Would You Pay to Be Social?

Ulysses S. Grant - $50 billTwitter’s recent announcement of changes to their API rules that restrict how third-party developers can interact with the platform led to protests from many sources. Some have even gone as far as clamoring for protests with an #OccupyTwitter hashtag. And it’s not just small players, with comments from the CEO’s of Box and Bottlenose.com, among others, added to the mix of the developer community.

In response to the changes and with the resulting groundswell of support for an alternative platform, one group is taking matters into their own hands by creating a pay-for-play social network that will rely on subscriptions from users and the developers to pay for the platform. And from that premise App.net was born.

As they note on the overview page, one of the key core values is their focus on the user and developer community, with no reliance on advertising dollars that have become the financial model for many of the social platforms. Essentially, $50 gets you one full year of service, with $100 providing that year of service plus access to the full App.net developer API.

So, who’s going to pony up that money? Apparently, that wasn’t an issue as the team led by Dalton Caldwell hit their goal of $500,000 before the self-imposed deadline of August 13th, and ultimately reached over $800,000 from over 12,000 backers.

At this point, it looks like they’ll certainly get their platform off the ground, but the bigger question is can that support be sustained? Ultimately, the user and developer communities form a self-referencing cycle, with users showing up where there is value and developers committing effort where there’s a need.

There will definitely be skeptics and detractors in the mix. No sooner had App.net reached their funding target did a parody site – ihave50dollars.com – pop up, with a look that’s nearly identical to the App.net site.

I can certainly see why Twitter is changing the rules, even if I don’t agree with all of them. Anyone who has built their own services or product offering on top of Twitter is within their rights to complain, but if you go into any endeavor that builds a product or service on top of another’s platform, there’s a risk inherent in that relationship.  Twitter is now a business with a focus on making money, so they’re going to protect that investment where possible, even if it means alienating  portions of the ecosystem. That may hurt them in the long run, but for now it’s a decision they felt was necessary.

As far as App.net is concerned, my best guess for their future includes the building of a rabid core of participants willing to part with a little bit of money in the short term. However, I see the mass appeal that has driven the volumes of Twitter or Facebook, among others, being out of reach when it comes to convincing more than the core following to part with $50. While I’m not one of those that plans to send a Ulysses S. Grant their way, I could still be wrong.

(Image credit: http://www.nowpublic.com/world/grant)

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