Dalton Caldwell, the digital entrepreneur who sometimes enjoys writing angry open letters to Mark Zuckerberg, believes people would prefer a paid version of Twitter where they're not constantly sold to by advertisers, but one where developers and the users are the center of the social experience. Caldwell, an entrepreneur with a background in Web and app development, said he was "inspired to build exactly the service I wanted manifested myself," which he calls App.Net.
"If we're selling a service, our customers are our users, and our job is to make our users happy," Caldwell says in a video pitch. "If we have a free ad-supported service, our customers are advertisers, and our job is to make advertisers happy. And I think the friction we're seeing from these disappointing services are just a reflection that all of the financial incentive has to do with pleasing advertisers and not the user base. The same goes for the developers."
To test his theory, Caldwell published his pitch video in mid-July, giving himself a month to raise the $500,000 he needed to launch the platform. Similar to Kickstarter, Caldwell promised that if he didn't raise the minimum funds, he would return all investments.
"This money is coming from potential users that are committing to support the existence of this service," Caldwell said. "The $500,000 correlates to roughly 10,000 paying customers, and if this funding effort succeeds, the people that back us are guaranteed that there are at least 9,999 other users that believe the same things they believe, and they want to be apart of creating this community."
With a little more than a day left to fund App.Net, Dalton Caldwell took to Twitter on Sunday to announce, "We did it." Now, with less than 18 hours to go, 10,393 backers have pledged $683,150 toward the project. But now comes the tough part: Making App.Net a reality.
Do People Really Want A Paid Version Of Twitter?
App.Net may have achieved its fundraising goal, but how much did users invest in this new platform? Here's exactly what the App.Net backers paid for:
According to Caldwell's site, 8,203 backers donated $50 to become "members," which basically reserved them a spot for any preferred username they wanted on a first-come, first-served basis. Exactly 2,130 backers paid $100 to earn the "developer" tools for the site, including the tool chain with API key generation, analytics and feedback, and a generous 60 users donated $1,000 each to get the developer-tier tools, plus phone support and "a personal meeting with Dalton in San Francisco."
It's pretty clear that at least 10,393 people want a paid version of Twitter where they never have to worry about advertised or sponsored content, even though the alpha version of Caldwell's website isn't all too attractive. At least it's got the same basic functions as Twitter, so users don't need to learn new ways to @mention other users or #hashtag a trend.
But it's not just about getting a version of Twitter without ads; these people clearly believe in the virtues of Caldwell's plan.
"I've enumerated some core values App.Net should and will follow," Caldwell said in his video. "For one, we will never be ad-supported. Our product is the service that we sell, it is not our users. The second core value is that our entire company will be aligned with making the most innovative fun product that we can, and we're going to spend literally zero time building products that could appeal to advertisers, because we don't have advertisers. I think this will really create a different kind of innovation cycle, as well as priority list, for the things we're working on."
Caldwell also noted that his new social platform will work very closely with developers to make the best product possible.
"We are developers ourselves, our company has developed for the Twitter platform, the iOS platform, the Android platform, and the Facebook platform, so we are very attuned to these platform issues," Caldwell said. "We're making the promise that we'll never screw over good faith actors."
Caldwell definitely has the support of several tech evangelists, too, including Instapaper creator Marco Arment, Y-Combinator partner Garry Tan, Engadget co-founder Peter Rojas, and tech blogger Robert Scoble.
"Dalton Caldwell's learnings from failure are awesome and inspired me to support his new idea," Scoble tweeted.
What do you think of App.Net? Would you pay for a Twitter service sans ads? Shoot us an email or leave a comment in the section below.