Social media has gone mainstream, and jaded geeks are totally over it. Facebook? It's turned into "sludge for the brain now, filled with fluffy rabbits and gibberish." Twitter? Just a mess of "mass-market spoonfed 'trending topics.'" Instagram? What was once the epitome of geek chic has been overrun with filthy Android smartphone users, not to mention Iran's Supreme Leader.
So trendsetting geeks are pinning their hopes on a new, geekier-than-thou social network called App.net. For just $50, you, too can become part of this exclusive club of early adopters, free to sniff at the riffraff on Facebook and Twitter. Social networking has reached the crucial "alt" phase.
App.net, the brainchild of long-time Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell (above), sprung from an anti-Twitter rant he penned last month. The rant is full of technical jargon but boils down to the same argument that might be spewed by an indie rock fan upon hearing their favorite band's music in an Exxon commercial: Sell outs! Twitter went commercial. Now, Caldwell argues, they'd rather please their advertisers than their users.
App.net sells itself with the same socially conscious self-satisfaction as a fair trade organic chocolate bar at Whole Foods: "Our product is the service that we sell, not our users," is one promise. Cruelty-free social networking.
And just like hipsters obsessing over the retro-cool of a vinyl record, App.net is taking the decidedly antiquated approach of charging for its service. It currently costs $50 to "join the movement" i.e. open an account. Caldwell is introducing App.net with a crowdsourcing stunt borrowed from Kickstarter: It will only launch if enough people chip in $50 (or more), to reach a $500,000 fundraising target. (It's currently at $355,450, with three days left.)
Whitney Boesel at BuzzFeed suggests people are flocking to App.net because of digital "white flight," with App.net being the gated suburbs where white users are trying to shut out the minorities and poor people who are increasingly using social media. But App.net's emphasis on its geek cred—"We're building a real-time social service where users and developers come first," they say—seems to be more about a nostalgia for the early days of social networking, when the only people tweeting and Facebook-ing were super tech savvy early adopters.
The $50 paywall, they hope, will mean only serious geeks will join up.
Will App.net really be able to convince enough geeks to pay $50 for admission to its organic Farmville? I wouldn't underestimate the geek hipster. We do live in a world where the mason jar cocktail shaker raised ten times its goal on Kickstarter.