If you haven’t heard much about App.net lately, there’s a reason: The developer-friendly alternative to Twitter and Facebook hasn’t had anyone working there full-time since May.
Now its founder and CEO, Dalton Caldwell, has taken a new job as a partner at Y Combinator, the startup factory that produced Reddit, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Stripe, among other fast-growing tech companies.
In May, Caldwell announced that App.net, a Twitter-like platform for information distribution which sought to operate through user subscriptions rather than advertising, would no longer have any employees, himself included.
Instead, it’s been running through the use of contractors, with Caldwell and cofounder Bryan Berg “responsible for operations.” Since May, Berg has remained active on Alpha, a messaging service built on top of App.net. Caldwell, by contrast, went silent after the May announcement, and only recently returned to post about his new job at Y Combinator. (Caldwell told an Alpha user that he “needed a break.”)
“I don’t think it means less of an involvement than what I anticipated when I wrote that post in May,” Caldwell told ReadWrite in an email. “Now that I have my full-time job figured out I think I will be able to have a better sense of how to balance my time across projects.”
In a reply to an App.net user who asked about his continuing role at App.net, Caldwell also noted that Y Combinator was “the sort of gig where it’s OK/encouraged to work on projects that interest me alongside my full-time job.”
More than ever, this means that App.net’s fate is in the hands of developers building on top of it. Like Caldwell, who wrote about turning down a large offer to sell his company to Facebook, they are independent-minded sorts.
While App.net offered them that independence, and freedom from the sometimes arbitrary changes Twitter and Facebook have made to their platforms, Caldwell’s salvo at the social giants has not delivered on other things a software builder might want, like a large set of consumers they can reach with their wares.
It’s not clear, for example, how Backer, App.net’s service for raising funds to build software features, will deliver on its promise that App.net staff “will help out developers” with marketing and advice, given that App.net no longer has any staff.
“At this point the main focus is on keeping the service running well, and trying to let things organically happen,” Caldwell told us. “For instance, will Backer start getting used more or less? Will new interesting tools or products that use the API be released?”
Caldwell said he and Berg want to “let things settle down some more before deciding which direction to take.”
Perhaps, at Y Combinator, Caldwell can spark someone else’s dream to build a successor to App.net—one that can thrive as an independent force and a counterbalance to the dominant social platforms that hem in developers.
Photo of Bryan Berg and Dalton Caldwell and App.net hackathon by Jon Mitchell for ReadWrite