App.net, Craft Beer, and Ralph Nader
Last night, the App.net Kickstarter-like project closed its initial fundraising period with over $800,000 from over 12,000 backers. The project aims to, at a minimum, offer a Twitter-like service where users pay a fee to fund development, rather than advertisers. On the idealistic side, App.net wants to create a foundational network where multiple services can co-exist and users and deveopers choose how they are used.
Twitter has slowly been cutting off or obsoleting the work (and business) of third-party developers. Users wanted ways to shorten URLs in tweets, or post pictures and videos. Developers put their own time and money into those endeavors only to see Twitter build their own and leave them stranded. I can actually forgive those steps, as Twitter’s goal should be to make their service the best they can. However, in the drive to finally bring in revenue, Twitter is pushing their ad model. Beginning with “promoted trends”, they first included the material on the website and in their own first-party clients.
As with YouTube or Facebook, Twitter is monetizing content from advertisers. YouTube doesn’t charge you to watch a video, but they force you to watch an ad before it. If YouTube doesn’t control your video-watching experience, they can’t ensure you’ll see that ad (like on iOS), or drive them any revenue. There is now foreshadowing that Twitter will axe third-party clients, or at least those that don’t meet the “guidelines” in order to make sure they’re making money on you somehow.
App.net hopes to create an alternate-universe version of Twitter, as if they hadn’t gone to an ad-based revenue model. By requiring a membership fee, App.net eschews the need to shoehorn ads into a service that has no need for them. If you can’t understand why reopening the gates of user-driven syntax development (@username, #hashtag, and $cashtag were all community constructs) and allowing free input and output from a global Twitter stream is worth money, then you really aren’t the demographic for App.net anyway. Twitter, as-is, is a great service. Twitter, circa 2008, was a different service completely.
Craft brewing has seen a massive influx in both interest and money in the last few years. There are more breweries today than their have been in decades. Despite that growth, the product is becoming both more expensive to create, and more expensive to consume. Ingredients are often locally grown. Batches are made on a scale of hundreds of cases rather than hundreds of truckloads.
The main question people seem to pose about App.net is:
Why anyone would pay for something they already get for free?1
MG Siegler suggested that a paid service can’t beat Twitter:
[App.net] won’t ever grow big enough to truly challenge Twitter. Maybe you think that’s fine. Maybe it could exist as a self-sustaining smaller network. That’s nice — but that’s not what drives anyone. No one sets out to be second-rate. And the best people don’t flock to those services. That’s why these things tend to not work.
The major domestic brewers haven’t gone bankrupt. They still sell tons. Somehow, though, others have carved their niche and managed to make quite a profit doing so. Does that imply Sam Adams or Brooklyn Brewery or Dogfish Head are “second-rate”? Does it imply that Bud Light is the best beer in America because the most Americans drink it?
Obviously, there is a massive difference between a social network and a beer brand. There are other networks out there, though, that I’d caution to call “second-rate”. Is Last.fm second-rate? Is Stack Overflow second-rate? If there is money to be made with those services, why scoff at them simply because they aren’t mainstream?
Raph Nader is a lot of things. He will be nost notable, for better or worse, for his participation in, and effect on, the 2000 Presidential Election.
After seeming lack of interest from Democrats in Washington, Nader sought national attention for his slate of campaign issues. He wanted campaign finance reform. He wanted better healthcare, better education, better workers’ rights. He wanted lots of things that the Democratic party was supposedly for.
Yet, Nader broke off. He was criticized for hurting the Democratic party, which he admittedly aligned closely with. On election night, the results were tallied, and re-tallied, and probably re-tallied again. Many posit that Nader cost Al Gore the state of Florida, and thus the entire election.
Nader had little chance of ever winning that election. I don’t suppose he ever believed that he did. It isn’t the true goal of a third party to win an election. The Democrats, however, would’ve won that election had they paid any attention at all to that annoying Ralph Nader.
People donated money to Nader’s campaign. They believed in what he stood for. Maybe the Democrats slate of issues now don’t completely represent what Nader wanted a decade ago, but they’re certainly a lot closer. By that logic, Ralph Nader won, and so did his supporters.
There’s a chance App.net can make their revenue model work and develop something new and different. They have a much better chance at success than Nader did. But, if they don’t, I’d like to say that I put my money on the side of the open and accessible internet.
I’d like to say that I backed the ones who wanted to build something really cool, not the ones who wanted to sell me Bud Light.
As discussed already, Twitter is not free. Twitter does not have magic computers that run on air. They get their money from investors, and now advertisers. Just because the user doesn’t pay, doesn’t make it “free”. ↩