App.net global feed
What is App.net?

At first glance App.net (or ADN) looks a bit like Twitter did soon after it launched six years ago.

Take a look at the "global feed" and you will see the similarities. People use @usernames to share updates (currently called posts) and converse.

Posts can be longer than tweets, with App.net allowing 256 characters and Twitter 140.

"App.net is an attempt to do the same kind of thing that Twitter does but open it up and allow that content to flow anywhere," according to Mathew Ingram, senior writer for technology news site GigaOm.

So App.net a Twitter clone?

No, that is not the point, says Ingram. It is important to understand that there are two aspects to App.net: the Twitter-style service currently called Alpha, and App.net the platform, Ingram says.

And Alpha as "a kind of prototype that you could build on top of App.net the platform".

Why try to copy Twitter?

On 1 July App.net's developer and internet entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell blogged about what Twitter could have been.

App.net is an attempt to do the same kind of thing that Twitter does but open it up and allow that content to flow anywhereMathew Ingram
He is not alone in voicing his concerns in how Twitter has turned to advertising and has restricted its API, upsetting many of the developers who built the third-party applications that made Twitter great.

More than 80,000 page views and 12 days later, Caldwell published an "audacious proposal": to raise $500,000 to release a service and platform his company had been working on.

Caldwell's plan was to get 10,000 people to pledge $50.

But the company was not asking for an annual membership fee in return for a finished, polished product. Caldwell and colleagues asked for financial backing and in return released Alpha, to demonstrate the platform existed and was not "vaporware".

The crowdfunding approach worked and Caldwell and team released Alpha, the Twitter-like service which anyone can pay $50 to use, and the platform, which developers can use to build apps in return for an annual charge of $100.

One month in and there are now 20,000 sign-ups, meaning at least $1 million has been raised.

$50! Why pay when I can use Twitter for free?

Because App.net promises to remain ad-free and open. If you have not thought about your privacy online, read Adam Tinworth's liveblog of a talk Aral Balkan, a user experience designer and developer, gave at Hacks/Hackers Brighton this week.

At the talk, Balkan asked: is your identity, privacy and security worth $4 / £2.50 a month? That's less than the price as a pint of beer.

I'm a journalist so surely I can get a free account?

No. Caldwell told Journalism.co.uk that he has been asked to hand out freebies but always refuses.

"What's been interesting is that I have gone out of my way not to convince anyone, meaning folks have asked for free accounts and we haven't been giving them out because I don't think that would be fair."

Should journalists sign up at this stage?

"In terms of 'when is the right time for various constituents to get on board?', I don't think that the platform is prepared to be all things for all people yet," Caldwell said.

Caldwell thinks technology journalists should be "checking it out", a view backed by Martin Bryant, managing editor of The Next Web. He signed up after being swayed by the promise of @martinbryant as a username (he is @MartinSFP on Twitter).

It's probably something for most journalists to simply be aware of, and if they want to reserve a username and they've got $50 spare then sure, go ahead, it's a bet worth makingMartin Bryant
App.net has led to news stories for Bryant and colleagues.

"One thing that's quite good about App.net at the moment compared to Twitter is that you can actually access a global feed and see everything that's being talked about because there's only a few thousand users on there at the moment and it's still quite easy to track the full conversation going on there - although it's moving faster day by day."

Ingram agrees. "One of the benefits of App.net as opposed to Twitter" is because Twitter has "an ocean of content", it's hard to filter and find the "signal in the noise". But App.net is smaller, "it is easier to spot things than it is on a gigantic social network".

Leo Widrich, co-founder and chief executive of Buffer, an app that allows you to cue up and post updates to your social networks, with Buffer scheduling posts to go out at optimum times, believes "there's a huge opportunity to build a network from scratch with a lot of influential people" as there are fewer users. It is a place where @stephenfry has only 2,000 followers so easier to get your questions heard.

But Bryant says it is too early in the development of App.net for the majority of journalists to find it useful. "There are not many celebrities on there, there are no real politicians, and you don't get the big public movements you get on Twitter which can be interesting sources of stories.

"It's probably something for most journalists to simply be aware of, and if they want to reserve a username and they've got $50 spare then sure, go ahead, it's a bet worth making. But beyond technology journalists, a bit too early really for it being a decent news source."

Ingram says journalists should be aware of App.net because it is open. "If you are concerned at all about getting locked in to a platform that's controlled by a single company then you probably want to be interested in things like App.net.

"Where it's going to succeed or not, who knows, but I think it is worthwhile being concerned about tying yourself to one specific platform that's controlled by a single company."

Should news outlets sign up?

The Next Web and BreakingNews were quick to get accounts. And news outlets should always be looking for new ways in which to connect with readers and distribute the content, Ingram says.

"Instead of thinking 'we've got a Twitter account, so that's it, our job is done', when I worked for a major newspaper my argument was always 'I don't care how stupid the name sounds or whether it's a start-up, if it's a way that you can reach readers and help build engagement around your content then I think you should be interested in doing it and you should be trying everything, just in case it turns out to be a really good way of doing that."

How should news outlets use App.net? To auto-post headlines and links to content?

The Next Web asked its readers and App.net following for advice. "It's early days and it's hard to tell as yet what the vibe is there", Bryant says.

There has been debate internally at The Next Web with some wanting to use the App.net account like Twitter and push out stories. But Bryant is also aware they should "try and fit in" with the culture.

Early feedback suggests the news site should use it in a similar way to how it uses Tumblr: to links to some of its own articles, link to "interesting things that we've found from around the web" and as a place for discussion.

How long before we see journalism tools built based on App.net?

There's already an app for Android, an app for iOS and a web app called quickApp that allows re-posts (unlike the Alpha) and there are search tools. Indeed there are 121 apps being worked on, according to Balkan. There is a list here.

Asked how long it will be before news sites will be able to add "share on App.net" buttons, Caldwell said: "I'm not sure if we are going to be building those ourselves or if third-parties will. It would be very quick to implement, quite frankly, so perhaps we should do so."

Will App.net take off?

It is too early to tell, says Bryant. And as "a huge proportion of Twitter users barely tweet anything at all" and simply follow celebrities, it will be a hard sell to get them to pay and sign up, he feels.

Caldwell says it was always to plan to get developers on board first. "We don't want simultaneously 100,000 or 1 million people to sign up, because quite frankly they would be disappointed with what they find because the product isn't there and the software isn't there."

When speaking to Journalism.co.uk, Caldwell likened the early users to pioneers or homesteaders. And as the Economist's Babbage writes, "App.net says it will have the utilities in place to build a metropolis one day, even if the pioneers must dig wells (and latrines)."

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