There’s a movement afoot as App.net looks to become a standardized messaging and identity platform for users and developers. It remains to be seen if App.net will affect real change or not, but it does appear that we’re at the cusp of something momentous. Specifically, fulfilling both user and developer needs via a social messaging and identity platform where the platform, not the content, is the product.
Yes, we have Twitter. But, as a mainstream, near-ubiquitous social messaging platform, it’s now in the hands of the wrong people: media and advertisers. If we consider the Web services we rely on most, it’s one thing for search to go down this route, but even Google has been careful about seeding your email stream with ads. And surely, if Google started emailing you ads, there would be a revolt. But what if Gmail was the only email provider and had to do this to survive?
Twitter is, effectively, the only social messaging platform. And it doesn’t have the luxury of offering this service for free. Their choices are to charge for access to the platform, or control the content that’s delivered across the platform. And they’ve chosen to monetize content.
They’re now doubling down on ads and media partnerships, while actively working to close out 3rd party developers from arguably the most important messaging protocol since email. In other words, they’re adding noise to your messaging platform in order to ensure the survival of the platform.
This choice doesn’t bode well for the future of social messaging, users, or the platform.
Dalton Caldwell, who’s spearheading the App.net endeavour, shares his thoughts on platforms:
This word, platform, is a very important one. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have actively encouraged companies to think of their APIs as “platforms”. They want people to base their businesses on top of them.
If you unpack that word, they are saying that you should think of the APIs they provide the same way you think of an operating system like Linux, or a hosting platform like Amazon Web Services, or a programming platform like Ruby on Rails.
Platforms are great because they enable you to get all sorts of benefits from the work done by others. I am convinced that Facebook and Twitter really are platforms in that sense of the word, because if you choose to use their APIs you can do amazing things that would be impractical if you attempted to build the entire service yourself from scratch.
The concept of platforms is one of the key reasons that Web2.0 actually did meet its promise of widescale global adoption and technical innovation. Long live Web2.0.
However this “platform” word starts to get very troubling when talking about business models. Building on top of a platform is a foundational risk, and if your platform decided one day that it doesn’t like what you are doing, or likes what you are doing so much they want to compete with you, it’s Very Bad. Your platform partner can easily damage your quality of service, or simply shut you down. If that happens, your business is dead.
And slowly, but surely, Twitter has begun to batten down their API, either buying 3rd party developers or forcing more and more restrictions on existing developers. All while increasing content exposure for media partners and pushing ads into everyone’s tweet streams.
As an alternative, App.net intends to build a transparent API, with user-controlled content. The first implementation of this vision being the currently running alpha build of their Twitter like Web interface.
There’s more to be said about the future of Twitter, App.net, and the platforms we hope to rely on for many years, but now’s the time to check out http://join.app.net and decide if you want to get on this ride during the already successful fundraising phase. There are 8 hours left to get on board, get access to the alpha, and claim your current Twitter name, should you wish to do so.