Launches Free Service Option - By Invitation Only
February 26, 2013 Launches Invite-Only Freemium Membership

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The pay-to-access social service rolled out a free-access option on Monday to people who secure an invitation through existing members.

The experimental social network hopes the move will help attract a larger audience before early adopters are asked to renew their subscriptions. founder Dalton Caldwell launched the service in August as an alternative to free social networks like Facebook and Twitter, with the goal of creating an online social service that isn´t beholden to advertisers. At the time, the service appeared to many as simply a replica of Twitter, with the exception that users were required to pay a subscription fee.

While the decision to offer a “freemium membership” may seem to invalidate Caldwell´s vision of a social network in which people and their data are not the product sold to advertisers, Caldwell says it´s simply the next step forward for the service.

Since its inception, has attracted some 32,000 users -- primarily developers and tech insiders — who pay a $36 annual fee. However, the developer community has yet to introduce an ambitious enough theme to attract a mass following, which could present a challenge to the company´s subscription business model when the first batch of accounts come up for their six-month renewal.

The addition of a free service could vastly expand the service´s reach.

"I'm pretty optimistic this is going to increase the virtuous cycle,” Caldwell told CNET.

However, there are some conditions that come with the new free option. To preserve the network´s sense of community, free users must be invited by a current member, and will only be able to follow 40 people. The new users will only receive 500 MB of free file storage, and will have their file uploads limited to 10 MB. By comparison, paid subscribers can follow an unlimited number of users, receive 10 GB of storage, and can upload 100 MB files. Both the invited and inviting member will get 100 MB of extra storage, up to 2GB, if the invited member follows five people and authorizes at least one third-party app.

"We're trying to build something as compelling as possible ... and get people to renew,” Caldwell said.

"This is still a radically weird business model ... we're attempting to define something new, but we're not sure what it is yet."