App.net’s unrealized potential as an API →
Friend-of-the-show Manton Reece:
I’m more than a little disappointed that fellow developers didn’t get the power of the App.net API. Does Sunlit look like a Twitter app? Give me a break. App.net is hands down the best API of its kind.
It’s not that we didn’t “get” the power of their API.
Requiring the App.net API in our app meant requiring all of our users to have App.net accounts. App.net launched almost 2 years ago as only a paid service — free accounts with open registration were only available for the past year. Trying to get all of your app’s customers to pay you anything for your app, then pay App.net $36 per year for something they don’t understand or care about, is a tall order.1
The high paywall and minimal initial differentiation from Twitter stunted its initial growth, so then it became an API of all different sorts. That’s fine, but now it’s a proprietary API doing some things like Twitter, some things like Facebook, some things like Dropbox, some things like Kickstarter, and maybe someday some things like Stripe… except with none of the users of those services, and only for users with App.net accounts — a userbase that never grew to a large enough number to matter.
Building an app on someone else’s API, rather than making your own, is a huge risk: it usually only pays off if the service provides a huge existing userbase and hard-to-duplicate functionality. App.net never offered either. They started out facing the typical social-network chicken-and-egg problem, put a huge paywall in front to prevent any growth, and tried to alleviate that by adding more chicken-and-egg problems to their offerings.
It was always a weak proposition for developers.
As much as App.net wanted to be — and eventually was — much more than a Twitter clone, it got the vast majority of its initial funding, enthusiasm, and developer support from people’s anger at Twitter’s dickification. But internet outrage doesn’t last long. Since App.net never became the new primary place where our friends all hung out, most of us never left Twitter — we all just accept that they’re dicks now, and we forgot about App.net.
The now-dead Developer Incentive Program was created to address this exact problem, but from what I’ve been told, it never brought in a lot of money even for popular apps. The pool of App.net users has always just been too small. ↩︎