App.net, the Anti-Facebook, Will Now Let You Join for Free

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 25 2013 2:04 PM

App.net, the Anti-Facebook, Will Now Let You Join for Free

"It's like Twitter, but you have to pay for it" no longer accurately describes App.net.
"It's like Twitter, but you have to pay for it" no longer accurately describes App.net.

Screenshot / App.net

At a time when users and app developers were furious at Facebook and Twitter for placing advertisers' interests ahead of theirs, Dalton Caldwell–one of the most articulate critics of the ad-based revenue model–launched App.net as an alternative. I wrote at the time that App.net was like a social network from a parallel universe in which Google's business model flopped and everyone realized that you couldn't make money with a free product.

In our own universe, it appears the opposite is true. After dropping its initial $50-a-year subscription rate to $36 in October, App.net announced today that it's going "freemium." That means the platform will allow people to join for free, while retaining meatier features for those who pay up. For now, you'll need an invitation from a paid App.net subscriber if you want in, but it's clear that Caldwell's goal in the long run is to bring in a lot more users. Not because he wants to sell them ads, but because a larger user base would make the site more worthwhile for everyone involved (especially the developers). 

Advertisement

When I spoke with Caldwell about App.net's future last month, he told me the switch to freemium doesn't mean he's compromising his principles or trying to vie with Facebook or Twitter for mainstream supremacy. Rather, he has in mind a business model more like that of Dropbox or Github–services that have large user bases but make their money mostly from a core group of power users. In App.net's case, the power users are app developers and others who care enough about the privacy and portability of their social-media content to host it on a site that explicitly prioiritizes users over advertisers.

It remains to be seen how many people will still pay for App.net now that you can get it for free. But Caldwell said the fact that more than 30,000 people have already subscribed, sight unseen, indicates there's genuine demand. Now that people can try it out first, he's hoping more will sign on.

If nothing else, App.net's continued existence should serve as a reminder to Facebook and Twitter that their model of asking users to pay with their data rather than their wallets is not the only one conceivable. And if they keep forcing users to choose between them for access to services like Vine and Instagram, there might be some who ultimately choose neither.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Yes, Black Families Tend to Spank More. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for Black Kids.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge

Politics

The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Iran and the U.S. Are Allies Against ISIS but Aren’t Ready to Admit It Yet

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 16 2014 4:08 PM More Than Scottish Pride Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 5:07 PM One Comedy Group Has the Perfect Idea for Ken Burns’ Next Project
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 1:48 PM Why We Need a Federal Robotics Commission
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.