Twitter rival App.net aims to extend reach with 'freemium' model

People can now join the social network for free through invites from paid members

App.net, the social networking platform that launched as an ad-free alternative to Twitter, is looking to expand its user base by offering a free account option.

App.net launched last year as a paid service that offers a social feed and API (application programming interface) to developers. The service is a social network in its own right, but it also provides the back-end infrastructure to let developers tap into its feed and build their own Twitter-like apps.

The site avoids ads by charging subscription fees to end users and developers, but it's now offering a limited, free service for invited users, the company announced Monday in a blog post.

Users can join the site for free if they receive one of the invitations being distributed to current, paying members, moving App.net to a "freemium" model.

App.net was originally conceived as a freemium service, with both free and paid membership tiers, but its founders wanted to first make sure that a paid market existed for the platform, said CEO Dalton Caldwell.

"Since there are numerous examples of freemium business models which didn't succeed, we wanted to be very careful in our approach to pricing," Caldwell said in the blog post.

There are now more than 100 third-party apps built with App.net for platforms including iOS and Android, according to the company. Each client app provides access to the same feed of App.net contacts, and users can also share items to other services such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

App.net has been analyzing data for a few months to come up with its plan for the free tier accounts, which set limits on usage. People with free accounts, for instance, can only follow up to 40 other users and can't use more than 500MB of file storage or upload files larger than 10MB.

Both the inviting member and the invitee will receive 100MB of additional storage, however, if the invitee follows at least five other accounts and authorizes a third-party app, the company said. App.net accounts can be linked to other services such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Web hosting services GitHub and Dropbox, both of which offer free and paid tiers, were cited by Caldwell as models for App.net's new freemium model.

App.net's pricing options comprise US$5 monthly and $36 and $100 yearly plans.

Some apps built using App.net include Buffer, designed to let people share more easily on App.net as well as on Twitter and Facebook, and Succynct, an App.net client for Google Chrome.

App.net was built to solve what Caldwell saw as some severe shortcomings with Twitter. Among its principles, App.net says it sells its service, "not our users," and users can easily back up, export or delete their content at any time, it says.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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