Free Users on App.Net

Update: App.net has shut down

There’s a lot of talk on App.Net about the fact that it’s exclusively a paid service. Currently there is no way to use the network without paying for it. I think I understand enough of app.net (though I could be completely wrong) to hypothesize a way to run a free-to-users, ad-supported service over top of the paid-to-use app.net. Forgive me if this has been debated and discarded elsewhere.

Look at the model of free WiFi in a coffee shop. There’s one paid-for Internet connection (e.g., the DSL line at the coffee shop) and if you come into the coffee shop, they let you onto their WiFi and you get to use their Internet. It is easy to imagine the same thing on App.Net:

I create a service called FreeADN and I get a single, developer App.net account: @freeadn. Then I create my own web site, iOS client, etc. that all connect to App.net using the standard API. My web site and my mobile clients are ad-supported in the way such things are done now. Nothing new. When people sign up for my FreeADN service, they create an account with me and get a username that is unique to FreeADN (I could also make sure it’s unique on App.net, to minimize confusion). The body of the posts from the @freeadn account are prefixed with the user’s FreeADN username (see below for a possible refinement). Your feed would start to look like:

foobar
Yeah, I thought that was really cool.
paco
Has anybody seen this new free app.net service?
freeadn
[bobsmith] I use it and I love it. Darn all the ads, though.
freeadn
[janedoe] I can live with the ads. I’m glad I’m not paying for it

Those of us who are paid App.net users can mute the entire @freeadn user if we wanted to. Or, clever developers of web clients and iOS clients and such will just learn to cope with the additional level of naming. We’d have to implement some pretty awful filters to filter on @freeadn and then look at the body of the message and look for [user-we-want-to-follow].

Things To Solve

There are obviously a few limitations.

Terms of Service

I wonder how the Terms of Service for App.net would deal with this. It’s just one paid developer subscription ($100/year) but potentially massive traffic because it’s the free way to get in. Chances are, the developer of FreeADN would have to negotiate some special arrangement with App.net. Not sure if such special arrangements are in everyone’s best interest, but I don’t see any problems immediately.

Refining the User Name Ugliness

That special arrangement could even allow the FreeADN people to get a special suffix in the username (e.g., @freeadn:bobsmith), so that parsing on users still works.

Second Class Citizens

In some sense, it creates a second class of citizen. They don’t get to have their own handle appear as the author of their posts because they’re not paying for access to the service. If they ever decide they want to pay, they can. And since we made sure their FreeADN name didn’t conflict with an App.net name, they haven’t gotten used to a name they can’t have.

If people are willing to have this bit of ugliness in their userid and the ads in their online experience in order to have access to the service, it’s a small (non-monetary) price to pay. And I don’t think there’s much new code or logical framework required to make it happen.