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Can These Alternative Ad-Free Social Networks Oust Facebook And Twitter?

Article illustrative image Partner logo App.net, Pheed, Diaspora: new names on the list of social networks

GENEVA – To distinguish themselves from Facebook and Twitter, new social networks are trying to find a different economic model. A trend is emerging – the return to paid subscriptions. From App.net to Diaspora, here is a short review of these new actors.

App.net, the paying Twitter

"We are selling our product, not our users." This is the promise made by App.net when it launched its assault on Twitter in August. Its creator Dalton Caldwell considers the Web 2.0 and its ad-based free system as a "disappointment." According to him, the time has come to create a new social network solely financed by subscriptions, that will never use personal data for commercial purposes and whose developers will spend "100% of their time improving services for members, not advertisers."

This social networking site is similar to Twitter: same short message restrictions (256 character limit instead of 140), same profile page display. Unlike Twitter, you have to pay to enjoy this ad-free website. There are two price rates for the public ($5/month or $36/year), and one for the developers ($100).

The first numbers are encouraging: in two months App.net racked up 20,000 paying users. What’s most notable is that Twitter app developers unhappy with the site’s new policy are now starting to adapt their applications for App.net.

Pheed, reaching for the stars

This new social network became famous in October after a positive review in Forbes magazine. It’s based on a simple fact: the most followed accounts on Facebook and Twitter are celebrity accounts. Instead of posting and sharing statuses, videos or photos for free, Pheed wants them to make their fans pay – and then give them back half the profits. A paid subscription to Pheed is between $1,99 and $34,99 per month, but there’s also a free version where anyone can create a page.

For its launch, the site was able to convince about 200 celebrities to create a page, including musician David Guetta, actress Miley Cyrus and Paris Hilton. The nine-person team that created the project is based in California. It has invested $2,5 million and is aiming for 10 million accounts, free or not.

Diaspora, the free project

What if anyone could create their own ad-free social network, with the guarantee that their data would never be sold to advertisers? When the nonprofit project was launched two years ago, it was presented as a Facebook killer, but Diaspora is actually a program that allows people to create small and independent social networks.

The project raised over $200,000 from Internet users including a not-so-subtle donation from Mark Zuckerberg. However, Diaspora has had many problems according to a fascinating article in the Motherboard blog. In August, its founders left the keys to “the community.” It continues to be developed thanks to the many defenders of free programs. There are several thousands of Diaspora servers ("pods") around the world, which is still very far behind Facebook. Diaspora’s story is a reminder of how difficult it is to offer an alternative to the big ad-based social networks.

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