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.
Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Praying inside a Dutch mosque.
Broken trust in Islamic community
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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