This article nicely lays out why and how App.net could be revolutionary, and become the open-standard for the social web. The problem with web 2.0 is its fragmentation: each social network has its own “bin” in which users deposit their data, whether baby pictures or complaints about the weather. These “bins” (to keep with the metaphor) sometimes have pipes going out so that content can flow freely between them. App.net aims to be the central piping that links all these siloes together.
I am just skeptical that yet another social network can obtain the coveted goal of being “the social network to rule them all.” The problem of App.net, as I see it, is access. Will the other networks allow the plumbers from App.net into the door of their silo? That is the central problem of trying to create a subterranean set of pipes. Each social network greedily wants to keep as much data to itself, and wants to restrict access to it from the other competing “bins.” Why would any major player agree to open the flood gates to this upstart? Even worse, most people only need one silo. This fact is often lost on Silicon Valley types, where over-sharing information on an array of networks has almost become habitual. One social network, maybe two, is enough for most people. This raises the question: if you are happy in the safe confines of the dome of your silo, why would you ever care about the piping? If Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or even (gasp!) Google + is enough, why bother at all? And why should any of these care about how they fit into the overall network?
I then wonder if the way to connect the siloes littering the social web lies above rather than below. Instead of making yet another social network cum wanna-be platform that aims to upend and eventually undergird this whole grid of siloes, I suspect it is better to build ways to access them from above. I am talking about social media hubs, like Tweetdeck was before its acquisition by Twitter and Seesmic and Hootesuite still are. I suspect that these hubs, which do not aim to provide the siloes with pipes but with the more modest task of accessing them, is the best way of integrating the internet together. This of course assumes that Twitter will not close its API to developers (the anxiety about this possibility was explicitly one of the prime motivating factors of App.net) but I am skeptical that the company will take such a step. To cut off their API would mean that they would stop being in the running for the holy grail of the social media arms race, identity. For me, and no doubt many others, Twitter is the default social network where I dump content. In other words, Twitter is in many ways more important to my online “identity” than Facebook is.
Pipes or hubs? Only time will tell which will rule the social web.