This morning on my run, I saw a peacock, a herd of wild turkeys, and a huge butterfly that hovered alongside me for a bit as I ran. I thought how magical to see these creatures in my average suburban strip-mall neighborhood. Seeing the unexpected reminded to believe particularly in things we think are not likely to happen but just might if we keep hope.
I have been following the Kickstarter-like fundraising of App.net which started a month ago with this post I saw on Techmeme by Founder Dalton Caldwell titled, "Announcing an audacious proposal." In a nutshell, his dream is to build a subscription-based Twitter-like social network where the users and developers come first, not advertisers.
I really admire the gumption of this guy.
Who is going to pay to be on a social network when we have places like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ for free? Yeah, the ads can be annoying and there is the privacy issues, but as much as people complain, they still use the platforms because it's free and their friends are on it. If you are a personal brand like myself, these free social networks allow us to grow our reach, build influence, and create communities...for free.
Did I mention free?
After 6 years of blogging and building a brand online, I have started to wonder if free really is that good or maybe just has limited good? Don't get me wrong, I'm very grateful for everything that has happened for me and for others because of these free social networks. But as a consumer, I do wonder sometimes what I am really getting out of these free networks? I am starting to suffer from social network fatigue.
Why I'd open my wallet
What fascinates me about App.net and why I'd be willing to pay to be on a social network is two things.
First, ads don't bother me. It's a small price to get something for free. I will pay though to be part of a quality audience and avoid spam-bots, stalkers, and obnoxious creepy guys. From a woman's perspective, I am concerned more about safety than ads. I also long for more quality interactions. I like Facebook because I can control my inner circle, and yet have the subscription option to share with a general audience.
From my experience on online dating sites, there is a correlation between paid versus free dating sites. It's not necessarily the quality of people you meet, but the quality of the interaction. When money is involved people behave better. Not always, because there will always be the obnoxious ones in every group, but overall, I have noticed that the quality of behaviour improves when there is a fee involved.
Another simple metaphor would be going to the Four Seasons and paying $15 for a cocktail versus $3 for a well drink at your local hole in the wall bar. The behaviour and ambiance differs depending on how much patrons have to pay, and as well, each serves a certain need.
If paying means I can be part of a social network filled with cool people who are respectful, inspiring, and fun where the depth of my interactions are also more meaningful, I'm throwing down my credit card. But likewise, I'd still stay on Twitter @skinnyjeans because I do well on that platform.
The second thing that fascinates me about App.Net is from the company side.
I've been watching the buzz around App.net and it's heartwarming to see the emotion and passion around this audacious proposal. If anything, maybe this audacious proposal is making many of us believe again. We love to see someone fight the good fight, and try and succeed where the skeptics think it will fail. It's fun to be a part of David going up against Goliath.
Dalton sure has been putting himself out there, and reaching out. I'm trying to think of how many founders actually do that, put themselves out there emotionally and passionately to the people? It appears on Twitter and in the App.net Alpha that Dalton is literally answering every single tweet and message sent to him. I bet the guy is running on a pure adrenalin right now and hasn't slept much.
I tweeted Dalton and asked him why women would use App.Net because upon visiting the Alpha it basically looks like a bachelor pad with a bunch of dudes hanging out. For a social network to scale to the mainstream, the women have to get on board. He responded to me, and although he didn't really answer my question, what impressed me was that he said if I didn't back the project at this time, "he understood."
Empathy is a rare quality I see in this wave of Silicon Valley startup frenzy, and that's what clenched it for me, so I decided to be a backer of this audacious proposal.
We are moving into an empathy driven economy, and the brands, companies, and people who will standout are the ones who are best at capturing the hearts and passions of the people. It won't be about who has the best technology, the most money from prestigious investors, or the fancy pedigrees, it will be about heart and making people feel connected to things that remind them of magic much like the peacock, turkeys, and butterfly I saw on my run this morning.
A social network is about people, and what connects us on a human level is heart and soul. I believe App.net will get funded because it has that specialness. There's two days left on the fundraiser. Go here if you want to be a backer too.