App.net is fairly well-known for reinventing itself. The whole point of the business, according to founder and CEO Dalton Caldwell, is to take its core API and show what can be done with that with product layered on top. That’s where the Twitter-style microblogging platform came from, and that’s what informs today’s launch of App.net Broadcasts, a tool that brings the concept of direct, occasional messages to an interested group to a mobile-native environment.
Broadcasts works by essentially offering the one thing most publisher, blog and artist mobile apps do well: push notifications direct to fans. Many apps that fall into this category seem hastily put together and poorly maintained, and Caldwell thinks that’s because they really only need to serve one purpose, which is to offer up direct info to users about content related to the person putting out the app.
“If really the reason you have an app is just to do push, I think that this really gives you the benefits of that, for free,” Caldwell explained in an interview. “Also, I think from a consumer perspective, having a ton of apps, say one for every tech publication or one for every band that you like is kind of goofy, and everyone already knows that. Perhaps having a lower friction way for people to subscribe to different kinds of broadcast channels will actually increase the number of people that are interested in these push notifications.”
Broadcasts work by allowing publishers to create and customize their channel, and then embedding a subscribe button in their website via a simple line of code. From the App.net mobile app, on both Android and iOS (Broadcasts is launching simultaneously on both platforms), you choose your channel, hit Compose Broadcast and then create a rich push notification. Said notification doesn’t have to be just a link, either; Caldwell notes that it could feature images or even an animated GIF, so that subscribers don’t just feel marketed to, but like they’re actually receiving a rich stream of content via push.
It’s remarkably like SMS marketing, which is still a preferred channel in many developing markets. As with SMS, however, the danger is that you can elicit annoyance in your target audience. But Caldwell likens it more to the email newsletter, which is increasingly popping up on blogs in a sort of renaissance. The reason, according to Caldwell, is likely that publishers and bloggers want a way to cut through the noise of something like Twitter and provide a direct line.
As with previous ventures, Broadcasts for App.net will work on a freemium revenue model, with all the functionality described above provided without cost, and paid features such as analytics being added in later. Caldwell says this is already the model used by most email marketing companies, so it should be familiar to his potential customers.
In the end, this is also a way to help prove that it’s worth paying for an App.net account, Caldwell admits, in addition to being yet another demonstration of the kind of simple and elegant things you can do with the App.net API. It’s somewhat reminiscent of things like Boxcar, which aggregates push notifications from a number of services under one roof, but with more focus on the publisher and less on the end user. As a podcaster and blogger myself, I can definitely see the value of the service, but we’ll have to wait and see whether that reflects a larger consensus.