Twitter’s recent API shenanigans have been exhaustively documented. Like it or not, Twitter is making a business decision and there is little that anyone can do about it. App.net has made a play to provide a clear alternative. Full disclosure, I am a paying member of App.net. I think they are providing a valuable service and I am pulling for them to succeed. With that said, I do not think App.net (or any closed service) is the solution to the problem.
App.net is betting that a paid model and a promise to its customers will ensure that it will stay financially viable and customer/developer friendly. I have my doubts. I do not think enough people are willing to pay for a status update service, making the long-term interest in third-party development for the platform questionable. My other concern is that promises, no matter how genuine in intent, mean nothing. App.net could get acquired (no longer making it their choice to make), they may need to adjust their business model, or shift their product focus entirely. Each of these scenarios could force App.net to change their policy. App.net’s first priority is to keep the lights on. That would likely supersede any promise made to its customers.
These issues are not exclusive to App.net. They exist for any company in this business. It’s for these reasons I believe any proprietary, centralized service for status updates is ultimately flawed. The walled garden approach is beneficial for incubating emerging technologies, but once those technologies mature, the closed environment stifles progress. Look at the cable industry. Look at the wireless industry. The status update has reached the level of utilization that demands a decentralized, open standard as its foundation. Services like Twitter and App.net can still be valuable acting as the icing on the cake. When Dalton Caldwell shared his idea for App.net he used Github as a shining example of how a service should operate. I agree. The difference so far between App.net and Github is that Github is a service which enhances an open/standard technology and App.net is not.
The good news is that there are emerging standards for sending and receiving status updates. OStatus seems to be the most widely adopted with RStatus, Identi.ca and Status.net all supporting it. Due to the services’ OStatus support, each network can communicate, follow and interact with each other. Can you imagine if you had to sign up for Gmail to get emails from other Gmail users? Would email have become the pervasive communication medium if it wasn’t based on a standard/open protocol? Of course not. It shocks me that we are still dependent on one or two primary services to broadcast status updates to an audience. I would like to see App.net support an emerging standard for status updates (such as OStatus) and then build a premium service on top of it. I would gladly pay $100/year for that, especially if I could guarantee (beyond a promise) that my content and connections would never be walled in. Considering App.net’s momentum, they could provide a significant podium to promote the support of a standard.
Twitter helped pioneer status updates and microblogging. They were so successful that the idea has outgrown the company. The communication medium is so big, that no single company or collection of companies can do it service. App.net can be a valuable piece of the puzzle, but to expect it to be the alternative to Twitter is setting them up for failure and setting us up for disappointment. This issue is begging for a standardized solution—one I hope App.net helps push forward.