I've been on Twitter for a long time now, and it's arguably been instrumental in my success as a solo developer and a person of note in the world of Mac & iOS development. These days, though, I find myself using it less for conversations and more for feeding outward. I browse through occasionally, but there's so much happening on there now that I've no real expectation that it's useful as a source of news. Similarly, I've found it less useful for conducting conversations: I'm a wordy person, and I choose my words and expressions fairly carefully, yet I spend half my time trying to cut down the character count. Sure, I can split something over multiple tweets, but that makes it problematic for a user to follow the thread of a conversation backwards. Software like Twitterrific goes a long way toward helping that, but browse through a few such conversations and you start seeing errors: your API Call Count has passed the allowed limit (horror!)
That last issue is actually indicative of a (potential or actual; opinions vary) problem with the Twitter system itself: its means to make money. It wants to rely on advertising, but to do so it has to tie down the access to the platform it provides. This is a fine problem, but leaves the company enforcing requirements that make things more difficult for the users.
It was in answer to this, then, that in July 1012 Mixed Media Labs' Dalton Caldwell announced the development of a social messaging service named App.net (the name was previously used for another project). This service would provide similar facilities to that offered by Twitter, but with a two key differences:
- Messages could be up to 256 characters in length.
- The service would be supported by subscription fees rather than advertising.
Since its initial implementation, more features have arrived, including file storage in a vein similar to that supplied by Dropbox – you get when you subscribe, and you can earn more through referrals.
Users can choose to pay $5 per month or $36 per year to use the service, and developers can pay $100 per year to additionally obtain access to the service's API. The development of third-party applications, currently frowned upon by Twitter, is actively encouraged by the App.net platform owners. As a result there is a booming number of better and better apps available that tap into the service: I personally use Bill Kunz's excellent Felix application on my iPhone, with Kiwi taking on the same role on my Mac.
At present the App.net community is, unsurprisingly, smaller than Twitter. This is caused both by its relative youth and its subscription-based status. What might at first seem a problem turns into a boon, however, as you find that you're actually able to scan back through messages more quickly than on Twitter – there's a better signal-to-noise ratio here. This is further assisted by the greater length of messages: you have room to explain yourself in a clear and erudite fashion, resulting in less of the conversation being used for clarifications and multi-message comments.
As to who's on there, you'll likely find a lot of the people you follow on Twitter are just as active (if not more so!) on App.net as they are on Twitter. Well, okay, that's not going to be true for everyone, but for the likely audience of this blog? Yes, a fair few– here's a sample:
- Gina Trapani
- Marco and Tiffany Arment
- Kevin Hoctor
- Federico Viticci
- Scott Stevenson
- Martin Pilkington
- John Moltz
- Adam Lisagor
- John Gruber
- Neven Mrgan
- Manton Reece
- Cabel Sasser
- Daniel Jalkut
With all that said: why not join up? The folks at App.net have created a free account tier, available via invitation from an existing member, and I have 100 invitations right here (also behind the title of this post).
If you sign up through that link, you'll automatically follow me– for which I wholeheartedly apologize in advance. You can delete that (as I'm sure you must) using any of the fine applications listed on the App.net home page, and I sincerely hope you'll decide to sign up for a full account.