I’m pleasantly surprised to read the news that Dalton Caldwell’s audacious proposal for a user-funded, ad-free alternative to Twitter has reached its funding goal. A week ago, it didn’t look like Caldwell would fetch the minimum target of $500,000 worth funding that he’d set as a requirement for launching — or rather pivoting — App.net. But he did, and it’s an achievement with potentially significant ramifications.
Why is App.net so important? Simply put, it reflects a growing frustration with the insidious nature of advertisements on social networks. While many people are now able to tune out traditional banner and sidebar advertisements, social ads are constantly evolving. And as social networks like Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr struggle to find viable business models and appease investors, so-called in-stream advertisements are becomingly increasingly common.
Evidence suggests that they’re working, which will only embolden those charged with generating revenue for social networks.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with in-stream ads that enhance, or at least don’t worsen, my overall user experience on a platform. My experience as a user (and yes, I’m aware that if I’m not paying for something, then I’m its product) is especially important to me as I spend more and more time accessing social networks — and the Internet in general — on mobile devices. In-stream ads need to be subtle on small screens in order to avoid becoming disruptive.
In my experience, however, subtlety is fading away (see the screen shot from Facebook’s iOS app). Which sucks. And so it’s time for a new approach, one in which advertisements aren’t crammed into every nook and cranny of screens both small and large. It’s time for social networking leaders to think different.
And that’s where App.net comes in, as a paid service that puts the interests of users first. Caldwell’s idea may or may not succeed — and some smart people are on the record in saying that it’s likely to fail — but I’m still hopeful. And thus, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, by backing the App.net project as part of its Member Tier.
I’m helping to fund App.net, in hopes that becomes a great service. But more importantly, I’m funding an idea, one that is best expressed in the words of former Facebook employee Jeff Hammerbacher: “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”
Yes, it certainly does. For all of us.
While in-stream advertisements won’t (and shouldn’t) go away entirely, they need to remain minimally obtrusive. But within the streams of my social networking apps, they’re trending in the opposite direction. So perhaps there’s a place for App.net’s user-funded business model.
I certainly hope so. But what about you?