In order to keep to that promise, Caldwell launched a Kickstarter-esque crowdfunding initiative, asking users to pay $50 in return for using the service for a year. Less than a month on and more than 17,500 people have paid and joined an alpha version.
According to Mathew Ingram, senior writer for technology news site GigaOm, there are two aspects: App.net the Twitter-style platform that is currently called Alpha, which is a lot like Twitter was in the early days, and App.net the platform. Ingram described Alpha to Journalism.co.uk as "a kind of prototype that you could build on top of App.net the platform".
On Wednesday evening (29 August) Journalism.co.uk spoke to Dalton Caldwell, founder and chief executive of App.net, to find out what he believes the service and platform could mean for journalists and publishers.
Q. What is App.net?
A. App.net is a real-time feed service that is paid as opposed to ad-supported, with the goal being to enable third-party developers to build all sorts of different applications that users will enjoy.
Q. It's pretty much an undisputed fact that Twitter and other social networks have become an essential part of journalism, for sharing news and searching for stories and sources, how do you convince people to spend time on an additional platform?
A. The way I think about it, especially from the perspective of a journalist, is the "hackability" of the protocol.
I think one of the reasons journalists have been so interested in this particular platform is that with some of the new rules being laid out by Twitter regarding the ownership of content, a lot of the custom tools that journalists are building to mine data and to post data seem to be very much out of what is considered kosher as part of Twitter's new platform rules.
Taking a step back, Twitter is a media business and one of the properties of a media business is that they are monetising content, are monetising around the content, and want to maintain exclusivity and control of content, and that's certainly Twitter's right to do so. But from a journalist's perspective, questions about the ownership of your tweets and questions about the kinds of tools you are able to build as a journalist are up in the air.From a journalist's perspective, think of this as a really interesting bit of plumbing or glue for doing real-time communicationsDalton Caldwell
From a journalist's perspective, think of this as a really interesting bit of plumbing or glue for doing real-time communications. It allows you to do some of the more esoteric implementations that are explicitly not allowed any more under the Twitter API.
Q. Is there a critical mass of users necessary before App.net becomes successful and useful for the majority of journalists?
A. I've blogged about this. I considered a critical mass for this service to be interesting to be 10,000 users. And my analogy for that is something like Quora as off of a very small user base I would argue that Quora is quite interesting, just because of the quality and engagement of the user base from a Q&A perspective.
And we have well over 10,000 users at this moment. I last announced 17,500 members using the site.
I'm the first to agree and admit that it is very tech heavy and it's predominantly software developers. That's completely intentional because the software developers are going to be the people who build the most interesting applications that later on down the line consumers will want to use.
For example, there's already an Android app in the Android Market that works with App.net; there have been several iPhone apps submitted for approval to Apple and there are several for testing; there are Mac desktop applications that have already been developed, I've tested three or four myself; there are search applications. So from this very small early user base, we are already seeing quite a bit of software being created.
Q. Should journalists be getting on board at this early stage?
A. 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. One of the reasons it's priced the way it is and it's structured the way it is is because 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.
The current users are pioneers, they are homesteaders, and everyone is still trying to figure out what the thing is.I hope that we will see news organisations build software to help make journalists' jobs easierDalton Caldwell
Anyone who is covering the tech beat, I definitely think it would be worth checking out. I'm always impressed with the breadth and depth of journalists that are interacting and asking questions and just generally involved with the community and I anticipate it will make more and more sense on a forward basis.
The other thing to note is that I hope that we will see news organisations build software to help make journalists' jobs easier. I've talked to a couple of news organisations that want to build software that integrates with App.net as part of their overall dashboard for seeing what news is trending and what people are talking about.
Q. It's notoriously hard to get cash out of journalists. Why should they pay?
A. 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.
When it comes to the journalists who have signed up, I can't think of a single case of any of us asking them to sign up. They thought it was interesting enough to do so themselves and frankly that's the way I want it to be because if we are too aggressive about it and they are disappointed with what they get, I don't think that's a good precedent to set.
I'm not sure whether journalists are expensing [the $50 membership fee] or not, that's up to the various news organisations.
Q. How long before we see 'share on App.net' buttons on news stories?
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.
There are already quite a few applications that have 'login with App.net' working, such as Buffer.We are releasing some RSS features in the next few days and as part of that we are going to be able to see App.net feeds on the sides of blogsDalton Caldwell
It's been three weeks since the API has been out and my expectation is that the kinds of integrations people build will get more and more novel over time. I'm excited to see what people build.
We are releasing some RSS features in the next few days and as part of that we are going to be able to see App.net feeds on the sides of blogs. So I anticipate you will start to see quite a bit of that start to happen.
Q. The Buffer and Storify link-ups are interesting. Did the companies approach you or did you approach them?
A. Neither. In the Buffer case the Buffer founders signed up for App.net and then they told us they had built Buffer implementation and sent me a link to the blog post. There was no back channel conversation of negotiation.
The same goes with Storify. from my understanding the founders or employees of Storify came on, they read out documentation, they liked what they saw and they built it. That's exactly what we want to see.
Q. Any thoughts on what journalism-related App.net applications we might see?
A. The most interesting tools for journalists will probably be built by journalists.
One of the reasons I love the vision of this API, what Twitter used to be at one point, is that it's not the job of the company operating the platform to figure out all the implementations.The most interesting tools for journalists will probably be built by journalistsDalton Caldwell
My expectation, talking to the few journalists that I have, is that very custom things that scratch the itch of what journalists will be looking for, that perhaps would have a very small audience of mainstream people but would be exactly the kind of tool a journalist would want to use, those are the things that I find most exciting. I'm not sure if any of those things have been built yet.
To me the really killer apps will be things that are made specifically for a journalist's use.
Here are some of the journalists, news outlets and new industry people we have noticed on App.net: @producermatthew @marcsettle @antderosa @mathewingram @make_rawlins @gridinoc @philipjohn @marccooper @markjones @documentally @corybe @ilicco @kate_day @jeffjarvis @martinbryant @breakingnews @thenextweb @liquidnewsroom.
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