App.net was an experiment in seeing if we could have a sustainable Twitter-like system that people would pay for.
Based on the blog post from one of the founders, the answer is “No.” A few of us kept our accounts going, but the majority of people don’t appear to have bothered.
It’s sad because in a lot of ways I preferred app.net to Twitter, as it was less driven by ads and forcibly spamming users. We were the customers, not the advertisers, and we got a say in how things worked and went forward.
But for a long time, I’ve not really been using app.net. Not because the people weren’t there, because they were, and not because it wasn’t where I wanted to be, because it was. Rather, there were two major factors that ruined app.net.
Android is Shit
When I still used an iPhone, the best client I found was Felix. The developer cared and really poured effort into making an amazing client, and charged money for it. As a result the app is good and made participating in the community conversations elegant and pleasant.
Unfortunately, I gave up on the iPhone two years ago and none of the Android apps are close to Felix.
The best, Robin, spams the notification shade and causes my Pebble watch to be loud and chirpy any time I post to the site. Further, incoming notifications aren’t broken into multiple parts so I get one progressively longer notification sent to my wrist.
Drift has a conversation interface that makes it nearly impossible to reply to a post or a conversation, ruining my ability to just be a part of the community.
The lack of good apps made participating harder and more clumsy, and over time I just tried less and less, leaving me hugely disappointed.
In Your Global, Spamming Your Dudes
The other major downside of app.net was the loss of the global stream and the considerable rise of spam.
In the beginning, it’s hard to know who to follow and it’s really hard to find inroads into the community, which means you track the global stream and inject yourself into interesting-looking conversations.
I had an hour a day during my commute where this is what I would do, and it was great. I found a lot of great people and had wonderful conversations. It was good, and I followed them, but kept my eyes on the global stream.
As time went on and app.net got more popular, more service and websites started to buy accounts and pollute the global stream. Instead of the glut of worthwhile conversations we were being inundated with garbage of web posts and invitations to buy crap and reducing the serendipity and discovery considerably.
As a result Robin deactivated the default access to the global stream, marking when the service being for the users and not the broadcast spammers was over.
To counter this I’d been planning on writing a service called Mutebot that would let us globally track these broadcast spammers and mute them on our accounts, allowing us to control the overwhelming nature of the global stream. Sadly, I was never able to find the time and energy to write the code, but I wish I had.
In the end, I’m currently hearing that there’s between 500 and 5000 humans left on app.net, and after the blog post many people I know are starting to set up alternative communities, as everyone can see the writing on the wall. It was good while it lasted.
I just wish it could have been different.