If the words App.net don't mean anything to you, you're not alone, which is probably why the site most people compare to a paid version of Twitter is laying off all its employees. App.net isn't quite dead, but the money it makes from subscriptions isn't enough to do much more than keep the site running.
The announcement on Tuesday wasn't surprising, given that no one uses App.net. From its inception as a Kickstarter project that required up-front payment for a social network that hadn't even launched yet to its public perception as a Twitter rival , App.net has had to fight upstream for nearly two years just to gain what little adoption it's seen so far. The service has some developers devoted to building apps for the open-source social platform, but the fact that you and I haven't heard of any of those apps are is a bad sign.
Failure to launch
App.net's failure is disappointing, because its mission is surprisingly noble. Fed up with Twitter and Facebook's constantly changing rules for app developers — a problem Facebook is now working to fix — and closed ecosystems, App.net cofounders Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg decided to build a platform for developers that would allow users to share their data across apps. For instance, people who used App.net's first effort, a Twitter-like microblogging client called Alpha, would be able to port their friends list from that app to others on the platform. The same goes for photos, phone contacts, files, and other bits of data you have to hand over to each new social service you sign up for.
But unlike those other social apps, apps on App.net's platform don't use your data to sell ads, because you pay for the service. But not enough people are paying to make App.net truly sustainable, or bring in the kind of cash that can go to employee paychecks.
There are a few reasons why App.net never caught on with anyone outside developer circles — and even high-profile geeks quickly abandoned the service — but its core problem is that App.net was never able to define itself. The company expected its breakout apps to amass their own fans and followers, but few people knew of any App.net apps aside from Alpha, which they equated with App.net itself. Plus, who wants to pay to use something like Twitter when you can just use Twitter?
Privacy gets plenty of lip-service, but the truth is, the average Internet user doesn't actually care about keeping her information off the Internet — at least, she doesn't care enough to switch from Facebook and Twitter to paid services that don't sell her data, especially when that service is named App.net and has no breakout apps to speak of.
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