Is there anyone with the remotest connection to App.net who hasn't read the ADN State of the Union post yet? I doubt it. It's been endlessly discussed over the last couple of days, and there's a pretty clear divide between those who see it as the end, or the beginning of the end, and those who see it as a new beginning. I'm still figuring out what I think about it, but I find that I have a few things to say about it anyway, because why leave the tech douchebaggery to others? I'm sure this will not be entirely well-received, but so be it.
Let me say at the outset that I'm sticking with ADN, because I like it, and I'll be there until they turn off the lights (or the fabled #adnprinter). But let's not kid ourselves. It's not a commercial success. It may not be an abject failure (yet), but laying off the entire staff, open-sourcing the code and taking the founders off the payroll is not the natural progression for a successful project. I actually give Dalton and Bryan a lot of credit for not just doing the easy thing and winding it up, instead of doing us all a favor by keeping it going for now, but I can't quite shake the feeling that I've seen this play before. What we're really looking at now is a probable state of benign neglect, at best. It may continue in this state for some time, but if you think it was hard to convince your friends to join ADN before, when it had a full-time support staff and VC-sponsored development, you ain't seen nothin' yet. And I'm not sure how you convince developers to build apps when the Developer Incentive Program has been killed, and even the best developers (paging Bill Kunz…) have been unable to make much money from their efforts.
Do I need to draw a picture? The original dream is over. Many of us came aboard in 2012 lured by the vision of a social network that respected your privacy, that gave you ownership of your stuff, that you supported by paying for it, built on an infrastructure that would be supported and maintained by the App.net organization, and which could serve as the foundation for third-party apps built by developers. It's hard to see this happening now. Overrun with automated posts, crossposts and outright spam from a free tier that takes up resources without contributing anything, it' s highly unlikely that the latest developments will make things any better.
Am I saying it's dead? No. After all, it is sustainable for the moment, which as I pointed out yesterday is more than can be said for Twitter. But if it were a human being, it would be on life support, in a coma, being monitored by a couple of doctors who are alone in the room after the nurses and physician's assistants have been sent home. It could die. It could recover. But right now, it's not going to be throwing the winning pass in the Super Bowl anytime soon. And it takes more chutzpah than I have to suggest that under the circumstances, everything is going to be just fine, regardless.
And with that said, despite some chatter I've seen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ADN members wanting to take out insurance in the form of exchanging Twitter or Google+ or Plurk handles. The real value of ADN is the community of people who coalesced around it; get those people together elsewhere, and the community will survive even if the worst happens. It doesn't mean you're disloyal to ADN. For crying out loud, this isn't a nation, this isn't religion, this is a bloody social network run by a startup.
It may surprise you that this analysis is coming from me. I've been a big supporter of ADN, and I've said consistently whenever "ADN is doomed" talk came up that according to Dalton all was fine, that the VC investors were happy, and things were good, and that I'd worry about it when that changed.
I'm worrying about it now. Andreesen Horowitz appears to have pulled the plug, renewals are a fraction of what they need to be, and suddenly we have a crisis.
For what it's worth, I think Brianna Wu of Revolution 60 (@spacekatgal) was right when she wrote "More than anything, App.net was a product that tried to solve an engineering problem, not a human problem." Ironically, ADN now has a very human problem. As things stand, the best hope for ADN lies with its hardcore users, the ones who were frequently ignored or put off when they asked for certain features. Lists, anyone?
To repeat, I'm not leaving. I like it there. I've got two paid accounts, and I'm good for another year or so at least. But I'm staying with the blinders off. No more illusions.