Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

App.net State of the Union

Founder and CEO Dalton Caldwell:

The bad news is that the renewal rate was not high enough for us to have sufficient budget for full-time employees. After carefully considering a few different options, we are making the difficult decision to no longer employ any salaried employees, including founders. Dalton and Bryan will continue to be responsible for the operation of App.net, but no longer as employees. Additionally, as part of our efforts to ensure App.net is generating positive cash flow, we are winding down the Developer Incentive Program. We will be reaching out to developers currently enrolled in the program with more information.

Disappointing,1 but not totally unexpected: App.net has felt for the past several months as a floundering product, well-intentioned but unfocused. Mat Honan wrote a great article for Wired last year where he explained what the product is supposed to be:

Imagine this. You sign up for Vine, and build up a robust friend network and library of videos. But then you try out Instagram’s new video sharing, and decide you like its editing features a lot better.

Normally, this would mean starting over, with no friends and no files. But let’s say that both of them were just applications that ran on top of App.net. Instead of starting over, when you fired up Instagram for the first time, your friends and videos would be there waiting for you. That’s App.net. Or at least that’s what it wants to be.

This has always been poorly articulated by the App.net team. It doesn’t help that the first product they launched was a Twitter clone, and the timing of its launch coincided with a time when Twitter was making unpopular developer changes.2

App.net wants to be a cloud-based address book for all of your social media connections, with the hopes that others will build dependent social networks on top of it. But they’re not coming. There’s no Facebook competitor in sight, and certainly not one that uses App.net as its backend. There are certainly creative apps that are powered by it, but there’s no technical reason these apps couldn’t be powered by Dropbox or Twitter. There are only philosophical reasons.

Riccardo Mori hasn’t given up hope; App.net certainly isn’t dead. But it’s on life support, and it still feels confused. There wasn’t a big product launch today to win back users, nor has there been one in recent memory. Rather, the company open sourced a bunch of their code. That’s helpful for developers, but it isn’t user-facing. Does App.net have enough inertia for all of this developer assistance to gain new users?

  1. I was an early customer. In case you’re wondering, I chose not to renew my subscription this year. ↩︎

  2. The name certainly doesn’t help, either: “App.net”? ↩︎