Why isn’t join.app.net catching on?

A few weeks ago, Dalton Caldwell launched an ambitious new project called join.app.net. It’s a terrific idea. A social platform where users and developers are the customers, not advertisers. In this way, the platform can grow in alignment with its community. I am backing the project and hope very much that it succeeds. However, with only 11 days left, only $132,000 of the reasonable $500,000 goal has been met. Why isn’t it catching on?

I have been thinking about such a platform for over a year now and have collected some thoughts on how to implement it. While I think Dalton has done a great job so far, I’d like to offer some of these thoughts. This type of platform is absolutely the future, and I’d hate to see it fizzle, not because of the idea, but because of the execution.

Name:  A catchy brand can go a long way. Twitter probably wouldn’t have been as successful without the catchy name and the cute little bird. join.app.net isn’t an approachable brand name. Luckily, domains are cheap and changing the name is easy.

Marketing:  I understand the focus on the platform for development, but for something to catch fire, it needs mass appeal. There are only so many developers, and unfortunately, they have to pay double (more on that later).

I had a few ideas for an online ad campaign that would appeal to any user of Twitter, Facebook, or Google. The campaign would focus on the idea of users as products. Imagine a series of video ads like this:

  • Huge room with a stage and a podium. The stage has one frightened user and a social network executive at the microphone. The audience is filled with ad executives. He’s reading their search history or an online chat, and the ad executives are bidding higher as it gets more embarrassing.
  • A farm filled with users in a pen, each using a laptop or smartphone. A farmer social network executive is holding a livestock sale and ad executives are bidding on the users, with the highest bids going to the most active users.

Price:  This is the most important barrier to entry for people. The current price of $50/year for users and $100/year for developers is fair, but it isn’t going to get the project to critical mass. This is a difficult problem, because you don’t want to do a free model, reach critical mass, and have a huge flop when you start charging money later. Some ideas:

  • Initial price of $20/year for the first two years, telling users up front that it will increase later. On the signup page, put the price in terms of lattes (or Marco’s favorite, restaurant desserts) for some perspective.
  • Create a referral program that reduces the $20 fee by $1 for each referral. Similar to earning free storage on Dropbox.
  • Start the price at $1 and increase it $1 after every X users have joined up to a maximum price. It makes sense for the price to increase as the network becomes more valuable.
  • Consider letting developers in for free initially, as they are more likely to pay later once it takes off and will be responsible for adding value to the platform.

This project is bold and Dalton was brave to go after it. The idea behind join.app.net is absolutely the future of social platforms. Hopefully the future is here sooner rather than later.