App.net just announced a major new file API, but this isn't just "a Twitter alternative adds photo sharing". Since last year's launch, this is perhaps the first major step App.net has taken to truly become a platform, not just for messaging, but everything. Let me backup a second. App.net is a platform for doing stuff online. That's it, that's the elevator pitch. It just so happens that the first in-house app they built to attract attention and help show off what will be possible is a public messaging service. It is a safe, easily digestible demo, thanks to years of Facebook and Twitter.
Then it launched a messaging API—it's similar to public messaging, not too much of a mind bender, though it takes some interesting extra steps. There's support for private messages, chat rooms, and group texting. There is also a "notification fabric" that seems like a much better tool for "let me know when my dryer's done" use cases; the decreasingly nerdy and impersonal stuff that people have so far pulled off with dedicated Twitter accounts.
This new file API is the first App.net announcement that should really blow some minds. It sounds like one part Dropbox or iCloud, one part Facebook Apps (sans the slimy tactics and privacy woes because it's a paid platform), and a sprinkling of CloudApp. All current (paid) users get 10GB of free space, and the new file API allows for some wild stuff.
A basic implementation, which App.net already built into its demo messaging client at alpha.app.net, is photo storage and sharing. But the new file API can power applications that store data in your App.net account, publicly share any type of file, play online or app-powered games, let you collaborate and edit files with friends, and more. Think about that—many of these tasks typically require you to signup with and bounce between two or more services, each with their own terms, features, and rules. They are also often ad-supported so you and even your data are up for grabs.
Granted, it's the early days, and App.net already faces an uphill battle. We live in a world where companies have long given everything away for free to attract users, then turned around and made terrible, user-hostile decisions down the road once it's time to actually start paying bills. It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and users have proven to be suckers for forgiving. App.net avoids that entire problem by building a great platform and offering it for a reasonable price.
There's a tremendous amount of potential in App.net, particularly today's announcement, and I'm excited to see how developers bring it to life. After all, at App.net, developers and users rule. In fact, they're the only rulers.