App.net: or why you shouldn't copy a successful company

Early Reports indicate that App.net is not generating very much user engagement. In fact, most of their 10,000 daily posts come from about 250 users, a far shot from Twitter’s 150 million users and 350 million tweets.

Dalton Caldwell built App.net on the idea that a developer ecosystem on a social platform should be paid for by developers and not advertisers. Doing this would create products that in the end would be better for customers. Its a good theory and one that I absolutely support, but he chose to compete with Twitter who already has massive lead.

I often hear startups pitch ideas that remind me of existing already successful companies. When I make them aware of the fact that their idea is not unique and that another company already has a big head-start, their first thought is that they can do it better, they can differentiate their way into the market and succeed.

Apple differentiated its way into the market multiple times with products like the iPod, OSX, iPhone and iPad. Facebook did the same when they entered the market dominated by MySpace and created a better product. So its not entirely impossible to enter a market and outplay an already entrenched player.

App.net solves a problem for the developer, not the end user and this is the fundamental difference that will hamper their growth. App.net developers are going to be tasked with how to differentiate against Twitter and I think its there that they will fail.

For an end user, App.net looks exactly like Twitter and it won’t improve their experience in any relevant way that will make them want to switch.

When entering a market with established competitors you need to make sure that your product differentiation appeals to the end user customer. If your market has many layers as it does when competing with Twitter, your customer is both the developer and the end user and things get more complicated and ultimately impossibly difficult.

Published by joshkerr

Josh is an 8x startup founder and angel investor.

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16 Comments

  1. “For an end user, App.net looks exactly like Twitter and it won’t improve their experience in any relevant way that will make them want to switch.”

    In fact, it will provide them with a worse experience: a barren twitter. There’s also one obvious difference all end users will glean, “App.net” sounds like an app – “that’s not twitter, that’s just some weird app thing.” Good ideas are often bad ideas lacking context.

  2. How many users did Twitter have a month into their existence? And how many tweets, from what percentage of the total Twitter population? Comparing ADN at 30 days to Twitter today is a bit unfair.

    1. Are Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber on App.net? If not, nobody cares even if they throw all developers out of their ecosystem.

  3. app.net has the opportunity to serve a much larger purpose.

    Designing a product to scale and deliver messages in the scale twitter does is no easy fit. Instead of focusing so much in charging people to build a platform which won’t have as many users as the no barrier free for all twitter, app.net should use whatever they build to create a Social Streaming arm of the internet that EVERYONE can own.

    Just the way we can all have web servers, email servers and so many other protocols working on the internet why not create the means for the world to replace twitter with a network of interconnected social stream servers. That’d be the real twitter killer. I see this happening more as an apache foundation kind of project rather than a company trying to create yet another twitter competitor for which everyone has to pay for.

    I wish the best for app.net, but it’ll never be massive, not as long as twitter is still there with its hundreds of millions of loyal users who don’t have to pay a dime. Good luck on getting the average person to pay to join a network where nobody is going to be following them.

  4. Do you think people would care if Google Docs had advertisement? Twitter wouldn’t have much traction if users had to pay for their tweets.

  5. What’s really lame is that your Kudos button tricks people into giving you kudos, and its far from obvious. My mouse hovers over the button, it mesmerizes with some pretty graphic effect and the words say don’t move, and the button turns green… Most people don’t realize at that point they just gave you a kudo. Lame.

  6. I think I ended up sending them an email saying that if they didnt hit their crowd funding mark that they should take a stand back and realize that

    1. People can install ad blocker and see 0 ads.
    2. Its going to be hard to keep a consistent base of people who will pay so they can talk to people they dont know. Thats the thing. Its like trying to draw people into an internet “club”. Which isnt necessary when you have IRC.
    3. Consumers have reached the point that they want to try before they buy software because of the crap they’ve wasted their money on before on overpriced software. The number of people who buy into this project will always remain small unless there is something about their technology that makes the competitors products seem defunct in comparison. (i.e, Apple products vs their competitors during the times when they announce a new innovative device.).

    I suggested they look at the name of their company, “App Network” and identify with the name of the brand and find innovation in that.

    I promise that the next big thing is going to be what this could have been.

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