We Shipped Annotations

On the product front, this week was all about annotations, additional metadata (up to 8192 bytes) developers can attach to posts to add content. We always wanted posts to expand beyond 256 characters, and annotations open up the possibilities within a single post. We’d like to see rich media, like photos, videos, long-form content, maps, and games (among many other things), and today, we rolled out an initial annotations implementation.

“Let’s say I’m at a restaurant eating a great dinner, but instead of just telling my followers about this restaurant I want them to be able to see a map of where it is,” writes Mark Thurman, one of our software engineers, on our GitHub API spec. “My Post could include geographic information about the address for the restaurant and then clients that support this geographic annotation could show the restaurant on a map (in addition to showing my post). If the restaurant is on OpenTable, I could include an annotation indicating that and my followers could see the menu and make a reservation in their own App.net client. Annotations are what power complex posts with maps, pictures, videos, etc.”

Needless to say, we’re excited. You can read up on our annotations docs here, and we encourage you to open a GitHub issue if you have feedback. Improvements, tweaks, and enhancements are on their way, but this is a great start.

What is App.net?

It’s a basic question, and everyone’s first question (about us anyway). We thought we’d take a moment to answer it, as simply as possible.

App.net is a subscription-based, advertising-free social network and API. It’s a platform that developers can rely on and that members can use to interact with each other.

App.net connects members’ feeds across clients built by third-party developers. Developers are free to build on our API – we’ll even send you a monthly payment, if your app is well-received – which means that members have a variety of apps to choose from to access the network.

Most of the larger press outlets have focused on App.net as an ad-free social network. We take this pledge very seriously: we will never sell user data to advertisers, never turn users into the product. Our paid model aligns our interests with our users. Still, while that is very much what we are – a cornerstone of our company –  it’s only part of our story.

From the beginning, we pledged to keep our API open to developers acting in good faith – a bold promise, but one we hold dear. This means that developers can trust that we’re not going anywhere and that they can reliably build apps on our platform.

Developers have already built great mobile, desktop, and web apps (full list in our App Directory), with more projects starting each day. We want developers to be inspired. We want games, we want clients with richer features, we want to be surprised. Each new App.net app makes our site better, gives our users more options, and turns our service into something different.

And this is the real story. App.net is an API. Alpha, launched during our fundraising campaign, is just a web app written on top of our API. Now, nearly three weeks after we reached our funding goal, under 50% of the posts on App.net come from our Alpha, according to App.net Stats (a real-time analytics dashboard built by @clint).
In the long run, App.net will become whatever apps developers build, and whatever apps members use. Each user might have a unique interpretation of what App.net is. That’s ok: this is one of the great benefits of an open API. It’s a living, breathing, multi-faceted thing with a sum that’s greater than its parts.

So remember this: at its core, App.net is an ad-free, subscription-based platform, a backbone, a dialtone.

We did it

With just under 2 days left in our fundraising campaign, we met our goal of $500,000. We went on to raise $803,000 in 30 days with a user base of over 12,000 to start the service off.  We now sit at a user base of nearly 18,000 and counting.

“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 documentation, to ask to participate in the alpha, to write blogposts in our support. Thank you.  We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Read the full post here.

Editors note:  Early communications about the progress of App.net were done by Dalton via his blog.  This post and the 4 below are to give context to the reader on our progress up til now.

Critical mass vs network effects

Halfway through our fundraising campaign we were just over 20% of the way to our goal and getting criticized by many that we wouldn’t reach our “critical mass” because people weren’t willing to pay for something they get for “free”.  They claimed that we would lack the network effects necessary to reach that critical mass because we were charging a fee.  Dalton responded with this argument as to why he thought what we were building would work.

“I believe that a critical mass of users and developers can take the basic plumbing we have in our API and webapp, and build a vibrant social ecosystem. My personal hope at this point in time is that our official webapp functions as a proof-of-concept that the API is sound, but is a bootstrapping medium by which novel integrations are built. Remember: Twitter community members, not employees, invented hashtags, retweeting etc.”

Read the full post here.

App.net 3rd-party revshare proposal

We want 3rd-party app developers to build on the App.net platform.  We think that this is vital to creating a thriving community (both for users and developers).   Developers need a financial incentive to build on a platform and the assurance that the platform won’t suddenly change the rules on them.  This proposal to 3rd-party developers is the incentive that Dalton would like to offer them.

“If the rules are setup correctly, great 3rd-party development platforms create a strong financial incentive for 3rd-party developers to make great software. Why? Healthy platforms allow 3rd-party developers to make lots of money. If you can setup the financial incentives in the right way, people are able to make a great living by building great software that is useful and makes people happy. That is the world I want to live in.”

Read the full post here.

Announcing an audacious proposal

After a little over a week of brainstorming following the reaction to his post, ‘What Twitter could have been’, Dalton came out with this blog post outlining the vision for App.net.  He gives some of his past experiences with running Web 2.0 businesses, examples of successful ad-free online services and what we’d been up to at App.net.

“I believe so deeply in the importance of having a financially sustainable realtime feed API & service that I am going to refocus App.net to become exactly that. I have the experience, vision, infrastructure and team to do it.”

Read the full post here.

What Twitter could have been

This is the post from Dalton’s blog that started this whole movement.  It got a huge reaction (over 80,000 page views in less than a week) and set in motion the concept of what App.net has now become.

“Nowadays, every time I get a K-Mart ad in my feed, or see wonky behavior in the official clients, or see Twitter drop another bomb on their developer ecosystem, I think back and wish the pro-API guys won that internal battle.”

Read the full post here.