App.net Could Be a Twitter Killer

App.net screenshot

It could be the Twitter killer.

App.net, the open-source Twitter competitor, could be the thing that defeats and replaces Twitter, at least for those people who are starting to look at Twitter the same way a married couple begins to realize that the honeymoon ended 10 years ago.

We all assumed — at least those of us who have been on Twitter for a few years — that Twitter had the same do-no-evil attitude that Google did. That they were going to be cool.

But over the last 12 months, the sheen has come off and what were once cute little quirks have become full-blown annoyances.App.net screenshot

  • Twitter bought Posterous for an talent acquisition, not a technology one. Expect your Posterous blog to go away one day.
  • They bought TweetDeck, and we all feared they were going to kill it, but instead, they made it suck.
  • Twitter has been shutting out third-party app and api developers, presumably to bring things in better alignment with their brand.
  • Twitter had a great relationship with Google where you could search for real-time tweets. That relationship was not renewed when it ended. Sort of like an actor whose contract isn’t renewed for the upcoming season.
  • They blocked off Instagram access, meaning you can’t find your Twitter friends on the photo sharing too.
  • Most recently, Twitter shut down the account of a British journalist who was critical of NBC’s crappy Olympic coverage. It was only after a huge outcry that they turned it back on.

Twitter keeps turning more and more into Facebook every day. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell, a rock star prodigy among the A-list tech entrepreneurs, told ReadWriteWeb that these are the “classic symptoms of an online media company failing to fly. ‘Media companies are starving,’ Caldwell says, ‘and that’s why they do crazy things.'”

So I was very excited to hear about App.net (app dot net) as a possible new Twitter alternative.

The best part? It costs 50 bucks a year to use.

50 bucks?! But Twitter is free!

Yes, Twitter is free. Yes, Twitter has more than 500 million accounts on it, and is the most widely accepted microblog on the planet.

But here’s what App.net has that Twitter does not.

  • It’s decentralized. That means no one person can control it or make unilateral decisions that piss everyone off. It’s like WordPress or Firefox.
  • It’s open-source, which means developers can make their own apps work with it any way they want.
  • It’s ad free. So no sponsored tweets. (I don’t find it to be such a big deal on Twitter, but I’m also willing to pay for ad-free.)
  • 50 bucks will keep the spammers away.
  • There will only be serious users of the tool. Imagine, no spam, no porn, no MLMers showing you how to make money in your spare time.

The problem is, these guys need $500,000 in order to launch. You pledge your $50 (or $100 for developers or $1,000, if you’re so inclined), and Caldwell will launch the app. But there are 4 days left — you have until next Monday — and App.net is at $295,500 as of this moment.

If you’re tired of Twitter and wish there was an alternative, check out App.net. If you like what you see, pledge your $50, send Dalton (@DaltonC) a tweet (yes, I’m aware of the irony of that), and once you’re in, start communicating. I’ll be at the Blog Indiana conference for the next two days, sharing what I learn on Twitter, but also on App.net.

Hope to see you there.

Background reading on App.net

Why Twitter Will NEVER Make Blogs Irrelevant

Twitter has become all the rage, thanks to Oprah Winfrey, Ashton Kutcher, and a lot of network and cable news programs that have all been talking about Twitter. And a lot of social media “experts” (don’t get me started about that) who think Twitter is about to make real blogs obsolete.fail-whale1

First, Twitter’s not going to replace blogs because we’re still adding new blog readers and bloggers every day. There are 208,000 bloggers on WordPress.com, and there were 3,816,965 WordPress.org downloads. That doesn’t include Blogger, TypePad or other blog software-as-a-service companies, like our friends at Compendium Blogware.

There are more than 50 million blogs in the US, and over 74 million in China, and the numbers keep growing. More TV news stations, small businesses, corporations, and nonprofits are starting blogs as a way to communicate with viewers, customers, and donors. More people are discovering blogs as a way to communicate and publish their stories. Blogs are going anywhere.

Secondly, if anything is in danger of being rendered obsolete, it’s Twitter with the overgrowth of spammers, Internet marketers, and new so-called social media “experts” (there’s that word again). Several people are taking steps to get rid of Twitter spammers by blocking them, referring them to Twitter Spam (just follow @Spam, they’ll follow back, and then DM the name of any spammers to them), and making life hard for the spammers to get a foothold.

Finally, and most importantly, if you’re able to consolidate your life’s most important issues to 140 characters, they couldn’t have been that important, could they? This post alone has more than 450 words. (And this is one of my short ones!) Other posts have taken upwards of 750 words, to discuss important issues like how crisis communicators can use social media, what the future of social media looks like, or why creating blog content is better left to professionals. If I can fully explain important issues like that in 140 characters, then I have either not given them enough thought, or I really suck as a writer.

Twitter is first and foremost a communication tool. They may call it a micro-blog, but it’s not. It’s a texting program inside a chat room. You use it to start conversations, ask questions, tell people what you’re reading, or even promote your real blog.

In short, your blog is your anchor, your Twitter account is a promotional tool. One will not replace the other.

Cut Out Twitter Spam

doug_karrMy friend Doug Karr’s recent post, Dear Twitter, Please Stop the Following Madness, decries the number of auto-follows that have been plaguing Twitter as of late. Auto-follows are those little scripts that people execute to gain a big number of followers quickly.

I don’t know what compels someone to cheat the numbers to get empty eyeballs. What kind of ego do you need to have to go down that road? I’m not sure but it really irritates me. My 5,000 followers used to mean something. Now I’m well over 6,000… but many of the new followers are auto-follow phonies.

We’ve even written about how building big followers is done, and about the problems with Twitter spam. But it’s not something we condone. In fact, while we do want our clients to build up a big following, it needs to be with people who are actually valuable to them, and can contribute to their success on Twitter and in social media.

There’s no reason you need 10,000 followers when you really only want 1,000 fans.

Let’s say you manufacture marbles (I always use marbles in my examples, because I’m tired of saying “widgets”). Your corporate blog is about making marbles, exciting new developments in the marble-making field, and of course, the results of the World Marbles Championship. As a result, your blog ranks high for anyone searching for information about marbles, whether its the game or the object. (By the way, there really are entire groups of marble collectors. They have their own conferences and everything.)

The same focus you put into your blog needs to put into your Twitter efforts.If you’re a marble manufacturer, you want to follow people whose hobbies are marbles. There’s @GlassMarbles, a glass marble collector, and @GAYM (Got All Your Marbles?), who makes jewelry out of marbles. These two people are worth following, because they would probably follow you back.

Then, check out who they’re following and who’s following them. Follow those people, but be selective about it. A Twitter auto-follower will run a script that will follow everyone in their network. A smart Twitter user will select only those people who a) can better contribute to my understanding of what clients want, and b) are more receptive to hearing from me.fail-whale

Twitter spammers and scammers are posting all kinds of advice on how to get over 10,000 followers in a matter of days. I don’t follow these people, and will oftentimes even block them. I’ve even begun blocking people who are already following me. Sure it’s going to hurt my follower count, but I’m more concerned with quality not quantity.

Doug pleaded with Twitter to do something about the auto-follow systems, because they’re overburdening Twitter. They’ve already got enough problems with the Fail Whale rearing its happy-but-annoying head, and now the scammers are bringing the whale to the surface on a regular basis.

But it’s not only up to Twitter. As Twitter users, we need to take a stand and stop spammers from clogging up the Twitterverse. There are a few things you can do to help.

  1. Block all spammers, Internet marketers who promise to make you money, and people who post the same Tweets over and over. Check out a Twitterer’s page before you follow back. If enough people block a person, Twitter will take heed and shut them down.
  2. Turn off auto-return follow. Once you start getting inundated with follow notices, it’s tempting to auto-follow, to save you some time. But they’re counting on this. Turn it off, and be choosy about who you follow.
  3. Report spammers. Send a note to with the name of the offending spammer. Again, if Twitter receives enough @spam notes, they’ll shut the person down.

But Won’t That Damage My Social Graph?

Go to search.twitter.com and run a search for phrases like “social media guru” or “social media expert.”

I expect the majority of tweets you find will be tongue-in-cheek mockeries of people that lay claim to these titles. It has become a cliche, a joke, a new stereotype. Why? Because the industry has been inundated with supposed gurus and experts with about as much expertise as my grandmother, and people are lashing back. They’re tired of being spammed with e-book advertisements or so-called experts who don’t know the difference between podcasts and peapods.

And what are most of these supposed experts and gurus telling you? That you have to connect with the “right” people or you’ll damage your social graph. This is either code for “I’m not following many people on Twitter, here’s a reason for that” or they really don’t realize that who’s following you has little impact on your supposed “cred.”

It’s Hard to Damage a Social Graph

Unless you’re trying to portray yourself as an elite A-Lister, following a large number of people is rarely a detriment. In fact, the people that have been most successful, like Guy Kawaski, have also been the most open to meeting and connecting with new people. The others, with tens of thousands of followers, and only a few dozen they follow? Some might call them elitist snobs who are more interested in growing fans than actually being a social media practitioner.

The other argument is that if you make an effort to connect with the right people, you’ll grow faster because you’ll be more trusted or have more “cred.” The question then becomes, well, who are the right people? Paying customers? Or other “social media gurus?” (And frankly, you can’t swing a dead cat on Twitter without hitting three social media experts.)

But, It Can Be Done

Connecting with people isn’t going to damage your social graph. To do that, you’ll need to spam, spout offensive remarks or, the ultimate death sentence, lose your sense of humor.

Is Twitter Overrated?

Twitter isn’t in the Oxford English Dictionary yet, but more than 4 million people have added it to their vocabularies and use its 140 character posts to answer the question “What are you doing?”

Inventing new words may be part of the game with Twitter, as people have adopted a whole new language. Twitter people are Tweeple. A Twitter meetup is a Tweetup. And on and on.

InTwigued? To put Twitter’s 4 million users in perspective, when Facebook was getting similar attention, its ranks numbered 24 million. So is Twitter overrated or as valuable as its fans claim? And will it be around long enough to make it worth our time?

Time is one feature that Twitter boasts. It offers users real time connection, an instant, short glimpse into all the moments between emails and blog posts. Friends could find these momentary updates useful when we’re looking to join the party or running late for lunch, and businesses are beginning to employ Twitter marketing to announce short-term specials, like the deal of the day. Twitter even scooped more traditional media with first news and instant updates of recent earthquakes, rocket attacks, and plane crashes. We all hope catastrophes are few are far between. So do the many people or businesses who have news that’s noteworthy enough to fill the moments between blog posts and e-blasts.

For many, Twitter is truly like a micro-blog, like using only the status section of Facebook. Fans say this feature inspires conversation and connections. It can also provide the curious spark that drives “followers” to blog posts, Facebook pages, and more in-depth web presences. When Barack Obama used Twitter during his presidential campaign, some argued that his tweets got followers to visit more than just web sites. Either way, the voters visited the polls.

And while Twitter users may number just a fraction of other online social networks’ crowds, Facebook did float a $500 million stock offer to bring Twitter into its realm. That’s 500 million reasons that Facebook thinks Twitter will stay and grow.

Several Twitterers we know admit to feeling like they were in their own foggy Twitter bubble (Twubble?) when they first joined the network. John H. suggested new users should be warned with a disclaimer, something like, “Warning: During your first 30 days of using Twitter, you will have no idea what the heck is going on. Only after 30 days will you begin to understand its value.”

Several other users confessed to giving up within those first 30 days after tiring of the useless updates and the time wasted. It seems most of us are Twittering and following tweets to be part of the experiment, to learn to tailor the Twitterers we follow to accomplish our own information goals and to enjoy the simplicity of short, quick updates.

So is Twitter overrated? Our opinion is no, it’s got nowhere to go but up. But maybe you think differently. Is Twitter is an endangered species under the pressure of larger social networks? Leave your comments (even with more than 140 characters).

Twitter Clickthrough Rates

Update 1-28-09: Compare Twitter’s average 4% CTR to the .03%-.11% CTR on FaceBook. It’s becoming increasingly clear that ads don’t get it done on social networks.

I’ve been running an experiment with four twitter profiles to find out what a good click through rate (CTR) is on Twitter. What I found out was kind of shocking and amazing: Twitter seems to have a 4% clickthrough rate. No wonder the affiliate marketers, spammers and get rich quick crowd are flocking to it.  4% CTR is outstanding in any internet advertising program:

Indymike –- 4.17 % average clickthrough rate, >800 followers

Profile “N” — 4.05 % clickthrough rate, >300 followers

Profile “M” – 4.2 % clickthrough rate, >200 followers

Profile “L” — 3.8 % clickthrough rate, > 50 followers

Methodology
I set up unique short URL trackers on seperate domains and then conversed and posted links and retweets though the shorty tracker for four different profiles. After on month, I tabulated the results to find the aggregate click through rate.

What’s it Mean?

1. People click on twitter links more than pay per click ads and banner ads.

2. CTR on Twitter seems to scale with larger groups of followers.

3. The larger your follower base is the more people will click on links your post.

What’s Next
I’ll do the same experiment on Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, MySpace and Xing.  It will be interesting to see if traditional social networks can outperform a microblog like Twitter.