Ad-free social media site App.net has begun to move to a "freemium" model, opening up its community to non-paying users.
In a blog post, App.net founder and CEO Dalton Caldwell pointed to the examples of Github and Dropbox as other successful platforms that have followed the freemium model — a free service with a premium, paid offering.
App.net has been hailed as a closed-gated and private community, and also one where privacy of its users is paramount. As users had to pay to participate, the question of whether users' data would ever be sold off as a revenue stream was always irrelevant.
Gaining enough traction with the social network had been an issue. Although App.net is a social network, its purpose is to support the applications developed on top of App.net's social network platform.
Similar to how Facebook has created an ecosystem around allowing developers to create applications on its platform, App.net sought to do the same, but with apps the main focus. App.net ran into the problem that other social networks have experienced: the problem of gaining a critical mass of users in order to be successful. For App.net, that's the number of apps, not necessarily users.
"In the very beginning, there was a significant chicken and egg problem: there were no third-party apps. The good news is that, at this point, the chicken-and-egg problem has been eliminated: there are now over 100 third-party App.net apps in existence, available on a wide range of platforms," Caldwell wrote.
This, combined with the development of its APIs and an app directory, meant that Caldwell felt it was time to introduce a free membership tier.
App.net actually trialled the concept in November, last year. At the time, it gave its App.net yearly subscribers a small number of invitations so that their friends could trial the network for one month.
This model will continue, albeit with a few changes.
Users taking up the free option will not be limited to a single month, but they will be limited to being able to follow up to 40 users. They will also be limited to 500MB of file storage and uploading files up to 10MB in size. Invites will be issued to paying members, now including those on monthly plans.
Caldwell didn't discuss how the free tier would be financed, but wrote that given many other examples of freemium models have failed in the past, it is being careful with its approach.
"We have been spending the past few months learning and analysing data in order to come up with a plan for a sustainable and beneficial free tier."
The announcement comes just a few months after App.net revealed that it would be dropping the prices for its subscriptions.