Been on a plane all day, so a bit tired. But I got to spend a lot of time thinking about on the plane, and it's got my quite excited. So in keeping with my old writing style, here comes a lot of disconnected thoughts. 

. . .

It's been quite some time since I've written in this thing with any regularity. In the years I've been away, I've immersed myself in the Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, and the Instagram world. The mobile world is exciting, and clearly it's helping the growth of products which thrive on stealing your attention for 10 minutes at a time (information consumption, games, etc.). I worked in a product in the enterprise space and left, never vowing to do it again, before finding myself in midst of starting another enterprise SaaS service. But you (old) readers should know that my love has always been in building sites for people to share their stories. That's what led to me building Tabulas *9* years ago. I never stopped thinking about Tabulas and how to improve it. (Now, having time + resources to address it is something else altogether). 

Let's face it: Tabulas suffered because it got much easier to share stories on other sites. And it wasn't even the creation of the stories that was important - it was the feedback you got. It was much easier to build and maintain a community on those other sites. 

. . .

But I sense that this is fading. As pressure mounts on the Twitter and Facebooks of the world to monetize, the feature sets aren't as enticing. I've seen a dropoff from my friends' activity across a lot of these sites, and I'm beginning to re-thinking my metric for  measuring "success" of a social network - I no longer think it's the size of the network that matters, but more the quality. Svbtle has been doing a great job of proving this point. 

Tabulas did pretty damn good in the early days (of course, this was really pre-FB) in picking up $28/year subscriptions from its users, with no real difference between the premium and free versions. But then came the flood of ad-driven sites that caused the price to drop to $0, which really destroyed the ability for Tabulas to continue product development. We tried ads for a bit, found out they didn't work, and basically let the site flounder. We were living in an ad-driven product world, when what we really wanted was the users to pay for our product. 

. . .

But now I'm starting to believe that there could be a world where people would pay to join a site like Tabulas, and it could support itself immensely well. The Apple iOS community proves people will pay for software again, as long as it is high quality

Now, I don't think ad-driven sites like Twitter/Facebook/Google+ will ever fail - I simply believe they will be the commoditized products of the world. The lowest common denominator. Like McDonald's with food - everybody has been there, they fill you up... but do you really want to eat all your meals there? 

I think the next generation of social networks will provide polished, hand-crafted apps that people *love* to use and pay for. This is already happening on the iOS platform, but hasn't made its way to the web yet (the technial reasons for this deserve its own blog post). 

. . .

In my mind, Tabulas goes back to its roots as a journaling-driven social network. We strive, once again, to build a high-quality journaling product that allows people to easily and freely share their stories. But I can't provide the social graph - creating great writing tools and allowing people to connect is too hard. 

And that's where the problem lies. I won't delve into the issues with FB Connect, but I'm not convinced that Tabulas could survive in a world where the social graph lies with FB. (It mostly has to do with the fact that users who use FB expect free, and also the ability to gain traction via FB has largely been limited due to their throttling of viral social growth after abuses in the past). 

. . .

So imagine my joy to hear about Right now, it's nothing more than an idea; a call to arms. The gist is the following: it's a social network that is not driven by advertisers, but by its users. You pay for a great social networking services, and you get an awesome product in return. It's a great idea. Social networking is the killer app of the Internet, and I see no reason why people wouldn't pay for it. 

The price? A measly $50/year. Given that FB only generates $5/user per year, the business model seems - at first glance - decent. 

What gets me excited about this? 

Well, will focus on providing the base tools to build data (posts, images, etc.) and the name brand should be enough to start building the social graph. Tabulas can focus on building a great product for sharing stories. 

IF (a big if) can position itself as a high-quality exclusive social network, it should have NO problem drawing in people to pay for it. And IF those people are in, and they get access to a series of high-quality apps on TOP of, there should be no reason why app builders on top cannot make a good income building high-quality products that people love to use. 

To me, that'd be the perfect world. The commoditization of social networking tools has really hurt the user experience across the board (with the exception of mobile Twitter), and I think people are starting to get bored. There's an army of developer craftsmen who want to pursue perfection, but need a market to do so. So far, the Apple iOS ecosystem is the only one - but one doesn't exist for the web. 

If can change this by creating a marketplace on the web for developers on top of a solid social graph, *that* is a game changer for developers. 

. . .

So far, the API is non-existent. The core decisions seem good, though. I do agree that the data needs to be centralized - I've long dreamed of a decentralized world, but it won't work. JSON (implicitly REST) for the API is great for a lightweight transport format. The fear with API design is always you abstract too much - hopefully they set a deadline and work against that with real use cases for the API. (And of course, don't be afraid to make breaking changes to the API). 

In any case, they are soliciting donations for - only when they get $500K pledged will this start to become a reality. And I hope they get there, cause I do feel this is a game changer. (And that should mean something, I've only really used that phrase when Amazon S3 launched). 

Posted by roy on July 20, 2012 at 11:45 PM in Ramblings, Web Development | 6 Comments

Related Entries

Want to comment with Tabulas?. Please login.

Comment posted on July 23rd, 2012 at 07:16 PM
For the record, I would not pay a dime for Tabulas.
Comment posted on July 23rd, 2012 at 12:26 PM
It is good to see you posting again, Roy! If I may, I'd like to comment on your post.

I have been a Tabulas user almost since its inception, and a paid user at that. I love the format, even with the occasional glitches, and have told others about Tabulas as a journaling tool. The cost of using Tabulas is affordable, and that makes it accessible to the majority of potential users. sounds, quite frankly, elitist. Paying $50/yr for a social networking tool would be difficult for me to justify.

I utilize social networking sites as a means to share and receive information on issues I am involved with, from animal welfare, to environmental issues. Social networking allows me a free means of sharing information across the world.

There are many people, globally, who cannot afford to pay for their social networking sites so that would limit their access to information.

To me, the very reason for having the internet is to share information, freely, and globally.

I would love to see social networking sites be ad-free, but realize that won't happen. So perhaps might be better trying what Tabulas did: offer free accounts with no perks, and offer paid, but affordable, accounts, with perks. The majority will take the free accounts, but others, the more serious users, will enjoy the extras that can make their social networking experience even better.
Comment posted on July 23rd, 2012 at 10:41 PM
Very good points. If I focus on Tabulas, I think it will be a paid-only service... but I would be sure to give you a free account (I think you already have one!).

While I understand that the cash is hard to justify - at the same time, if the social network is bringing you that much value, I would hope that $4/month would be worth supporting it! Code developers and service providers like Tabulas do have people who need to pay the bills as well :)
Comment posted on July 24th, 2012 at 12:17 PM
When you think of it per month, it doesn't seem so much. And yes, I agree that all those people behind the app would need to be paid. That is why I never minded paying for Tabulas, as I knew how much work you put into it.

Keep me informed about this :)
Comment posted on July 23rd, 2012 at 09:33 AM
Glad to see your blog back for all to see, and thank you for inviting me to comment.

I'm not sure I have much to say on this specific topic, though. I had never heard of, but its idealistic goals, to me, sound a bit like the long-touted Diaspora, which was supposed to change the face of social networking as we know it. I know, Diaspora is free, isn't and that's supposed to be an advantage, but the skeptic in me can't help thinking they're just selling air. Diaspora asked for $10,000 and got $200,000; those guys are asking for half a million for a paid product! I can't really see past this point.

Diaspora has been in perpetual alpha for 2 years now, while the people working on it, I assume, are being paid a salary from the money they raised. That sounds like the good life but I'm not sure Diaspora is changing anything at all.

Sorry, digressing. I might be wrong, but I think there's a lot of people who just want to cash in on the incredible success of fundraisers like Kickstarter (I know I would!) by selling dream projects that have no substance. Besides a heartfelt speech from the CEO, there is no API, nothing, you said it yourself. I don't understand why those involved don't release something before asking for considerable sums of money, a concrete draft, even a broken alpha, I don't know, something, not just words.

People in the Silicon Valley and those graviting around seem really excited about projects that are all in conceptual stage. Maybe they're right, maybe someday they'll become the future of Internet. For my part, as an end-user, I know I would never accept to pay for social networking, I'd rather abandon it altogether, it's just a silly toy, I don't need it, I can keep up with people by other means. If Twitter or Facebook even charged $1 a year to use their service, then it would be goodbye! But I'm probably not a typical user (not enough money so way too greedy).

That said, if you want to revive Tabulas, that's a good idea. I hope you can do it without resorting it to third-party APIs, even if you have to scale down things a bit.
Comment posted on July 23rd, 2012 at 10:40 PM
The API doesn't exist, but they have the core infrastructure in place to handle scale - which is much harder.

Yes, I've heard of Diapora, and it failed for technical reasons - nobody wants a decentralized social network. However, this approach is much different, and one I think can succeed.

I think this because Tabulas very much like this idea in the past...