Is the world ready for a paid version of Twitter? Maybe so, backers have shown. Entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell’s Kickstarter-esque campaign to develop a paid alternative to the social network hit its $500,000 funding goal on Sunday, well ahead of Monday’s 11:59 PM deadline, raising questions as to what consumers really want when it comes to paid versus free internet services.
Twitter’s recent warning to developers that they’ll need to think twice before creating third-party Twitter experiences with the API has encouraged Caldwell and others to think about whether there’s room for an alternative service. Whether or not Caldwell’s efforts will succeed is still yet to be determined, but it shows both developer unhappiness with Twitter and just how far a Twitter alternative could go.
In a blog post, Caldwell thanked supporters for believing in his idea:
Thank you for believing. I know in my heart that what made join.app.net succeed was your willingness and openness to give App.net the benefit of the doubt, to read our github documentation, to ask to participate in the alpha, to write blogposts in our support. Thank you. We couldn’t have done it without you.
App.net was originally envisioned as a platform for mobile developers but morphed into a paid version of the increasingly ubiquitous social network, Ryan Kim wrote for GigaOM:
The product will offer a real-time feed and a social graph similar to Twitter available from a mobile application or website. Ultimately, App.net will support third-party apps built on top of the App.net ecosystem. Caldwell said the consumers aren’t given much choice right now in social startups, which are largely dependent on advertising for revenue. That leads to businesses that work to ultimately sell their users and their data to advertisers, he said. He believes there’s enough of a market for another business model that puts customer and their trust first.
Mathew Ingram has written for GigaOM on the relative merits of paid versus free but ad-supported services, noting that the biggest advantage Twitter has is its existing user base:
If you are a user, the main concern (I think) would be not just what kinds of cool apps you could use but also whether the rest of your social graph was using it. I have argued in the past that this built-in network effect is one of the biggest weapons Twitter has, as it is for Facebook and any other large-scale social service. Of course, App.net could integrate its network with Twitter’s, so that messages would flow through from one to the other (as they do from similar alternatives such as Identi.ca), but then all Twitter would have to do is kill its access to the API, the same way it did with a projectlaunched by Bill Gross’s UberMedia.
Users can still choose to back App.net for another 35+ hours, and for $50 can both show their support for the project and earn a one-year membership to the service, which will allow them to either “claim” their Twitter handle or choose a new one.