Q: Why Join App.net? A: Privacy & No Advertising

App.net might look like just another social service to some. And, in fact, it currently looks very much like Twitter was when it started: It is just a lot of tech-savvy people talking freely and enthusiastically about app.net and whatever strikes their fancy: No celebrities promoting themselves, no ad-spam, no fake users, no incredibly stupid posts—although there are some stupid posts, there’s no one stupid enough to post public calls to kill government officials as one woman who has disappeared did. App.net is just a lot of signal with very low noise.

I get at least a few invites each month to join a new SoNet. The invites usually get a tossed into the trash almost immediately. Few get me to look at the site. But that’s usually it. Even if I do sign up the to site, I often let it languish and simply forget about it until they start spamming me to use their site, “log in with…” or want me to link my other SoNets to it.

Paying not to Share but Selectively Share

App.net is 180° away from ll of these sites though, because their interests align with my interests:

I can interact with people I wish to, in private. App.net does not build a profile of me that it uses to sell targeted advertising: App.net has no ads. App.net does not mine my data, and App.net does not make me and my data into a product. We have heard this pledge to respect user privacy before. The difference, is that by making its revenue based on users paying directly, App.net’s interests are in keeping people happy enough with their service to pay. After a month of mostly lurking and then jumping into the stream, its is nice here. There is no wasted bits: no one pissing in my stream.

Until a few years ago the idea of paying to share content this way seemed counter-intuitive. “Why should we pay to create content and draw eyeballs?” Well, as it turns out, I am not paying to share content, and allow others to profit off of my indirectly. I am paying App.net directly ($50/year) to give me the control my data, and not spam me with unwanted and unneeded data plan wasting advertising.

The Trojan Advertising Horse

With that said, It looks like the idea of paying to play is something that is finally ready for people to embrace rather than scoff at. Until about 3 years ago the value of having an account on a social network was not proven. So, asking someone to pay for something of questionable value was laughed at. Sure people moan and complain about SoNet sites all the time, and other people point out that the site is free. But really it isn’t. The account is free, but you pay for it with your information and attention to ads.

Advertisers have been trying for decades to crack that nut of how to get in front of the most people. With SoNets they might finally have it: SoNets do all the work of building the virtual meeting spot, offering free accounts. Users fill in profiles voluntarily that advertisers can then use to analyze their audiences’ likes and dislikes. They can also encourage you to share with others that might be a good target for their products, as a form of virtual endorsements. People will accept this to varying degrees, with most not even realizing how much money your time and content is worth.

On a micro scale: I could not afford to write (or hire people to write) a few articles a day. But give 100 of my friends free access to update my site, and they will create enough content each day equal to my paid articles. Sure they pay nothing, but I gain content that would cost me money to produce. Sure, content varies from insightful and useful things to inane idiocy. In short, something for everyone. Then I simply place an unobtrusive ad on the page and let the cash roll in. This is the Facebook model, and it works well, until…

Facebook: Pissing in Your Stream

I left Facebook because my feed had become littered with advertising. Either clueless friends would click “like” on large corporation’s products such as Amazon, who likes to dodge taxes while facilitating slave labor-like conditions within the US, etc. Or Facebook itself would decide to inject a promoted ad for stupid shit like reality TV shows or for the new McPukey Sam’mich because multiple ads telling me to get a life along the side were not enough. As if I am unaware of these companies, and I usually find out about the new McCrappacino on TV or on a real news site anyway.

In short they started pissing in the stream I drank out of, so I switched streams. Now Twitter seems to be heading in that direction as well. I so when I heard about App.net I backed its fundraising efforts so I get the feed of people and I don’t have any Beats advertising thrust in my face. (BTW: guess what Beats peeps: If someone’s degree has to do with producing quality audio, you should probably avoid them, because when they hear your “quality audio” they can let their friends know that the phrase has the hidden word “low” in front of it.) Unlike most people, I mind advertising shoved in front of my face. I especially mind when I am visiting a site and they use my connection, my bandwidth to inject some ad. that I couldn’t care less about.

The funny thing is I tolerated their intrusiveness until it got out of hand. Then I simply blocked ad networks and Flash content entirely, and filtered pages using CSS’s “display: none !important;” property. There is probably nothing more annoying than surfing to a site and suddenly interrupting music listening or peaceful silence (and the sleep of your S.O.) by a full motion video, complete with poorly mixed audio blaring out your speakers or through your headphones. Also when over 25% of my screen real estate on a site is Ads. you can bet I am not going back to it. This is what Facebook has become: 25% ads, 10% inane, 15% game spam, 20% reposts, 30% original & worthwhile posts.

Also, pop-overs asking if I would like to subscribe or do something are also in this blink and scroll tag category. If I wanted to do whatever this popover says, I could simply find it on the site. The Web Marketing geniuses behind these popovers should know that the more annoying you are, the less likely a person wants anything to do with you. Do they not understand that if I click to read a story, I would in fact like to read the story, not subscribe to a daily feed? If a person reacted by not providing the info asked for, most people would simply walk away.

Privacy Not Guaranteed

The only problem is the vast amount of data being handed to any one company is enough to find out more about a person and their associates than most people would feel comfortable with most people and a majority of companies knowing. The problem is compounded when a person that likes their privacy realizes that there is little-to-no oversight of personal data once it is in the hands of a third party company.

Sure all the third party may wish to do is sell you their shiny sunglasses, but what happens when they contract a email marketing company and hand over your email address? Or what happens when someone at either company downloads tens of thousands of contacts from the user database they got from you using Pokerville in order to analyze it, but then loses the encrypted drive the data is on? Or what if they have a virus on their laptop that finds and uploads this file? Or what is someone hacks their data store and siphons off user data? Or what if they upgrade their old Dell and no one bothers to wipe the drive vey well, if at all?

This might all sound like things that are not likely to happen, but all of this has happened more than once in many cases. The reason is that even if the chance of any one thing happening it .01%, that means for every 10,000 times a file is copied to local computers or servers, statistically, one of those is compromised.

App.net is an API not a Ad-Trojan nor gives anyone incentive to take your info. They have no reason to sell nor share your data. So, the odds of a data breach might be the same, but the number of times the dice are rolled goes down dramatically. The data feed is no the firehose that Twitter or any of the other services are, where you get the entire raw stream and it is up to ethical developers to filter person things out. Instead each user must give permission to have their information unlocked. Oddly enough, this is the model that administrators and security professionals have followed for decades in terms of data access: the least amount of permissions necessary to do the job is given. One would think the other companies would follow this practice that has existed for decades.

“Developers, Developers, Dev— no really! I am not just dancing around like a monkey.”

Also, developers who actually make the Apps and the customers facing products pay to develop as well. This means that the developers are paying for a spot in this virtual meeting space and if they pack up and leave, there will be less revenue as well. So keeping developers happy is also an important interest App.net has. Alpha was just a demo, and not intended to be a final product. The man behind App.net knows that no matter how brilliant a design, it will not appeal to everyone. Any by casting a wider net and supporting developers, the odds of a brilliant idea surfacing in App.net’s virtual space increases with each developer. And from the looks of it, Developers have taken a liking to app.net’s $100/year development license.

Advertisers Want You. SoNet’s Can Sell You. You Want Freedom. Can You See a Problem?

With both the interests of its users who just want to be in control of who sees their data and developers who just want to make cool software and be able to pay their bills doing what they love being aligned financially from the get go. The nice thing is, with a sustainable business model, App.net is not in jeopardy of having to sell out, and is in no danger of closing down as long as they do their job, which is keep SoNet users and developers happy.

I myself found out about it thanks to following the Founder’s blog and twitter feed since early this year. So, in a sense I owe this freedom to free SoNet. However, it doesn’t change the fact that monetization at Twitter will have to be follow the exact same distasteful path that Facebook took. I honestly think anyone who values their privacy should seriously consider switching to a paid SoNet service because the advertising and privacy violating tentacles of Facebook, and Twitter (and every the Ad-revenue based Internet company such as Google and LinkedIn) will just keep growing more and more intrusive, invasive and unpleasant, like an electronic cancer, leaching off time and money in addition to your privacy. This paid model will not be corrupted by advertising and their payday comes when you decide to resubscribe.

Facebook, Google+,Twitter all know that some of their changes are going to piss off current users, but they do them anyway because the lure of more pennies per user is too great. As Dalton puts it, their financial interests are at odds with their users’ interests. And in this world, good will does not pay the bills. So, who loses this interest face-off? The Users. And as long as you subscribe to a free service your interests come second if you are lucky. Why be a slave to advertisers for shiny badges? Why sell your land of personal data for trinkets? Why not buy your freedom? Isn’t freedom what this country was founded on? {Cue the music, Lower the Flag… now available at FlagRUs! ;) }

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