When App.net launched this past summer, many were skeptical. Could a paid social network hang with the likes of Twitter or Facebook? We still don’t know for sure, but it seems that App.net isn’t going anywhere, and it’s making some moves to increase its user base. The company announced on its blog today that it is comfortable enough with its service and the availability of third-party clients to add a free tier for users who want to poke around. The hope is, of course, that once these users find some usefulness in App.net, they’ll want to pay for the full experience.

There are a few caveats to this new free tier, the first being that it’s not immediately open to the whole world. Instead, you must receive an invite from a current App.net user. According to The Next Web, there are currently 30,000 paying App.net customers, and only 3,000 who use the site on a daily basis, so getting those initial invites might be difficult.

The free tier accounts come with some restrictions that paid accounts don’t have. For instance, free users can only follow a maximum of 40 people.  These users are also limited to 500 MB of storage, and a maximum file upload size of 10 MB. Users can increase their file storage limit by inviting friends, but those invited must take two actions for the referral reward to take effect: they must follow at least 5 users, and they must authorize a third-party App.net client.

App.net is an interesting look at what Twitter could have been, had it evolved into some kind of pay service as opposed to an advertising-supported social network. Because Twitter doesn’t make money directly from its users and instead relies on advertising, it is much more inclined to control the experience in ways that benefit its advertisers more than its users. This is why Twitter has become more restrictive with its API and is discouraging developers from creating Twitter clients.

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In the case of App.net, the service makes its money directly from users. That means that it doesn’t need to concern itself with how users are connecting to App.net — the company is being paid either way. It’s an environment that gives a lot of freedom to developers, which in turn is a good thing for users. In a way, it’s a lot like the early Twitter days, except App.net has no real reason to rewrite the rules and start building walls the way Twitter has done in the past year.

I’ll be waiting (patiently) for an App.net invite, and you’ll find a full review here on BestTechie once I’ve investigated. Until then, stay tuned.

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