App.net Hackathon: This Is The Energy Twitter Lost

Twitter, with its vague, airy blog posts masking stern new rules, is chasing away third-party developers. Here’s what a social tech company that loves its developers looks like: The first ever App.net Hackathon was held the weekend of October 20, and a bunch of independent programmers used the event to transform the service overnight.

“I was really excited to meet all of these folks in person,” said App.net founder Dalton Caldwell. “I knew probably 80% of the people there by their username. Getting the chance to meet people that you have interacted with online is always fun.”

Some of the hackathon projects helped flesh out the core features of App.net:

  • Abraham Williams created an App.net follow button for websites that uses only a single line of code.
  • Ketan Majmudar and Andrew Schmidt worked on an app called Pigeonhole, which tags and stars App.net posts so you can organize and find them later.
  • Chad Etzel, who also develops the iOS App.net client Adian, built a service called ADN Blogs, which turns App.net posts into full-length blog posts, sharing a link and headline on App.net.
  • Tony Million added an Explore feature to his excellent iPhone App.net client, Rivr, which uses the geolocation built into App.net, so users can see where posts come from on a map.

Apparchy In The U.S.A.

One developer, Steve Streza, whose day job is building Pocket, build something downright subversive that I love. It’s called apparchy. It lets you break open the official Twitter clients for iPhone and iPad and use them for App.net instead.

“The reason I made this is because, well, I could,” Streza explained. Twitter’s service can be swapped out for other domains in order to allow proxy access in places where Twitter is blocked, such as repressive countries. “But by putting a server in there which caught requests, made calls to the app.net API, and rewriting them as if they were from the Twitter API, [apparchy] fools the app into thinking that it’s getting tweets from Twitter.”

I think this hack is delightful. Twitter used to be a developer’s playground, and third-party inventions made the service a global phenomenon. Now it’s cracking down. Enterprising developers like these, who used to build on Twitter, have turned to App.net, which is built to motivate developers to build great apps. Streza’s apparchy embodies that hacker spirit just for the pure joy of it.

App.net co-founders Bryan Berg and Dalton Caldwell

A Great Start

“Most hackathons I've attended in SF have a noticeable percentage of attendees that are there exclusively to headhunt technical cofounders or network for investor connections,” says Abraham Williams, who built the website follow button and worked on other such widgets. “Everyone at the ADN hackathon was there because they were personally passionate about the platform or the space. While number of people with alternative motives will increase with the popularity of ADN, last weekends experience was at least temporarily refreshing.”

“The vibe was friendly and collaborative,” App.net’s Ben Friedland said. “It was less a hackathon (in terms of competition) and more a weekend working group, powered by soda and BBQ.”

“The vibe was especially cool because of how many people are not local to SF,” added Caldwell. “I would guess at least 20% of the people there live in a foreign country, not to mention the folks that don’t live in the Bay Area but came to town specifically for it.”

In keeping with the experimental spirit he and I discussed on video in September, Caldwell “was interested to see the scope and ideas of projects expand to different sorts of use cases. For instance, the group video watching app [Vidcast] and the lightweight blogging service.”

To see more photos and hackathon projects, check out the App.net blog post.

Here’s the video of all the presentations (warning: it's an hour long):


Video streaming by Ustream

Photos courtesy of App.net