An attempt to create a social network funded by user subscription fees rather than advertising has reached its first goal: $500,000 in funding towards set-up fees.
App.net set up its own crowdsourcing project along the lines of Kickstarter, with a goal of raising half a million dollars. At the time of writing it had picked up just under $700,000 from more than 10,000 backers with around 16 hours to go till a self-imposed deadline.
Everyone who has already pledged money has effectively pre-paid for one year’s membership of the network, though the actual amount new users will pay when it launches isn’t confirmed. Those who put the money in now will also get first refusal on using their existing Twitter name. If they don’t want to use this, they can put in a request for a different name and get priority over those who join later on.
The people behind the service argue that charging a fee for an ad-free service benefits the user because it changes the focus: it means the user is the customer rather than the advertisers, and thus is the priority for the site’s management. Promotional material for the site doesn’t name names, but it’s clear the implication is that the likes of Facebook and Twitter are compromising the user experience for the sake of raking in cash from marketers.
Ten thousand users is certainly a good start, but social networks are a numbers game. The real danger is that people won’t bother paying to join the site unless friends and colleagues are already members, creating a vicious circle. Realistically something like this is never going to get a mass audience, so it may be reliant on getting a lot of users with similar interests or professional specialties, turning it into a niche network.
The service’s biggest strength could also be a weakness. In principle users should be confident that management will do their utmost to keep the service running smoothly because they can’t simply use the unspoken excuse that “we don’t owe you anything” if there’s a glitch. In reality, that puts the site under incredible pressure and any service issues will likely attract very negative publicity.