Requiem for a Social Platform:'s Unrealized Potential

Ad-free social platform announced Tuesday that although the service had enough money to be "self-sustaining on a forward basis," it hadn't garnered the financial support needed to retain full-time employees. As a result, will no longer employ any salaried employees — including its two founders, Dalton Caldwell and Bryan Berg — and a larger portion of the codebase will be open-sourced.'s Developer Incentive Program, which was a way to compensate developers for building apps and services on top of, is also winding down. Caldwell and Berg will remain responsible for operating, but they'll no longer draw a salary for doing so. Although the blog entry announcing this change emphasized that " will continue to operate normally on an indefinite basis" (emphasis theirs), no full-time employees and reduced developer incentives will make it difficult for the project to evolve and for the community to grow. Already, members of the ADN (the colloquial term for community are starting to make plans to migrate to other services, and create lists of user names. Paradoxically, the service as it exists now still runs, and will probably have the budget to continue running for quite some time. In essence, has become a bit like Schrödinger's cat has become a bit like Schrödinger's cat — both alive and dead at the same time. I've spent the last day thinking a lot about, specifically its mission and trajectory. Like others, I'm not really surprised by the most recent ADN development, but that doesn't make it any less sad. Fundamentally, I still think many of the ideas and principles behind ADN are important and worth pursuing. I can't help but think this is going to be the sort of project that will be looked back on with reverence for what might have been. From an audacious proposal to crowdfunded success To have a better understanding of why ADN didn't succeed the way many of us wanted it to, it's important to revisit the platform's origins. On July 1, 2012, developer and entrepreneur Dalton Caldwell posted an essay on his blog entitled, "What Twitter could have been." The essay was written at a time when Twitter was making changes to its API and transitioning from a more outward-facing, developer-friendly company to something much more insular. Caldwell's lament was that the Twitter from the early days, where its API enabled a slew of new features, clients and use cases for the service, was disappearing. (It's worth noting that many of those third-party ideas were rolled in to Twitter proper, and had a significant role in making Twitter a multi-billion dollar company.) The response to that post, particularly in the developer and web communities was tremendous. As a result, two weeks later, Caldwell published another essay, this one entitled, "Announcing an audacious proposal." Caldwell's proposal was the creation of a "financially sustainable realtime feed API and service" that wouldn't be incumbent on revenue goals, pressure from investors or a push toward advertising or mining user data. Fortuitously, Caldwell was already working on the building blocks for such a platform. Before became a social platform, it was a service for mobile-app developers. While working on 1.0, Caldwell and much of the development team spent time building a secret project; that project would be the groundwork for Alpha,'s version of Twitter. Convinced that creating a sustainable, ad-free real-time feed API and service was more important than building a service targeted at mobile developers, Caldwell announced he would pivot to serve as that product and platform. The audacious part of Caldwell's proposal wasn't the idea itself; it was that Caldwell was asking for money to build such a service and platform. The audacious part of Caldwell's proposal wasn't the idea itself; it was that Caldwell was asking for money to build such a service and platform. Using a Kickstarter-like campaign, Caldwell's goal was to raise at least $500,000 from around 10,000 backers. The idea was that if 10,000 people could be convinced to donate at least $50 for a year of access to this type of service and platform, it could reach the critical mass needed to build apps and tools that would make the project a success. The crowdfunding page (archived, here) went up on July 13, 2012 with the requirement that it would only move forward if $500,000 was raised in 30 days. The response from many in the development and web communities was mixed. Many appreciated the idea behind Caldwell's proposal, but didn't think it could raise $500,000 to do what it set out to do. Some fully embraced the concept, while others dismissed it on both principle and practicality.