Lame title, I know, but I wanted to title this very clearly as to what this post is about.
As you may well know from talking to me in person, on Twitter, or by reading this site I've been a big advocate over the past year of switching to services that allow you to be the customer and not the product. I came to this decision a year ago when I switched off of Gmail to Fastmail, off of Google Calendar to iCloud, Google Analytics to Mint, Google Reader to Fever to name just a few big ones. I used to be a big advocate and user of Google, but the way the company has been ran over the past 3-4 years has rubbed me the wrong way. I liked Google during the days which they cooperating with Apple and didn't seek to undercut them at every turn.
Turning to Facebook, I was an early user. In college, I signed up when you still had to have an .edu email address to join. It was fun & useful for a few years until Facebook allowed what they call "apps" & then it went to shit. You couldn't log in without being spammed to death with utter crap posts. I began to use it less and less.
And then in January 2007 I joined Twitter. Twitter was perfect. The design was clean. The content was simple. I liked the constraint of 140 characters. As time passed, I began to rely on Twitter more and more for everything. As a result of Twitter, I check my RSS reader apps about once a week, now getting most of my daily news through Twitter sources. Many of my local friends are on Twitter and I've met so many wonderful people across the web that I would not have known otherwise because of the service. People that I have great respect for are on Twitter. In short, I really enjoy Twitter.
And then came the Dickbar. And the veiled threats against developers to quit making 3rd party Twitter clients. And the design decisions that made Tweetie into an abomination of its former self. And the lack of updates for Twitter for Mac for over a year. These things combined have let me worried about the future of Twitter. The consistent lack of good decision making by the leadership of Twitter leaves me anxious for a Twitter alternative in which users are able to pay the service for access to it so that service can continue to develop the service for the users and not for the advertisers in order to pay for it.
And that's the key isn't it? Twitter's bad decisions derive from the need to pay for Twitter. Twitter has taken hundreds of million in venture capital money, and because Twitter is "free", advertisers have to pay Twitter to keep it going. So what is Twitter to do? They must make the advertisers happy. To make more money, they must put more focus on their advertisers needs.
Meanwhile the users are the product.
That makes me very nervous. I just want to continue to use iPad, iPhone and OS X clients to access the service that I truly love. I do not want to be force fed Twitter's bad UX decisions so that they can monetize their service off of my eyeballs.
I've told you all of this in order to explain why I've backed App.net. What is App.net? In short, App.net is a Twitter clone with a classic business model. The users pay a fee (50$ initially) to join the service. Users must pay this fee annually. By doing this, the service is able to pay for itself and focus its development and design resources on the users and not advertisers or what their venture capitalist sugar daddies want them to.
Some people have said this idea will fail. Some people have criticized App.net for a few poorly made marketing decisions early on when they first announced their intentions. I've given them a pass on all of these things because I desperately hope they will succeed. If they do not succeed, then who will?
If any of this makes sense to you, I suggest you check out join.app.net. App.net is trying to start their initial funding via kickstarter-like campaign. They cannot use Kickstarter because Kickstarter's own terms of service forbid companies from using it to start a new company. So they've setup the equivalent off of their own website. A lot of notable people have gotten on board and contributed their respective $50 as well. App.net already has an early alpha version online for you to take a look at. If you email firstname.lastname@example.org once you've backed the project and ask, they'll go ahead and activate your account which they're doing for people manually. If you back the project and are let in, you can find me there @joel.
As of this writing, App.net sits at $325,400 of their $500,000 goal. There are 4 days left to contribute. As of yesterday, it looked as if App.net's campaign would fail miserably short of its goal, sitting at around $245,000 committed. But then, John Gruber posted about this on Daring Fireball yesterday evening. Since then they've picked up over $80,000 since. If this rate of contributions keep up they might just meet their goal by Monday.
I hope this succeeds.
Update: Less than $60,009 to go! Just over 48 hours to do it.