I’ve recently been looking into App.net more and more, and it doesn’t seem like the service will change anything. I absolutely believe that the founders have terrific intentions and that they will do the best that they can to see their baby grow into a full-fledged social media platform, but I don’t think that they will be able to make that happen. The vision behind this service is a supposedly a simple one: people would rather use a product than become a product that is sold to marketers for the company’s profit, but when it really comes down to it, this philosophy is crap.
that’s not how advertising works
Yes, networks like Facebook and Twitter make money by selling advertisement space, but how this actually works has been so completely skewed by privacy advocates that many people don’t understand what actually happens. I’ve seen so many people on the web complaining about how Facebook and Google sell a user’s personal information to advertisers, but those people fail to realize that Facebook and Google are actually the only ones controlling that personal information.
Take a look at the only sponsored post that I see on my entire Facebook News Feed. It’s an ad for Walmart, which is selling Mead Five Star 1-Subject notebooks. This ad doesn’t really bother me, especially since Mead Five Star notebooks are one of my suggested items on Amazon (I love nice notebooks). It’s relevant, it’s to-the-point, oh, and did I mention, it’s below the fold of the whole News Feed. I actually had to scroll down and look for this ad, or I would not have seen it; the only thing visible to me when I am at the top of the page is the “Sponsored” part.
Does this make feel like a product rather than a user? Of course not! Does this make me feel like my privacy is being violated? Absolutely not! This ad is completely relevant to me: I have intentionally listed on my Facebook profile that I am 19 years old and that I am currently enrolled in college. Seems to me like I fit the Walmart’s notebook demographic perfectly. I’m sure that when Walmart’s social media team went to create this ad, they chose to target it at people like me, as well as people the typical age of parents, people with kids listed on their profiles, etc. That’s just smart marketing.
So should I be worried that Facebook is saying “here’s everybody who would buy your notebooks, we’ll show them the ad now”? Don’t be stupid, of course not. Facebook is not “selling my personal information” to Walmart. Facebook is selling the privilege of having Facebook send ads to me. Walmart says they want to advertise to my demographic, they pay Facebook, then Facebook finds everybody who fits the profile to display the ad to.
Saying that Facebook and Google are selling the personal information that they collect to third-parties is like saying CBS collects the personal information of every old person watching The Price is Right and sells it to Hoveround. That’s certainly not what’s happening. CBS has demographic information of those watching The Price is Right provided to them by Nielsen, and Hoveround sees that the show has high viewership among older people, so that’s where they choose to advertise. CBS is selling the privilege of having millions of old people see Hoveround’s commercial.
Does anyone watching TV feel like a product rather than a user? Probably not. Ads on TV have been around as long as TV has been around, and people are used to them. Ads on the web certainly don’t bother me: there’s a thing called banner blindness which most users of the web have developed. We don’t see most ad banners on websites because we are so used to them, that we have become desensitized. Many people complaining about ads on their social networks are complaining on principle, not because the ads have any actual adverse effect on their web experience.
beware the tech jargon
Check out this snippet from Orian Marx’s blog post “How App.net Can Change Everything.”
App.net is a service dedicated to providing a new infrastructure for social web applications that will never be funded through ad revenue. [...] App.net will combine the simplicity of cloud infrastructure with the power of web frameworks to deliver the best platform for developing social web applications. Social web apps are built around concepts like users, posts, connecting and sharing. App.net will provide a scalable infrastructure and a base model for these concepts upon which startups can innovate without reinventing the same wheels again and again. Developers will spend less time just trying to make their applications functional, so they can have more time to make them unique and useful.
This quote is pulled from two separate paragraph in the original post, but they are clearly the ones to pull from since the bolding is Marx’s, not mine. (Thanks to Noah Chestnut on Quora for linking to the post.)
If this quote isn’t the most jargon-filled, overly-optimistic, mission statement-esque, PR crap that I have ever heard, I don’t know what is. Let’s list the jargon, shall we?
- “new infrastructure”
- “social web application”
- “simplicity of cloud infrastructure”
- “power of web frameworks”
- “deliver the best platform”
- “developing social web applications”
- “social web apps”
- “ built around concepts like users, posts, connecting and sharing”
- “scalable infrastructure”
- “a base model for these concepts”
- “startups can innovate”
- “Developers…can…make them unique and useful”
Looks to me like we have 12 different brands of double-talk going on here, and half of these terms contradict the other half.
Let’s get this straight: practically everything on the web is a “social web application.” Gone are the days when people logged on the view static page after static page. It’s 2012 and social is the cool thing to do. “Social web application” has become such a buzzphrase that I didn’t think anyone could still use it, thinking people would take them seriously. This phrase tells us absolutely nothing about the actual service.
It’s clear that they are trying to be a Tier 1 application that everybody logs in to every day, but that phrasing is at odds with their desire to create “new infrastructure.” I’m going to take a guess and say that you are bored with Facebook and Twitter. They are no longer new and exciting; they simply exist. Facebook originally gained traction because it was a new way of doing things, a new way of interacting with people. Now, there’s nothing new about it. Facebook has become infrastructure, even though it was born as a new social web app years ago. Twitter has the same problem; it has become infrastructure and it is now trying to pull back. While I am writing this, I am watching people rage about Twitter changing its API. Twitter it trying to create a walled garden and cut out third-party apps. Twitter has become infrastructure, but they want to get back to being a social web app.
On top of that, they also want to be a platform. It’s starting to look like the creators of App.net want to have some off Frankentwitbook. Facebook is by all means both infrastructure and a platform. People communicate with Facebook, use apps built on Facebook, and log in to other sites via Facebook, i.e. the infrastructure, but Facebook also has many apps inside its walled garden (every ‘Ville) that constitute the platform. These terms are at odds with one another, and that shows a lack of a clear vision. Although as the posts author states “this article represents my current understanding of the planned App.net platform as laid out by its founder Dalton Caldwell through many different sources, as well as my own personal views of its potential future development,” the article is in line with everyone’s vision of this website.
Now let’s take some time to cut through the smokescreen; apparently this service will be “built around concepts like users, posts, connecting and sharing.” I really hate to use a meme here, but I kinda sorta have to.
I thought the entire web was built on users, posts, connecting, and sharing? I must have confused it with something else.
The is the biggest non-statement I have seen about any social web app in a long, long time. Fun fact: this blog is built on users, posts, connecting, and sharing. You’re a user that’s reading a post that you connected to via me sharing it through some means. It’s like someone read straight from the dictionary entry of “social web apps.” But that’s remedied because the app will serve as a “base model for these concepts.” Yes, ladies and gents, App.net will be a base model for the base model. In fact, it will be built on the “power of web frameworks” so that “startups can innovate” and developers can make things that are “unique and useful.” The service is a clone of every other Tier 1 web service that is meant to create things unique and useful.
a vicious circle
I’m sorry if the last couple of paragraphs sounds extremely sarcastic, but that’s only because they are. The entire time I wrote them, I thought “this is stupid this is stupid this is stupid.” App.net is a vaporware smokescreen. Do you know why so many people think that Macs can’t get viruses? It’s because for the longest time, nobody made viruses that affected Macs. If you’re in the virus-making business to make money, why would you create a virus that would have such a tiny market share? This is a problem that plagues social web apps that want to be on the top tier of the web: to gain traction, you have to have people that want to use your service; to get people that want to use your service, you have to draw them in with things like third-party apps; if you want people to build third-party apps, you have to have people that will use the third-party apps. It’s a vicious circle that’s going to stop a lot of new apps from getting big.
It’s perfectly fine to create an app based on another company’s infrastructure, but it’s not possible to ascend to the level of infrastructure unless you have many people using the app. This is why Google+ is now a ghost town: Google’s social offering initially drew in many users, but nobody wanted to leave the service where their friends already are. If you don’t have people using the social service, people won’t be active, so when new people join, it won’t seem like any of their friends are using it.
I’m not going to join App.net. Everyone using App.net is still continuing to use Facebook and Twitter. If I can continue to interact with them there, why would I want to join a third service that does the exact same thing as the other two? Many people are going to look at this new service with the same perspective, and so those early adopters of App.net are going to get bored and just go back to where their followers are. It’s a vicious cycle that has doomed the service from the start. Remember how fast Google+ grew? I’ve seen this graphic passed around a lot:
Many people jumped on board Google+ from the start, but then when their friends didn’t follow, they quickly abandoned ship. App.net certainly has the same fate in store.