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Dalton Caldwell: Announcing an audacious proposal (daltoncaldwell.com)
168 points by csmajorfive on July 13, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

What was very annoying about the sourceforge story years ago was that the only way they tried to monetize it was by selling "enterprise" versions. I wanted to use SF (eventually did for a couple projects), but wanted to use it a lot, but didn't want the ads. They shot themselves in the foot by not offering an affordable subscription service. I'm happy to pay bitbucket/github/whoever $x/month, but not $yyyy/month.

I may grow in to needing the $yyyy/month plan, but most people don't start off at that end, and the majority of people who can afford something that expensive (because they're an operating concern with a lot of money) probably already have a solution in place (hence their ability to make money).

As a hacker who just terminated his FB account, it sounds like I'm the target audience. But I have to confess that after reading the blog post and clicking through to the faux Kickstarter page, my response went from "That could be interesting" to "That's disappointing."

If they are going to leverage the Kickstarter model, then they should at least learn from other KS projects: show me the problem, build a prototype, show the prototype solving the problem, play cool music, and for crying out loud look at me (the camera) when talking.

There's probably a good reason that Kickstarter doesn't accept nebulous web businesses - scaling manufacturing costs real money, but building a software prototype is cheap. If someone had made a video dryly explaining GitHub or DuckDuckGo as a concept prior to developing them, I wouldn't have signed up. But I find them invaluable today.

I agree. While the article got me interested, the video was disappointing. I expected Dalton to show me something, not just talk for three minutes. In the article, he writes "This isn’t vaporware." So where's the screencast?

Worse, he's not a very convincing speaker. The impatient demeanor, the failure to look directly at the camera, and the multiple stitched-together takes all suggest a lack of confidence. If you're not good at public speaking, fine, but admit that and pick a better way to present your pitch.

Ultimately, I'm left feeling like the idea is a good one, but doubting whether he is the right person to build it.

This is a tangent, but Dalton is actually a really charismatic speaker. He was probably the favorite speaker of my YC class, and was reportedly great at Startup School a few years ago (though I wasn't there). Must come off better in person.

I think this is the talk you are referencing?


I very much enjoyed it.

I was excited till I saw the video too although I think his "tone" or way of speaking and quirks bugged me more than lack of a prototype and cool music. I know that's a pretty shitty thing to say but its true (at least for me). Ironically his writing came off exactly the opposite.

> we have been spending the majority of our engineering resources the past 8 months building a “secret project”.... Additionally, we already have much of this built: a polished native iOS app, a robust technical infrastructure currently capable of handing ~200MM API calls per day with no code changes, and a developer-facing API provisioning, documentation and analytics system. This isn’t vaporware.

So basically... it's already built.

> To manifest this grand vision, we are officially launching a Kickstarter-esque campaign. We will only accept money for this financially sustainable, ad-free service if we hit what I believe is critical mass. I am defining minimum critical mass as $500,000, which is roughly equivalent to ~10,000 backers.

Oh that's interesting. The grand vision will not manifest until $500k is raised. But isn't the product already basically finished?

So what happens if they don't raise $500k? Do they kill the product and flush 8 months of hard work (and presumably a bunch of money) down the drain? Doubt it. That doesn't make any sense.

Something is fishy here.

Crowd-sourcing has recently become a way to get free publicity and money, even if something is already built. For example, Roll20.net launched a Kickstarter campaign [1] with a tiny limit ($5,000) to build an online tabletop RPG. It became quite popular, earning something like $40,000 by the time the Kickstarter was over.

Here's the kicker: their Kickstarter video had an already-working demo! They launched the closed-to-backers beta within weeks of the Kickstarter funding closing, and opened it up to everybody within a few more weeks. They already had a working product, they simply used Kickstarter as an advertising platform that cost them NEGATIVE $39,651 and got them hundreds of loyal fans and evangelists (their backers) and millions of eyeballs (through the media covering their ~8x funding).

It's actually quite brilliant.

[1]: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rileydutton/roll20-virtu...

I don't understand why people are so quick to cast aspersions.

It's not "fishy". It's a huge undertaking. Regardless of how much they've built, there's no way the product is "already basically finished" (as if one could know that), it almost certainly will need work to accommodate the change in focus, and technology is not the hardest part of the challenge anyway.

The thought that went through my mind when I saw the number is that $500K is awfully low, given the scale of what he's talking about. But then I read more and it's clear that he proposes that number as a sort of idea validation. One can argue for or against that but you have no cause to impugn his honesty.

I don't fully get the idea yet; "API-oriented Twitter" only gets me so far. But this:

fired me up so much about this proposed service that I have had trouble sleeping

... I recognize and immediately sympathize with.

The product we have built is very similar, but not as ambitious as this proposal. That is the fork in the road.

I am going to a followup post explaining this more. This first post was probably too long as it is.

The purpose is not to raise $500k, but to have around 10k committed users - committed enough that they paid and will likely contribute content. This is what they feel they need to get off the ground.

So nothing is fishy. It's quite clever actually. They can almost guarantee that they will have a nice launch if the strategy works.

I'm not going to prognosticate about whether or not this service will take off. I really hope it does - the raison d'être seems genuine, or at the very least, passionately backed.

But that seems to be the very problem with it. In trying not to bury his lead, I believe Dalton Caldwell has let it take over the pitch. 95% "why" and 5% "what". 10 minutes in, I was still scratching my head wondering what the service will look like. And the name App.net certainly doesn't do the cause any favours. The first decent explanation finds itself relegated to question 2 of the FAQs.

This is an audacious attempt, and I laud that. But the pitch, in my opinion, needs an overhaul. Diaspora was also about the "why", but they addressed the "what" really early in their Kickstarter pitch.

Seems odd to not actually use KickStarter. Won't running a homegrown fundraising platform distract from solving the messaging problem? And don't you have to make a case for something that KickStarter already spent a lot of time making a case for? (I was turned off when I first heard about KickStarter, and I still am, to a lesser extent, but I finally pitched in for two projects.)

From the FAQ:

  Why aren't you using Kickstarter?
  We wish we could, we <3 Kickstarter. Unfortunately, the
  Kickstarter Terms Of Service explicitly prohibits raising
  money for this kind of service.

from http://www.kickstarter.com/help/guidelines

"projects, projects, projects. As in all categories, Kickstarter is for projects that can be completed, not things that require maintenance to exist. This means no e-commerce sites, web businesses, or social networking sites. (Yes, this means Kickstarter wouldn’t be allowed on Kickstarter. Funny, but true.)"

Which they broke with the Penny Arcade no-ad Kickstarter earlier this week.

It's hard to see how it's different in any material way from Ouya, for example.

It's a project with a definite end milestone, with a product that will continue on after.

Did they actually ask Kickstarter?

What? There seems to be a pretty huge difference, actually.

The Ouya game console is a physical object while this is some kind of vague web app/API thing.

Somebody else posted the actual Kickstarter TOS, but it seemed pretty clear it wouldn't be allowed for this kind of project.

Thanks for pointing that out. I still find a self-hosted Kickstarter-style campaign unpalatable.

What pain point exactly is this trying to solve? That twitter is ad-spammed? I'll admit I rarely use twitter, but I can't recall ever seeing ads on it. (I can, as a side note, recall how /slow/ twitter pages load.) That twitter changes its API frequently and doesn't give adequate notice to the people who develop for it? How exactly does a user interact with app.net? I signed up for a twitter account because I wanted to hear a lot about a beta for a video game. How does this work with app.net? Are only broadcasters paying members?

Kudos for taking on the big dogs, though.

To me, Twitter's pain-point is that it's a platform that can kick off third-party applications, doesn't have a way to extend its client, and doesn't allow integration with similar services (last I checked its ToS). As a result, it's software I can't fully control.

And I think that's the same pain-point with most of the Web right now. We can't really evolve our web applications because we don't control them fully; we have to accept the terms of the platform, which tends to be advertising driven, which means they want to constrain the UI.

If you're tired of Twitter, you can't direct your Twitter interface to a new service. If you want to add a new feature, you have to build an entirely new interface and hope they never revoke your app's access. If you want to send a private message, you have to share it with their logs.

This idea that we're building platforms is insane. Listen to Eben Moglen (founder of Freedom Box) talk about this; you'll enjoy it. As he puts it, a platform is a place that you can't leave. That's our pain point right now. We need services that you choose and web apps that are compatible, not walled gardens. Not for our applications, anyway.

So losing the advertising model has a pretty distinct advantage: it gets us away from the platform model, where they have to control the way you access the service so they can deliver the ads. I can't say how the business model fits into that, but the engineering side definitely wins.

..the takeaway here is that the services provided by SourceForge/Github are too important to its users to be ad-supported.

Why muddy the waters like that? The takeaway is that the incentives a company adopts are consequential and will define the culture and the product.

yeah, "importance" was a needless distraction from the main point, which was that sourceforge and later twitter undeniably crappified their user and ecosystem experience in pursuit of ad pennies.

Because this is a pitch. I read it as: the takeaway here is that the services provided by SourceForge/Github are too important to its users [and me and app.net] to be ad-supported.

I hate to be old school media here...but I wish this was announced on Monday or any other time besides Friday afternoon, when it will get less notice. Because it's a great announcement.

Funny because that is exactly the time that I advise most people to make their announcements. When there are just as many people surfing the web looking for news (our numbers at Techcrunch were higher pageviews per post on weekends) but all the mainstream journalists and the PR people you are competing with for attention are at home asleep.

The tech blogs that run 24/7 are dying for stories at this time of the week since the PR production line comes to a halt on Friday. This announcement is the second biggest tech story today[1] and has attracted comment from a bunch of blogs. I think it barely would have registered on a Monday or Tuesday.

[1] http://www.techmeme.com/120713/p37#a120713p37

That may actually be the best time for geeks, since this will be one of the last things people read before they go home, turn the chair in front of the computer and start hacking.

And what do geeks like to hack on? New, exciting projects.

With 3 in 1,000 people clicking an ad on Facebook this is almost a non issue. What has unobtrusive advertising such as the adverts on facebook ever done to offend you?

So, this is a service where I'll pay $5 a month -ish to use a network that's basically the same as Twitter (in particular, not decentralized), except with no users and, considering the amount of effort being put into Twitter clients, probably inferior clients? It'll have no ads, but the ads on Twitter are pretty minimal from what I've seen, and presently as a third party client user I don't get any. It'll be open to "apps" which can extend the experience (and have a longer character limit), but to me Twitter's simplicity is its core selling point. It'll supposedly be used by the top 10,000 hackers, but identi.ca already tried that and it didn't work - network effect is important.

I love the spirit of this, but as described, I wouldn't use the service if it were free. Twitter isn't even in the same ballpark as SourceForge. shrug

My belief is that it won't just be "Twitter with less users", but something entirely different: http://daltoncaldwell.com/what-twitter-could-have-been

For example, I remember hearing that Yammer and StockTwits toyed with building on top of Twitter at one point, and decided that they were best off building separate networks.

I am doing this project because rather than just complaining about how I think things should go, I am going to personally do something about it. It will work or it won't work, but at least I will know that I gave it a shot.

Of course, I wish you the very best of luck. :)

Am I the only one who doesn't feel like Twitter is hammering me with ads? OTOH I don't use Twitter very much and when I do it's almost exclusively on my phone or iPad.

I can't recall ever having seen a Twitter ad.

But I think the subtext here isn't so much that Twitter is hammering people with ads, so much as that their need to show users ads is causing them to constrict the marketplace for Twitter applications --- anything that might get in the way of an ad-supported strategy is, in this understanding of Twitter, in jeopardy.

I don't think the concern is that they've gone ad-crazy to date, it's that going ad-crazy appears to be the direction they're moving in going forward. Hence the need to push out third-party clients -- for ads to work, they need the only portal you view Twitter through to be owned by Twitter. (A third party can just strip out the ads.)

Seems to me that 'ad supported' is always going to be more attractive to funders/investors, because the potential is effectively unlimited (certainly by comparison with paid-for services).

With pay-for services, there's a much smaller number of people who are going to (or be able to) pay, and when you start looking at those numbers, it's never the fabled 'hockey stick to heaven' that people dream of.

What if twitter just sold access to their stream, and a few million orgs (companies, individuals) were paying, oh, say, $20/month. And let's say... 2 million - why, that's only $480/million per year maximum! Gosh - who would ever want to invest in that? Instead, by going with 'ads', there's always the promise of some big change that could explode the revenue down the line.

Or the revenue could implode. Companies making money selling stuff people want face competition from other companies making better stuff. Companies relying on advertising as their main source of income compete with every other company selling advertising space. For example, Old Media isn't hemorrhaging money just because someone's selling better newspapers.

Precisely why I like pinboard.in so much, and why I love the idea of app.net.

I, as a consumer, don't want a service that I rely on to be heavily VC-funded in this day and age, because it means they will have unrealistic expectations to grow revenue phenomenally, which means they might screw the service with ads, or choke the data that the service collects; which means it is likely that the starting point of any new Web 2.0 product is awesome but it only gets worse after that, with ad and feature-creep.

We keep hearing that the cost of computing is coming down and yet the cost of a service (in terms of privacy lost, irritating ads shown, or restrictive API terms) seems to be going up and up.

[Edit: grammar]

For something like this that grows in value with more users, free is absolutely required.

I love this idea, but the only reason I can come up with that you need half a million dollars to do it is that it's a pivot, and not a bootstrapped enterprise.

If GitHub is being used as the example in this line of argument, then why not follow their lead and build something people need and raise money later? Wouldn't you then be even more likely to convince hackers — the primary community you're trying to serve?

What exactly do you mean by "follow Github's lead"? Github had a paid tier and was profitable for years (and then raised money to expand), which sounds exactly like the plan for app.net.

Github didn't crowdfund $500,000 before having a paid tier and being profitable.

Fair point; I think I get what the OP was saying now.

But, from what I understood, with the current crowdfunding scheme you're basically pre-ordering membership.

NB: I'm not really sold on the product idea myself, just trying to understand the objections to the business model.

I'm not sure what bothers me so much about crowdfunding this. It just doesn't seem quite right, and the use of GitHub as an example stood out as flawed. I would definitely be more convinced by a great-but-buggy prototype than a video of someone looking off in to the distance. I don't mean that as a jab: it's symbolically kind of unsettling. You're talking about how much the community matters, but you're talking to someone else.

To me, the proposed project touches on a much bigger issue of how Twitter is a part of the internet infrastructure. Real time messaging has become really important, and there's some anxiety around how that infrastructure can be a part of the web in some trusted way.

Simply making Twitter community supported doesn't appear to me to be the best decision. We've learned about some great potential from Twitter, and I'm much more excited about something fully decentralized than I am interested in a community supported Twitter clone.

Anyone else thinking about Diaspora as soon as he mentioned Kickstarter?

Grandiose vision, but going to war with Twitter today is as foolish as trying to take on Facebook.

You're not going to attract a mainstream audience and gain serious critical mass just because you're an open platform and developer-friendly. In the case of SourceForge/GitHub, it was different because the demographic is entirely developers. Not so with social networks or media companies of any kind, the audience is mainstream, that means college students, celebrities, high school girls, etc.

"Every battle is won before it is ever fought" (Sun Tzu) -- learn from Diaspora's failure, don't repeat it.

Amazing that there is no mention of http://Status.net anywhere this topic is discussed.

Evan Prodromou has been trying to crack that nut for many years now...

Why screw over all the developers who had been using App.net? I assume that their App Landing page developer service is going to retire if this new product goes.

I'm probably not the target audience for this because I don't understand what the proposal is. Or maybe I'd have to read some of his earlier posts to understand what this is about.

What is a real time feed and service or a social platform in general? Is this basically Facebook sans the UI for a monthly fee?

Are there github accounts for the 'team to do it' that contain the 'infrastructure'?

This is exactly the right question to ask. Now I'm pretty sure I phrased it wrong.

Will there be a free tier?

Summary: "I propose receiving $500k USD of your money (with terms like Kickstarter, but not actually via Kickstarter) to build my new startup, in exchange for giving you zero equity. I know it's audacious."

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