Twitter is not the only short-messaging social network expanding its offerings to users lately: App.net, a subscription network launched in August 2012 specifically with the goal of offering an alternative to Twitter for posting short messages, on Monday added the ability for its users to post photos, video and other multimedia content from their accounts.
But in a dramatic departure from the way rival social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and even Google Plus treat multimedia content, App.net’s new feature gives every user his or her own bucket of flexible online file storage, starting at 10 gigabytes, which users can access, download from, export from or import into, or delete entirely at any time.
“What this does is give every user account a bucket of file storage, and any app that you give permission to can read or write to it,” said App.net creator Dalton Caldwell in a phone interview with TPM. “Metaphorically, it’s like the file storage you have on your iPhone or hard drive on your computer: You can use it to store content from whatever files or applications you choose, it doesn’t matter what they are.”
In principle, the new feature is similar to having Dropbox or Google Drive integrated with a user’s social network, so that the photos and videos a user posts are automatically stored to an online file locker.
Currently, a user of Twitter and Facebook can view his or her own photos in their own galleries on those websites, but there’s not a built-in easy way to migrate photos from Twitter or Facebook to other services, or vice versa.
“Obviously there are a lot of online storage options out there,” Caldwell explained to TPM. “But the interesting part of this is having it be joined to your social network.”
In another divergence from other social networks, App.net itself isn’t launching any separate photo or video sharing apps — just the file locker part, which accepts all types of content (up to discrete file sizes of 100 megabytes), as well as a button to “Add Photo” on App.net’s primary desktop website, Alpha.app.net (nicknamed “Alpha”). Screenshot of the button below:
And here’s a screenshot of what a photo post looks like in the Alpha.app.net stream:
“We’re not launching any photo sharing app ourselves, we’re giving third-party developers the building blocks to create their own photo sharing services,” Caldwell explained.
That’s critical to understanding the distinction between App.net and other social networks, too: App.net strives to offer only the core architecture for posting short messages and content, and actively encourages development of apps that use its core service in very different ways, paying out $20,000 a month between the developers of popular apps that can post to and access App.net’s social network. App.net views social networks as a kind of critical infrastructure, like physical networks for delivering electricity or water, and believes they should have similar pricing structures in place.
Already, several third party developers have developed popular mobile apps, such as Netbot, for publishing text updates to App.net, which Caldwell said could be easily tweaked to support the new App.net photo sharing locker.
Caldwell said that the App.net’s new File API (application programming interface), which allows developers to write apps or modify their apps to allow App.net users to post content from them, was developed specifically so that the “user retains control of their own content.”
Many social networks including Facebook, its subsidiary Instagram, and competitor Twitter expressly state that users retain ownership of all the content they post, but also include terms that let the companies have access to the user generated content for purposes of advertising.
App.net, though, doesn’t sell paid advertising space on its own network. Instead, it charges user membership fees of $5 per month or $36 per year.
App.net has about 30,000 paying users to date, Caldwell told TPM — triple the number that the entrepreneur targeted as his minimum threshold for launching the paid social alternative when he first floated the idea and solicited input in July 2012.
Caldwell undertook the App.net project after becoming dismayed at Twitter’s and Facebook’s moves over the course of 2012 to exert more control over software developers outside those companies that wrote apps to work with either social network. Twitter, for instance, began stricter enforcement some of its “rules of the road” for third-party software developers, cutting off access to LinkedIn’s ability to show users’ tweets, for example.
Previously, Caldwell found success developing a music sharing app called imeem, which later sold to MySpace, the dominant social network of the time. Caldwell’s experience with MySpace, which at one point before purchasing imeem actually blocked the sharing app from integrating widgets with MySpace, along with his observations of Twitter’s and Facebook’s move, led him to conclude that ad-supported social networks tend to make business decisions that disfavor users.
“When you look at all the stuff that’s happening right now, that’s all a war about social graphs,” Caldwell said, referring, among other events, to Facebook’s recent decision to block Twitter’s new video-sharing app Vine from accessing a user’s Facebook Friends list to find Friends who also use Vine.
Asked whether App.net timed its launch of the new file storage feature to coincide with Twitter’s launch of the new Vine app, Caldwell said that it was purely coincidence.
“We didn’t know when [Vine] was going to come out,” Caldwell told TPM. “We started building this [App.net File API] in December…But if some other developer wanted to build a Vine-like app for App.net? That’d be a nice idea.”
Caldwell said his team is also planning more updates to his small but burgeoning social network over the course of 2013.
“Generally, the core is there — something that wasn’t there six months ago is there. But we still have a lot of work to do,” he told TPM.