For many people, app.net is a social network. In particular, it is seen as a Twitter clone. In reality, app.net is much more. It is a platform and a series of APIs for creating social applications.
If you’re not a developer, that probably sounded like Greek. Imagine, for a moment, that Twitter is a kitchen sink. You turn on the faucet, and water comes out. What could be simpler? Behind the scenes, though, there’s a large amount of complexity. There are pipes that bring water to your sink. There’s a hot water heater that gives you hot water. Somewhere, there’s a well with a water pump in it. Twitter is not only the sink: it’s all of the infrastructure that makes the sink run. They have a public Application Developer Interface(API), which basically allows developers the ability to turn on the faucet.
Twitter owns all of that infrastructure, and over time, they have made accessing the data in their pipes more difficult to access for developers. They’ve set arbitrary limits on the amount of users a particular Twitter app can have, for example. This has led some developers, including myself, to lose faith in Twitter’s viability as a platform.
Continuing with the sink analogy, app.net is pipes, wells, pumps, etc. Developers, using the APIs provided by app.net, can build their own sinks. They can also build bathtubs, hoses, or whatever they can imagine. Sure, you can simply log into app.net and use it like Twitter. App.net has a public facing website at alpha.app.net for just that purpose, and there are plenty of apps on most platforms to use app.net in this way.
That’s not all app.net is good for, though. Patter, for example, is a chat service that uses app.net as its backend. App.net has APIs for location tracking, messaging, and file storage. Given this combination, there are many social applications that can be built on app.net’s platform. There’s been some discussion on Patter of using app.net’s backend to write a replacement for Google Reader. There’s even a blog post about it.
I believe app.net is underestimated. If viewed as a competitor to Twitter, it seems to be an underdog. But given the power of the app.net APIs, I believe there is a strong possibility that we’ll see some exciting things in the future.