Hopeful Twitter competitor App.net attracted a lot of attention last summer, as its initial growth spurt coincided with Twitter’s increasing hostility towards third parties. Could the service grow into a viable alternative to the big advertising-driven networks? I compiled a few snapshots of approximate user counts in two-month intervals.
Column “Growth” shows the average monthly user growth since the last data point. The last row’s AppNetizens test checks for the lowest numerical user ID that has not been assigned yet. This trick was also used in an App.net discussion, so I hope it’s reliable.
As you can see, App.net has not been growing exponentially or even linearly since its big publicity coup last August. Instead, the growth curve shows all signs of logarithmically flattening and petering out well below 100,000 users.
Since App.net charges fees it doesn’t need an enormous user base and might well survive as a business – but why? A network that’s smaller than a modest town is not terribly useful for connecting with people, and that’s the whole point of social networks.
2013-02-21: David Smith reports that App.net sees currently only ~2,300 unique posters per day, meaning that the total number of active users is likely closer to 20,000 than 30,000. As a consequence, developing commercial App.net clients is not a viable business unless subsidized by App.net itself.
2013-02-26: App.net introduces a free tier, quite limited and by invitation only. Dalton Caldwell claims the time was right because the App.net infrastructure and ecosystem had been built up sufficiently. However, it’s hardly a coincidence that the free tier appears shortly after the number of paying users has leveled off…
2014-05-07: Over a year later, Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg can no longer afford full-time employees due to insufficient service renewals. Evidently there were no new sign-ups to offset those missing renewals, either. Quite a few Hacker News commenters say they were renewed without a reminder, meaning a bunch of cancelations might be in the pipeline, too.
As a business App.net will continue “indefinitely” (read: for the time being) since revenues are still high enough to pay for ongoing hosting and other operating costs. As a social network that might compete with Twitter, App.net has clearly failed. Users might complain about advertising, primitive clients, or privacy invasions but what they really care about is finding their friends – and not paying.