre-IPO.

Derp, you're right. I'm an idiot.

Didn't USV invest in Twitter? Did they cash out after IPO?

>Didn't USV invest in Twitter?

They sure did. Fred Wilson (USV partner) has talked about it (Twitter as a portfolio company of USV) many times on his blog avc.com .

>Did they cash out after IPO?

Not sure.

Well otherwise what does it mean if they have a tiny part of an $18B company?

Ok got you. I had not read the OP. Interesting.

Twitter IPO'd over 3 years ago.

With the type and amount of attention Twitter maintains it has multiple, very viable business models. Notably advertising, data sales & company tools.

Also App.net charged money for use.

Did it? I remember registering lots of accounts just when it launched because I had a column in tweetdeck with a search that was something like "app.net/invite-code/" (all invite codes URLs started with the same pattern) so every time someone posted an invite URL I got a notification and I could register a new account ;^}

It was $50 per account when it first opened, you must have got in when they stopped charging (it was already dying out by this point) but used an invite system.

It was freemium. A free account with follow and storage limits and a premium at $36/year.

Yeah it's pretty ridiculous. Also, Twitter still has an anti-developer stance. For the shutting down of App.net despite Twitter's unchanged politics to make sense, I think it's because the Twitter model as a whole is dying (which obviously includes App.net and similar microblogging services). I hear Instagram and Snapchat is all the rage now. Ain't nobody got time to actually read text these days in the days of strongly social networkified attention spans.

I think we would all be better served if the blockchain could be replicated and tweaked to become a new public publishing platform that is the equivalent of Twitter today. Access to the blockchain would then become a function of clients who follow the established spec/protocol, analogous to browsers and the web today. There are a couple of startups that are already pursuing the idea, but I think that this could only become realistic if Twitter were to die.

Let's take all of Twitter's scaling problems and put them on a protocol design that's way more difficult to scale and optimized for entirely different access patterns and bandwidth requirements?

This seems like a entirely inappropriate application for blockchains. There are other more suitable P2P constructs we could create using similar ideas (which predated bitcoin) instead of jumping on a bandwagon.

Twitter has no issue making money: They made over a billion last year. Their problem is in growing: They have about the same users they had 2 years ago.

Maybe Twitter is fully grown. There will be some churn, but it's basically as big as it's going to get. With the current user base, they can generate billions of dollars in revenue.

The problem, then, seems to be with management and the board not understanding or maybe not accepting reality as it is. If they can figure out how to run Twitter with hundreds of people rather than thousands, they will have a great business.

I imagine they have fewer users than years ago -- I doubt they've been careful to remove _non-human-eye_ users from their MAU.

app.net never had the audience. Network effect is a real b##ch to overcome.

This is a refreshingly honest shutdown notice.

Congratulations to Dalton and co for trying something hard and worthwhile, and wrapping it up responsibly when it didn't pan out.

Not just honest, but a morally upstanding one.

Not sure what more you can do when the business isn't going well. 2+ years of maintenance, open sourcing, 2 months notice, data export, no additional billings.

Respect to Dalton and the team.

Open sourcing, data export and a 2 months notice forward are pretty respectful in my book. I wish these where standard procedures for the industry.

On the flip side, it was users demanding free service (under which I include gracious data export) that killed the product in the first place.

I hope we find a way to pay for this stuff more than I hope getting it free becomes standard.

Which is yet another example that the rise of free beer tools made the enterprise developers the only valued ones as customers.

What was “the product”? They got a ton of attention initially but it really felt like that was squandered by the poorly defined message about what you were paying for — especially when many proponents reacted to early “it's like Twitter but open” stories by saying they were wrong and it was something else entirely, possibly only for developers.

The primary memory which I have of that era are people not wanting to pay for something which wasn't clearly useful, shrugging, and going back to Twitter where most other people were. By the time app.net finally launched the free tier the self-inflicted damage was already fatal.

You're absolutely right.

The moment they allowed free accounts was the start of the end. The spam and the noise came. All the things we were trying to avoid. But they just wanted beefier numbers to throw around.

I developed quite a few apps on the platform and made a few thousand in the process. It more than paid the fees back and was totally worth it.

My sentiment exactly. And I agree with Dalton it was worth trying to see if it could fly.

It raises a lot of interesting questions about the sustainability of the "app economy" for me.

I appreciate both of your sentiments, thank you.

I continue to be at least somewhat optimistic that non ad-supported models are worth trying. It seems like Patreon is doing really well and is perhaps something we can all learn from.

I paid into the very beginning. It was never useful to me. I don't regret spending the money to see if it could work.

For me, the lack of apps/integrations made it essentially impossible for me to get the people I wanted to talk to on there on to there.

But I'm really glad you tried, I'm even more glad you've documented what did and didn't work, and I definitely got value for money.

Good luck with whatever's next.

Yeah, for app.net I think it was more chicken and egg that killed you than paid per se. Pay presents an especially difficult chicken and egg problem because not only do you have to get people to part with their time to sign up you have to ask them to pay for what may potentially be no value provided.

I remember trying to explain why it wasn't a stupid idea to people way back when it launched on HN, and had kind of assumed that it'd died years ago.


Hypothesis: If you can find a way to provide value while you build up the network, the product would do better.

Second hypothesis: If you can find a way to acquire valuable users with a low-effort funnel and 'leech' users with a paid funnel that would also make the product perform better.

Taking these as assumptions for a moment, this would imply a natural advantage for federated networks if they provide interoperability between different services that have value on their own without network effects.

I followed what you were doing at app.net with great interest when it launched. We were also building an app platform, but with a very different focus. https://qbix.com/platform . All our business models are NOT ad supported. Ads are "begging" the user to spend their time and maybe spend money. There are many ways to make money if you make apps for local communities.

We sort of took the tortoise approach to development, and this seems to have helped solve the chicken and egg problem with the userbase.

I will email you about it.

Let me also add - I'm really thankful that you tried so hard to make it work. I really had hopes for it but I guess, the environment was not right.

I'd be very curious to hear the kind of questions this raises about the app economy. Do you mean mobile apps? All software?

App.net was neither. It tried to be a platform for too many things for not enough people. So I can't see how its failure reflects on the economy and not just a bad idea.

Also it's pretty awesome to see a shutdown accompanied with an open sourcing. If every startup did this, we'd have a ton more open source code out there to play with.

> If every startup did this...

But then every startup would have to shut down!

So... Every startup? Except the big companies!

Isn't the failure rate of startups like 99% already?

Sad to see them go.

Mastodon, https://mastodon.social/, is a new and positive alternative. Mastodon is a free, open-source social network server. It's GNU Social-compatible and federated. https://github.com/tootsuite/mastodon

Diaspora is also still going strong with 20k MAU but there is no interaction between the pods https://the-federation.info/.

And there's also https://gab.ai if you're into free speech.

I just looked at their community guidelines and saw this:

Non-U.S. residents and citizens must follow the laws of their domicile pertaining to online conduct, communication and content. Gab AI, Inc. will respect the territorial sovereignty of nation-states and their applicable laws pertaining to online communications, though we urge governments of the world to consider Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

So does this mean they are willing to censor content from people who live in less-free countries based on those countries' laws even though they don't have to, being based in the US? Isn't that weird for a "free speech" network?

Free speech for the western world. Their admins are right-wing, so they are respectful of the sovereignty of all states and their laws/customs, as expected from people from the right.

On the other hand, there's Mastodon/GNU Social (what GP recommended) for people from the left, where they ban fascists/nazis, but they apply the same rules to users from all countries, as expected from people from the left.

It makes me kinda sad that these alternatives to Twitter are so politically polarised...

Mastodon the software is not politically aligned. mastodon.social the flagship instance of the developer (me) that simply runs/demonstrates the latest code, is, in this case, leaning left. You can run your own.

I remember trying to sign up for gab.ai back when Milo Yanopopopopoulos was advertising it, but getting entered on a wait list.

This is an unfortunate, but not unexpected, end of an era. App.net was created at a time when discontent was high with how Twitter was treating its users and 3rd party app developers. Even though App.net wasn't hugely successful, its existence provided a needed check against Twitter exercising user-hostile control over their platform.

However, it has not been a viable platform (one that people actually used) for many years, so while I am saddened that it is finally being shut down, I'm not surprised. Many thanks to Dalton and everyone who built it and kept it going these many years!

Did Twitter actually do anything in response to App.net?

App.net came out in 2012, and while I can't really remember the specific areas of discontent that I experienced with Twitter back then, here's an article I found:


I think what everyone was worried about back then was that Twitter was changing the nature of what Twitter was. Twitter started placing limits on API tokens, introduced new UI in the form of cards, which could also be used for ads, etc. There was a sense that the freedom and openness of the Twitter platform was quickly diminishing.

Twitter's response was basically no response, but in a good way. They slowed down making those sorts of radical changes, and to this day you can still browse Twitter with a 3rd-party app like TweetBot and never see cards or ads.

> They slowed down making those sorts of radical changes, and to this day you can still browse Twitter with a 3rd-party app like TweetBot and never see cards or ads.

TweetBot is older than the API cap, so did they roll that back? It was 100,000 users (or 2x current users if that was >100,000 which TweetBot probably was). So if they didn't roll it back I guess TweetBot would have stopped adding clients.

This is my first time hearing of App.net.

(This is something that happens for me regularly -- I "discover" something only by its shutdown notice making the HN front page...).

You realize that when App.net launched, it was on the front page of HN and with much discussion (relatively speaking)? Given your account's age, you were here. In 2010, Bitcoin made the HN front page and you could get 5 BTC for signing up for an email list; 3 years later 1 BTC was worth over $1k.

Sure, I realize that. But it seems I missed that initial event, and then everyone fell silent about App.net (nobody really continued to buzz about it).

Whenever stuff like this happens, I always wonder how many people, like me, hadn't heard of some service or product, and I wonder how many of them would have used it if they had. Would it have been enough to save the company from going under? Was it a marketing problem? I dunno, that's just the kind of strange places my mind tends to encounter in its errings.

It didn't need to. App.net was a "success" at first because the bigshots from the tech twitter-sphere all jumped over.

Problem was none of them actually stopped posting on Twitter, at best they just set app.net to mirror their Twitter never really engaging with the network because none of them were willing to give up their high follower counts they had from being early adopters of Twitter.

Too much ego to put up with the BS from twitter, yet also too much ego to give up their high follower counts.


It provided a check? How?

If people were dissatisfied with Twitter, they could leave and join App.net. If enough people did this and App.net reached critical mass, it could have become the default service of its kind.

Since the primary motivation for people switching to App.net was them getting upset at Twitter, they slowed down the frequency and breadth of the changes they were making to their service so as to upset fewer people and less frequently. In the end, this was a positive outcome for users that liked Twitter exactly the way it used to be and didn't want it to change.

Of course, Twitter's changes may not have been motivated by App.net at all, but even if not there was still an escape hatch for users if things got too bad.

> they could leave and join App.net

Except they couldn't. They had to be invited or pay for it. In those days circa 2012, it was a hype train among a niche crowd.

This seems like a good juncture to point out that GNU Social, OStatus, and the Fediverse still exist.

It still has some believers. Someone wrote a new implementation in Ruby called Mastodon recently, which has a nice interface.

I still think back periodically to https://github.com/buckket/twtxt. Fascinating project.

Do you know of a good tutorial on how to quickly get set up on one of these? I would gladly join but have never really been able to figure out how.

(I'm looking to self host.)

I would assume it's just a case of installing your chosen software package on a web server. I don't know how easy that is. The more mature packages are probably better-documented in this regard.

It took me about 15 minutes to install GNU Social just now (I already had a webserver with php and mysql)

I haven't tried mastodon, but gnu social is pretty easy. There aren't enough tutorials on installing it, but I've had luck with the following (which I'm quoting myself from having posted them to previous comments):

* https://www.codeword.xyz/2015/09/27/self-hosting-gnu-social/

* https://code.tutsplus.com/tutorials/revisiting-open-source-s...

For GNU Social, set up a ServerPilot stack on Ubuntu (it's a PHP/MySQL app and the ServerPilot stack works a-okay for this).

For Mastodon, deploy their Docker image?

App.net and Medium have the same issue (why advertising is more lucrative than selling blogging software directly to content creators):

Let's say for every one content creator that are on average 100 eyeballs on the content they create (1:100). Almost universally, the 100 eyeballs can be translated to more economic value than the 1, and hence why the advertising model is so lucrative.

App.net from what I understand wasn't so much trying to sell to content creators as it was trying to create a Social-Graph-As-A-Service thing. I thought the original pitch was essentially two fold:

build your network with App.net and users can basically just opt-in automagically importing their data from other App.net networks thereby reducing the friction and hopefully making it easier to over come the ghost-town problem.

build your network with App.net and tool makers (including you) automatically get a well defined/robust/tested API to write apps against to interact with your network.

The advertising model is "lucrative" because that's where all the money is shunted, because that's what MarCom knows how to do. There's a century and a half of advertising agencies who need to capitalize on their training, and the newspaper/TV model is what we've gotten for it.

Unfortunate. Goes to show that you really can't break even without ads or selling/analysing data with a centralised social network.

or put another way, "people don't want to pay for most things"

Or to put it another way, people care more about money than their own privacy.

Yep. I have a limited amount of money that I need to spend on more essential purchases. I'll happily trade my data/privacy for the right frivolity.

When someone starts letting me pay for groceries with my browser history sign me up.

If your browser history consisted of you shopping for groceries, would this be a self-paying system and eternal free food?

Good idea isn't it?

That would be thousands of dollars a year in value. Do you happen to have anything to offer besides your browser history? An email list perhaps?

For the right price I'm okay. I paid Netflix for an account but they use my data to train their algorithm and enhance their product. I don't know all the details behind their work. Am I not trading their privacy? Do I really know if they aren't selling my data my preference with another partner? Do I want to pay $$ for social network? I have to weigh what justifies cost for me; most of my friends won't pay for an account for Facebook, and because I enjoy having an online social network with my real life friends, I am okay for as long as Facebook doesn't sell my name to advertiser (they can track my browser history for sure and I know they do). I accept the risk and I keep a close eyes on my online activity so nothing backfires on me.

Don't think it's really about privacy in this case. I mean how can anyone seriously be a Twitter user and caring about their privacy.

Would be like standing in the town square screaming your thoughts into a loud speaker then being upset that everyone knows what your thinking.

Personally, I always wanted to see a site that has ads and is free to read, but charges a small fee to create an account - just to see if it would help reduce trolling and sock puppets.

Do you mean something like Metafilter? [0]

Anonymous users see ads. Authenticated users don't. It costs $5 for an account.

They have run funding drives but, to date, $5/user keeps the lights on and provides a small crew of moderators each a modest stipend.

[0] http://www.metafilter.com

Edit: spelling, grammar.

Or The WELL, which has the best interface hands down of any social network -- but it's filled with a homogeneous paste of same-aged, same-politics, same-favorite-Dead-live-bootleg Classic Nerd-Hippies.

SomethingAwful does this, it works.

Some variant of Sturgeon's Law?

Not necessarily. I'd make some comment about people's price elasticities (or maybe "people overvalue free"), but I'm not exactly sure what it would be.

you really can't break even without ads or selling/analysing data with a centralised social network

I don't think we actually know that as a fact, it's just that not much else has been tried.

I find cloud feadreader aren't that different at least from the view point of a passive reader. They seem to be profitable, by restricting free features. Like: only x feeds free to aggregate and a ~15 minute delay of all feeds. Search is also a pro feature. I also have the feeling twitter is extremely over engineered.

I applaud Dalton and Bryan for keeping ADN running for nearly 3 years after it ceased development. In truth, I think most of the users left back in May 2014, but it's still admirable that they kept it running.

If you'll excuse the self-plug, I wrote about the death of ADN back in 2014 and re-reading my post, I think it holds up.


I wonder how many people thought app.net was a Microsoft product.

Yeah, the name is confusing. It's like a pizza place named "Waffle Irons Direct".

Always felt like a case where they bought the domain name for another reason then one day decided to build a twitter clone.

Branding wise is made absolutely no sense.

I thought it's some kind of app store for android phones. Not sure why I made this association. But I guess their name might be one of the reasons of failure. It's simple and short, but doesn't really tell anything about the product.

Any association with the SharePoint people could and should doom a social network product. Or any product.

I like to call it ShamePoint. Nobody can possibly be proud of deploying that.

"We are also going to open-source the code behind App.net on our GitHub page."

Huge kudos for that.

I have the experience, that services with generic sounding domain names are never successfull. The only remotely successfull generic sounding domain site that I can think of is about.com

There are some exceptions, like messenger.com which I don't think is a counter-example. I think that messenger.com would be no-more or less successfull if it was named barf.com. People use it because facebook already has a foothold.

For those not in the know, what was app.net?

Twitter for $50/year

So a social network? weird name for a social network.

It wasn't meant to be just a stand alone social network/twitter clone. The idea was to allow developers to build apps on it (even their own twitter clone, why not?) and skip having to build a social graph themselves.

The original idea was to focus a lot on the API part of the site, so that developers can build all kinds of apps around the service, hence the name.

App.net combined two big ideas:

1. Social networks are important enough that a subscription model is viable

2. Social networks should be built on a platform for social network applications

Obviously neither idea could save app.net. Which idea caused most of the problems?

#1, but not inherently as much as for the effect it had on the consequences of other decisions: they launched with a hard pay-wall for the first couple years and that made the identity crisis fatal. They got a good deal of initial publicity but the first thing anyone curious got was a requirement that they pay to use it. That's always going to be a hard sell but it was especially bad when the messaging was so confused about whether it was a platform to build apps on, a Twitter competitor, etc. since the cost was real and up-front but any benefits were largely hypothetical based on enough other people deciding to pay at all and some of them building apps.

I think a subscription model could be viable with better execution but it really seems like that would be best with a tiered approach so the social network wasn't held back by the payment requirement.

I think your diagnosis is on target: "the cost was real and up-front but any benefits were largely hypothetical based on enough other people deciding to pay at all and some of them building apps."

But freemium is hard: Either you make a market for ads, and have intrusive data collection and analytics, and you have to compete with the most intrusive ad-supported products that already dominate the ad market and you become as bad as them, OR you have pure freemium and you have the question of how to make the up-sell compelling enough while keeping the free level of service interesting enough. The only good example of success at freemium is LinkedIn where they segmented their user population and only made the recruiters pay a very high premium price.

I suspect 1 is the big turnoff. It's really hard to make people pay for something they can get for free, with a better perceived value. App.net promised to have value in the future, but demanded payment upfront. Twitter offers immediate value without demanding any form of payment.

I sort of agree. App.net lacked value at launch because of the way it intended to build value - through apps on it's platform. That's inevitably slow just when you need to build take-off momentum, and there is no way to "prime the pump" except by throwing money at the problem and hoping you get the right apps.

Moreover, Twitter has a problem with churn. It's free to start, but baffling for many, and troll-infested if you stick around. All ad-supported social networks have that problem plus the invasiveness issue.


When a service shuts down, it'd be really nice of them to keep a mention of wth they were doing on their frontpage.

Still a good domain name. MS might be interested.

And then they launch a free platform, integrated with Windows 10 and Cortana, that competes directly with Twitter...

Building developer platforms is fun and exciting. Especially for the developers creating it, knowing that they are building a rockstar application for people just like them. Getting adoption and conversion to paying customers is so freaking hard and ultimately the end of the road.

I went down this road once (http://www.odatahq.com/) and loved every minute of it. I still look at what we made and find true joy in it. But the end game was typical of most developer platforms ...

I feel strange that this is the first time I've ever heard of app.net. I assumed it was something Microsoft related, apparently not. I suspect the combination of these things is why this failed.

Doomed to fail from the beginning. Horrible name which was leeched from Microsoft, and Twitter was clearly already so far ahead. AND THEY WANT ME TO PAY?

Really loved and appreciated what Dalton, Berg, and the team was able to build. It was an awesome community for quite a while. Great job and sorely missed.

IIRC YC had a bet in the subscription social network space for "family social networks." That has obvious problems with the growth model, similar to but different from Path which had an arbitrary limit on individuals' number of "true friends." Path was taking the word "friend" too literally. That got pivoted and/or rolled up. Where is it now?

Shutdown date according to https://alpha.app.net/: March 15, 2017.

Shutdown date according to http://blog.app.net/2017/01/12/app-net-is-shutting-down/: March 14, 2017.

Which date is correct?

Depends on which side of the International Date Line you are.

Laughing tears emoticon, a few times! :D

So... who gets the domain?

My thought exactly! Always loved the domain. :)

MMW : This domain will be sold a fortune.

I was an earlier user and still active to this day and it's sad but not unexpected to see them go. Their approach towards social networking business model was still a valuable experiment.

The difference, as always, seems to be user adoption and funding.

You need both for your project to succeed. This should not be underestimated.

The nice thing is that if your platform is decentralized, hosting is a non-issue and you just have to focus on adoption.

"give it ample time to bake" that was the strategy? having it sell itself?

They did try to sell it for a couple of years but by that point in 2014 I think they had essentially given up already. But the revenue was covering the hosting costs so it seemed sensible to just leave it going, and leave possibilities open.

as an entrepreneur, you should know when it's time to let go. either you continue the start-up a.k.a the experiment, and try to iterate towards a more successful direction - or you shut it down. I think standstill at such a point is really the worst of all options.

Good luck to Caldwell. It would be interesting to read his account on what he would do better if he could do it all over.

I wonder if the code base that they open source will become the basis for another decentralized social network?

They have said they will be open-sourcing the codebase. But it doesn't appear to up on their Github yet : https://github.com/appdotnet

If the launch would have been more humble maybe this wouldn't be such a spectacular failure.

They were trying to solve a problem, with a copy of the problem. Not surprised really.

Is app.net some social network? Why the name 'app.net' ?

App.net'S failures, IMO, were not a result of being too early as Dalton suggests. Instead, they failed at building a company. Confusing branding, wrong messaging, and ultimately a product without a need. That's why app.net failed.


less than 50000 downloads in Android and 60 reviews in AppStore in 5 years. I think you can get better numbers without marketing.

Seriously, whatever you do, you need to spend the same amount of time promoting it, otherwise no one will notice. 50000 downloads is nothing in 5 years, it is 2.7 users a day. If you are in SanFrancisco you can get more than 3 downloads a day just going to the street and talking with strangers.

And they got 2.5M in their series A. https://index.co/company/AppDotNet?utm_source=thenextweb.com

Where were their budget for marketing? At least I would have expected 500k in marketing and 1$ per install, them we can talk about the users not liking the product or whatever.

UPDATE: you can keep downvoting (I would appreciate a feedback comment to explain the downvote) but it doesn't change the fact that marketing is more important than the product and they didn't spend on it

I don't mean to pick on you, but this is getting tiring for me. When you say 'marketing' you mean advertising and promotion, because product definition is part of marketing. Sizing up the market and determining what to build is marketing (inbound), advertising and promotion is also marketing (outbound). I realize these definitions have been in flux, but I'm talking traditional MBA definitions. I feel a lot nuance is being lost on people who believe marketing is a sophisticated-sounding term for advertising and promotion.

> I don't mean to pick on you, but this is getting tiring for me. When you say 'marketing' you mean advertising and promotion, because product definition is part of marketing.

Well, you shouldn't judge me so fast. I have an MBA with marketing and I have been working on marketing for some time in my life. So I am aware what a marketing plan involves, and promotion is a small portion of it. I cannot suppose the founders knew all about marketing, but I would expect them to spend some money in promotion even if it not wise money.

Maybe you like this more. You have to do some marketing: define your product, know your users, define your goals, find the channels where your users are, target them, promote your product to those users in those channels, measure the results, analyze what happened and rinse and repeat. (that was also a small definition because marketing is still more)

I didn't judge you, sorry if it came across that way (that's why I said I wasn't picking on you specifically, but your choice of words; apparently, you even know better than that). It is just so ridiculous that I can find 10+ instances per day on HN where people use 'marketing' when they could more correctly write 'advertising/ promotion'.

Never heard of it

I'm a pretty active lurker on HN and I really had to think hard about what App.net was and why I might care. I think that is an indicator of why they might have had a hard time surviving. Even hardcore nerds didn't know about it so I really don't expect "normal" people to know about it. :(

This reeked of being dead the day it launched, so it's hardly surpising, but it's also tragic.

Why is it so hard to create a Twitter alternative that's popular and effective? Does the world tend to gravitate towards single standards for these things, like Facebook, HTTP or email?

Network effects, and the existing services being "good enough"

Yeah basically that. People don't want extensible services or open platforms. They don't want full control over their data. They don't want 100% privacy. These are all niche things that like less than 1% of people want. Most people just want a thing that does one basic job and does it good enough.

I can see how you would takeaway that perspective, but App.net never guaranteed what you laid out. It was proprietary just like Twitter. If App.net ever got mainstream traction, we have no idea if they would have held to those principles, and history tells they would not have. The free, open, federated network's time has still not come. Most people are still coming to grips with the existence of these social networks; they have not yet jumped to the conclusion that makes App.net make sense. I believe it will happen.

"Network effects" on the WWW are artificial. We need to update our laws so that neither users nor developers can be punished for using any non-disruptive browsing device. A browsing device is anything that consumes data and shows it to users later.

Little guys like App.net won't stand much of a chance against the behemoths until the U.S. legalizes competition against the tech cartels.

Once that happens, sites like App.net and Twitter can compete on an even footing, and consumers will be free to choose services based on merit rather than lock-in.

It's rare to see a service as entrenched as Twitter get displaced unless it's just not Good Enough in some capacity.

It's possible that if Twitter crumples under the weight of the abuse, if it becomes nothing but a dead sea of trolls, that we'll see a successful replacement.

Until then, muddle on!

This is one of the big problems App.net always had, in that it wasn't at all intended to be a "Twitter alternative". Alpha was supposed to be an example of what could be built on the platform, not the entire product itself.


We've banned this account for posting only uncivilly or unsubstantively.

Can I have my $75 back?

Kinda ominous that the main Twitter alternative right now is GAB.

It's only a Twitter alternative if people I care about will read what I write, or I can read what people I care about write.

Until most of the publishers are dual-publishing (or migrated), or most of the readers are dual-reading (or migrating), it's not an alternative.

GAB is a niche Twitter alternative.

the main alternative is facebook if the use case is media comsumption. if the use case is following experts in your industry its just feedly or rss

Not even close.

What's that?

Twitter for the alt-right, it seems. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gab_(social_network)

Let's not normalize white supremacy by calling it "alt-right".

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