Exactly one year ago, I took a leap of faith and dropped $50 on a social network that had not even existed yet. At the time, App.net was trying to reach its funding goal of $500,000. Admittedly I was not one of the backers of the fundraiser. The thought of contributing money to a service that seemed nothing more than a more open and developer friendly version of Twitter, whilst appealing, made me nervous. I was however, and remained, cautiously optimistic.
I recall a strong feeling of apprehension when I first considered backing the project. In the end, I decided to hold off and see if it at least reached its goal. It did exceedingly well, not only meeting its goal, but surpassed it by a significant margin (upwards of $800k). It’s easy for anyone to slap a Kickstarter-esque page together and make promises of grandeur, but to deliver those promises in spades, and exceed user expectation, is stupendously difficult. Each decision on your API feature-set must be carefully and painstakingly considered. Your product roadmap must be planned well in advance, and you must ensure to roll out features that not only please users, but also encourage and foster innovation amongst a community of developers. Community — something that is not to be taken lightly. ADN is now considered by many to be a wonderful community. A community of people that aren’t just using it to consume content, but are building and extending its usefulness through robust native smartphone and desktop apps.
Yesterday marked exactly one year since my account was activated. I’m user #7951 to be exact. As of this writing, there are now over 150,000 accounts. Sure, this is a pittance in comparison to Twitter’s billions, yet with a freemium business model, ADN has become a profitable and sustainable company. Eschewing a paid advertisement model, vis-à-vis Twitter and Facebook, they have kept mass adoption at bay. By restricting core features like being able to follow accounts to a mere 40 on the free version, they’re asking those who are truly interested in building an audience and engaging with others, to support its continued development.
People have demonstrated their willingness to pay for a social network that delivers value. I have witnessed first hand the service blossom as many highly polished clients landed on the iOS App Store (Riposte, Whisper, Felix). Once the first full featured mobile client became available, that was lynch pin that afforded me the opportunity to use the service on a daily basis. Robust ADN apps allow you to compose posts, share photo and location data, and chat via private messages (with the added advantage of a 256 character limit — double that of Twitter). There are now plenty of other apps that further leverage some of the great APIs available, such as: File, Places, and Search. For example, apps such as Sprinter allow you to quickly snap a photo, apply a filter, and share it to your followers. There are other neat apps that I’ve discovered as well, such as Patter, which takes what private messaging offers and allows you to create public chat rooms (which remind are reminiscent of IRC).
Conversation And Community
It may seem as if there are far more interesting people on the service conversing in all sorts of interesting topics, comparatively speaking to Twitter. I posit that this is simply presumptuous, as when the active user base of a small service is dwarfed considerably by its primary competitor, it’s far easier to get a sense for the overall “feel” of things. This is fine though and not at all a draw back. When you look at something like Twitter, who has billions of people sending 140 character messages every day, discovery can be an even greater challenge. There’s just no way you can dive into the global feed on Twitter to find people you may want to follow, or just to see the general conversation happening at any given moment. The content there moves at a pace that is untenable to keep up with.
Only a year into using ADN and I absolutely feel like I’m part of something special. I’ve made more Internet pals here than I ever did with Twitter. In fact, I’ve discovered business partners of whom I work wonderfully with. I certainly have a lot to be thankful for. The $50 I spent in August of 2012 has more than paid for itself. There’s a general feeling I hear from numerous people that social networks are all but ephemeral, that they are perhaps meaningless — a waste of time. That they won’t be around twenty years from now. There may be a sliver of truth to some of this — who knows? Those that dismiss it merely can’t see the value, as they haven’t taken the time to digest and understand it, not to mention use it. This is all fine, yet I have shown proof that using it has not been a waste of time to me.
Once in a while I hear complaints (from people I respect) about how most of the conversations happening seem to be focused solely on technology. If you feel that an overwhelming majority of users are just pundits, you’re gravely mistaken. One only need dip into the global stream to find people from all over North America, Europe, and Asia, sharing thoughts about gaming, anime, cooking, cars, science, and much more. Perhaps you may be hearing a limited range of discourse, however, I suggest retiring any pre-conceived notions you have about the user base. It’s more likely than not that everyone you follow also happens to follow people that are in the same industry as yourself (thus you keep following people within your purview of experience). Many human beings tend to stay in groups where they feel most comfortable, so this behaviour seems natural to me. I don’t know what the solution is, but perhaps the recent announcement of the search API will help foster discovery of new users and topics. The search API will allow third party developers to build in native search to their apps. Currently the official web app has search baked right in, so if you haven’t tried it yet, I encourage you to give it a shot. Just type in any keyword, and you may yet find people and topics that interest you. It’s not perfect, but I can only imagine this will get better as the service matures.
Through active participation on a daily basis, I’ve been able to connect with so many wonderful people. Ruminating on the numerous conversation threads I’ve taken part in over the past year, I’m extremely grateful that ADN exists. Without it, I can confidently attest that I would have missed out on thought provoking, intelligent, and humorous dialogue. Without it, I wouldn’t have had the delightful opportunity earlier in the year to travel to Seattle and meet the wonderful people that started TypeEngine, or meet people like Jim Dalrymple for the first time. Here’s to yet another year of growth and success.