Photo by Sam Howzit – http://flic.kr/p/dhu7NB
If you haven’t paid much attention to App.net (ADN) lately, maybe it’s because it was easy to dismiss the service early on as a mere Twitter wanna-be. But it’s clear now that ADN’s Twitter clone (alpha.app.net) is only a demonstration of one kind of app that can be built on the ADN infrastructure. ADN founder Dalton Caldwell believes his team is creating a personal cloud platform that will be home to a multitude of interesting services.
It’s still early days for App.net, but after poking around the service for the past few months and listening to a few podcasts where Caldwell has talked at length about what his team is trying to build, I’m convinced that ADN is something the VRM community should be paying more attention to.
Here’s the thing: ADN is not a true VRM service and it’s not a true personal cloud service, but it bakes in some of the core elements of each. And the way the service is constructed is prompting its growing base of developers and users to think differently about their relationship to web services. And this new way of thinking could lead these users directly to true VRM and personal cloud services in the future.
ADN could be an accelerator for VRM if the VRM community chooses to see it that way.
Here are some data points I find interesting. See what you think:
Take a look at ADN’s core values. The first two are:
- We are selling our product, NOT our users.
- You own your content.
Right off the top, these values set ADN apart from services like Google, Twitter and Facebook, whose motives are more aligned with advertisers than with users.
The rest of the core values emphasize financial and philosophical alignment with members and developers. ADN is building a sustainable business that benefits when its users benefit.
Privacy and Terms
Sounds like a personal cloud to me
ADN has defined a File API that allows each user free access to 20 GB of disk space for storing images, documents, or any other type of file. (The company has hinted that more storage may eventually be available for a price.) The benefit of storing your files on ADN is that you can allow them to be accessed by any service using the ADN API (what Lou Franco calls BYOBE, or Bring-Your-Own-Back-End).
So, for instance, if you joined a Flickr-like photo sharing service that stored your photos in the ADN file store, you could switch to a competing ADN-enabled photo sharing service at any time and you wouldn’t have to rebuild your photo library from scratch. You could just point the new service to your photos and keep on truckin’. Or use the two services side-by-side. It’s up to you.
While this would fail some tests of a true personal cloud (such as the ability to pick your own file server) what App.net offers within its service is personal cloud-like, and I’m not aware of any other popular web services that offer something similar.
Your data is your data
In addition to porting files from service to service, ADN allows all of your data to move freely via its API. That means your messages, your list of followers and who you follow, your list of interactions, and anything else that ADN stores can be reused by any app using the ADN API. Or, you can export your data and social graph and take them to another service.
Expressing intent with ADN
Project Llama wants to expand ADN’s annotations so that users can tag their accounts with keywords that describe themselves and what they’re looking for. So, for instance, I might tag myself as a “hockey fan” who is looking for “Tampa Bay Lightning tickets”. I don’t think Project Llama is thinking of itself as building a VRM-type expression of intent, but it’s not to hard to see how it could become one.
Straight from the horse’s mouth
Here are some recent podcasts where Dalton goes into detail about what he thinks ADN is:
- The New Disruptors, Episode 13 with Glenn Fleishman
- The Big Web Show, Episode 84 with Jeffrey Zeldman
- CMD+SPACE, Episode 15 with Myke Hurley
A big but…
My argument is not that App.net is a true VRM service or even a true personal cloud. For one thing, App.net isn’t focused on enabling relationships with vendors outside of the ADN universe. For another, currently App.net is just a another silo. A true personal cloud service would be agnostic about where files or graphs are stored.
However, Dalton Caldwell believes he’s creating a personal cloud. And, certainly, with its emphasis on individual control of personal data, the aims and intentions of App.net echo the values espoused by the VRM community. And ADN is prompting developers to think differently about the types of apps they build and their relationship to user data in a way that makes true VRM solutions a more obvious next step. And that is something that the VRM community — that all of us — should be celebrating and supporting.
I’m @stumax on App.net. I’d love to have you follow me there. And if you’d like an invite for a free ADN account, email me at stumaxis at gmail.