Dalton Caldwell

Partner @ Y Combinator

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App.net is not vaporware

We shipped an alpha version of App.net. You can browse the global feed at alpha.app.net. This is a webapp that we built in the last two weeks on top of our documented API. Think of this web application as a “proof of concept”.

We also released a dev API that allows 3rd party developers to begin building App.net applications. In the 12 hours since we released the dev API we have already seen several app developers start working on projects. Here is a screenshot of an iOS app that an alpha tester is building. We also have had an alpha tester successfully post messages from an Android app.

We’re opening up the alpha to all backers of join.app.net that want to be included. There are still some rough edges, but feedback has been positive.

Some thoughts on the funding goal

We are currently 43% of the way towards our goal, with 5 days left. A lot of folks think that we will never hit the...

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Dear Mark Zuckerberg


On June 13, 2012, at 4:30 p.m., I attended a meeting at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California. In addition to myself, the meeting was attended by executives at Facebook with the following titles: “VP, Engineering & Products”, “VP, Partnerships”,“VP, Corporate & Business Development”, and “Director, Developer Relations/Open Graph”.

As I understood at the time, the purpose of the meeting was for me to present/demonstrate a new iOS app & service I have been building on the Facebook Platform. Previously, I had been reassured by Facebook dev-relations employees that the service I was building was an interesting/ valuable use of Open Graph & Facebook Platform. I was hoping the outcome of this meeting would be executive-level support for my impending product launch.

The meeting took an odd turn when the individuals in the room explained that the product I was building...

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Critical mass vs network effects

Most people don’t remember this, but Google had a social network that predated Google+. In fact, Google’s social network launched a few months before TheFacebook launched as a Harvard-only site.

Google’s social network was called: Orkut. Orkut was invite-only, and the day it launched, an Orkut invite was a hot commodity in silicon valley. I seem to recall I was lucky enough to be one of the first few thousand users.

It was fun to use at first, but within months of launch, the user community started to change. I remember that as it started to really grow, I began getting several new friend requests a day… all written in portuguese. As the community rapidly changed, a lot of early users, including me, stopped using the site. Check out these demographic charts if you think I am exaggerating.

Wait a second, the conventional wisdom is that more users makes a community more valuable?...

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Hot Dogs & Caviar

A story

Imagine that there is a hot new restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant is currently selling hot dogs. However, they insist that there are some brilliant engineers from MIT, Caltech & Stanford in the back room working on a machine that can turn hot dogs into caviar.

This sounds a little bit far-fetched, given that various other restaurants have been trying to build a hot dog-to-caviar converter for the past decade, and it doesn’t seem to have worked yet. But this new restaurant insists that there is another restaurant in Mountain View that figured out how to convert hamburgers into caviar, and that their restaurants have a lot in common. In fact, they even hired some of the same hamburger scientists from Mountain View to work on the hot dog converter in San Francisco.

However, the fact remains that this mythical hot dog technology doesn’t exist yet, and the way the...

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App.net 3rd-party revshare proposal

I have been thinking a lot about what makes great 3rd-party developer ecosystems work. At the end of the day, it really boils down to financial incentives, and the ability of an ecosystem to support 3rd-party devs making a living and maintaining a good lifestyle.

If the rules are setup correctly, great 3rd-party development platforms create a strong financial incentive for 3rd-party developers to make great software. Why? Healthy platforms allow 3rd-party developers to make lots of money. If you can setup the financial incentives in the right way, people are able to make a great living by building great software that is useful and makes people happy. That is the world I want to live in.

On the other hand, if the “rules” of a development platform are setup without intention or thoughtfulness, the ecosystem will fail.

I would like to publicly share an idea for App.net and its...

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Fred Wilson is wrong about “Free”

Fred Wilson is one the smartest, most genuine people in the tech business. He has a huge fan club that he has earned by being radically transparent and consistently engaging in public debate. I have emailed with him a few times over the years, and actually met him and shook his hand a few weeks ago. I think Fred Wilson is awesome, and if I saw him on the street today I would walk up and shake his hand again. One great thing about people like Fred is that you can have respectful disagreements and debates with them, without it devolving into a non-constructive flamewar.

With that being said, I am now going to make an argument that his blogpost, “In defense of Free”, which was apparently intended as a response to my blogpost, “An audacious proposal”, is wrong.

The semantics

So to start with, let’s talk about semantics. I am making arguments about Web2.0 services. One defining aspect of a...

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App.net project update #1

On getting public attention

The number one thing that I tell new founders before they launch their product is to remember that no one will care. I have launched several products, dozens of major announcements, and hundreds of incremental improvements. Without exception, the wider world’s response to those launches was smaller than I expected.

It is very rare to be sitting on an idea that manages to capture people’s imagination. My understanding of just how rare having an inherently powerful idea is prompted me to pay a great deal of attention to the amount of discussion this blog post generated. I have never before worked on something that, through no real effort my own, got picked up and propagated in such a wide manner.

Sure enough, when we announced the join.app.net project, it got more attention and inspired more strong opinions than anything I have worked on in my career. For...

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Announcing an audacious proposal

The overwhelmingly positive response to my blogpost, What Twitter could have been has been inspiring. The post has generated 80K pageviews thus far. Without really meaning to, I touched a nerve.

The responses to my post largely fell into two camps. One group is of the belief that a non-commercial, open source, open standards federation of real-time protocols is the solution. The opposing group has pointed out that these decentralized efforts never work out, and the API-focused service I wish existed is the fevered dream of navel-gazing geeks. No, these people say, we must swallow our bitter ad-supported medicine… it’s the only way.

I think there is another option.

A relevant story

My first programming job was at a company which was then called VA Software, working on a product called SourceForge. At that time, If you wanted to launch, manage, collaborate on and distribute an Open...

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What Twitter could have been

I remember when you could go to Twitter.com and see the global firehose on the front page. They had no traffic. The global feed was mostly employees and their friends talking to each other.

When Twitter started to get traction, a year or two into their existence, I decided that Twitter was the Best Thing Ever. I realized that Twitter, because of their API, actually was a real-time protocol to connect various services in a novel way. I had debates with my other tech-nerd friends about whether Twitter could be one of the fundamental building blocks of the Internet via their powerful API. When reporters or investors asked me what I thought the most exciting company in the valley was, I would invariably answer “Twitter”.

As I understand, a hugely divisive internal debate occurred among Twitter employees around this time. One camp wanted to build the entire business around their realtime...

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Zen & the art of startup advice

A dirty secret of “startup advice” blogposts is that, aside of the placebo effect, the advice is not terribly useful. Why? Well, if you tried to synthesize all of the available advice into a single coherent framework, you would quickly realize that the aggregate “advice framework” is deeply self-contradictory.

Self-contradictory advice is fascinating. If you aren’t familiar with the cold-reading techniques that “mind-readers” use, I highly suggest taking the time to study them. One technique, known as “The Rainbow Ruse” is especially relevant to the discussion:

The rainbow ruse is a crafted statement which simultaneously awards the subject with a specific personality trait, as well as the opposite of that trait. With such a phrase, a cold reader can “cover all possibilities” and appear to have made an accurate deduction in the mind of the subject, despite the fact that a rainbow...

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