When I first heard about App.net my first reaction was probably very much like yours, "I don't need another social media network!". Of course, being the geek I am I had to take a look anyway and I'm glad did.
Before I get into why App.net is worth your time, let me give you the back story. Founder Dalton Caldwell created this new network-known to fans as ADN- a mere 12 weeks ago as an ad-free, real-time social network. Wait, here's a video, I'll let him tell the story.
The product is the service they sell, and not their users. There are no advertisers, instead users pay a nominal fee to get access. Initially the company set their fees at $50 for a year of service, but on October 1, 2012 they hit 20,000 users and lowered their prices as well as introducing an introductory month for just $5. Users who have already paid their $50 to play got extended contracts. I like that.
The difference between ADN and Twitter
When you look at App.net initially the website itself looks like a stripped down version of Twitter. It's important to remember this is designed as a platform, not an application. Applications are being developed around it and make it richer in many ways. ADN pitches itself as the platform developers can trust not to shut them out, as Twitter is in the process of doing, with an open API to build apps on, and developers have flocked to it. ADN recently instituted an App.net developer incentive program to encourage faster development. As a result there is a substantial list of 3rd party applications for ADN already. Some are a little wobbly on their feet, but many of the developers actively take feedback on ADN and turn that feedback into features. How cool is that?
For the users it's actually very cool. There are a slew of apps already, many of them created by the same people who create your favorite Twitter apps, so it's easy to quickly feel at home with it.
How does App.net work?
People post short messages, almost always with links, photos and casual chatter, much like on Twitter. Posts can be longer on ADN, so instead of 140 characters you have 256 characters to post with. After almost 5 years on Twitter, let me tell you, that feels sinfully luxurious! In fact there are few posts I've made so far that even get to the limit.
The basic rules are the same as Twitter, and my Twitter Manners post is appropriate here too. Mentions (@jfouts), Hashtags (#ADN) work pretty much the same. Reposts (as opposed to retweets) show up like "via ..." and you can see what apps people are using by mousing over the timestamp. Unlike Twitter you can see more information about each post. How many replies, reposts and stars (favorites) show below the post and you can view the entire conversation in threaded form so you don't miss a thing. If you want to see who is using what app, mouse over that timestamp again and it will show you how the message was sent. Click the name of the app and you go to their homepage to learn more.
Who is using App.net?
Just like when Twitter started the first to use App.net are the early adopters, people like me who test products before suggesting to clients. Others who make up a larger portion are developers and people who are fed up with the ad-supported networks and the changes Twitter is making and were willing to fork over $50 to show it. Initially the majority of the discussions revolve around the platform itself, the apps developed for it and "to hell with advertising" but now, as more people join it the discussions are more varied.
Should I be using App.net?
You have to answer that question for yourself, but now that it costs you $5 to sign up, why not go take a look? Sure, there might not be a lot of people in your target market there unless they too are early adopters, but like the early days of any social media network, the early adopter has the advantage over those who wait to learn it when they suddenly need it. If you expect an immediate business return and you're going to talk about yourself non-stop, people will probably just click the mute button. I know I will.
What apps should I use?
There are a host of apps to use with ADN. If, like me you've got an iPhone and you're on a Mac, I am partial to two in particular, though I'm still testing a few others.
Apps for iPhone
Felix has a cleanly designed UI with nice use typography, much appreciated by the designers, and it's iPhone5 ready. It integrates with popular add-ons like Instapaper, Readbility and Pocket and you can share media through Droplr and CloudApp. Like my personal favorite Twitter app, Tweetbot, it allows you to create drafts for later publishing and to quote a message and add your own comments to it before sending. Needless to say, the notification feature is critical since there aren't a lot of people using App.net yet, so rather than checking every 5 minutes you can just turn notifications on and get back to people almost immediately.
At the moment Wedge is my favorite. The interface is clean and easy to navigate and it feels a tiny bit faster to me, though that could just be the animation. Both have basically the same features, so it's up to you to pick one that works for you. Honestly I'm just beginning to play with the toys here, expect a deeper review of some of these apps as I poke around some more.
Apps you already use
Some of the apps you're using for other social media networks quickly adopted App.net. Partly because of how easy it is for apps to adapt for it, and I do think that is going to be one of the secrets of their staying power. My favorite apps that work with App.net include Buffer and IFTTT, two of my favorites, and even Flattr for accepting donations. As more people adopt new apps will be added.