Worth Reading: An audacious, ad-free, iOS social network and Google’s surprising hardware ambitions

July 15, 2012

Dalton Caldwell is a young developer with an old school idea — web users should pay for services, rather than get them for free in the more typical ad-supported model. 

“Why isn’t there an opportunity to pay money to get an ad-free feed from a company where the product is something you pay for, not, well, you,” he says in his Dalton Caldwell does things the hard way” blog. “To be clear: I’m glad there are ad-supported options, but why does that seem like the only option?”

Caldwell’s been working on just such an option for the past eight months; a consumer-facing iOS app he describes as “a real-time social service where users and developers come first, not advertisers.”

He is funding the app.net project in Kickstarter-style, aiming to raise a minimum of $500,000 from roughly 10,000 people as the “critical mass” needed to move forward. If he and his team don’t reach that goal in the next 30 days, it’s back to the drawing board. He’s off to a fairly good start, raising over $50,000 from 721 backers.

“We will only accept money for this financially sustainable, ad-free service if we hit what I believe is critical mass,” says Caldwell. 

This isn’t the first time Caldwell, a Web 2.0 veteran, has swung for the fences. “I ran a company called imeem, which users loved, but which I was unable to keep going because I couldn’t turn a profit,” says Caldwell. "I raised >$50MM for that company, had 100 employees, and managed to sell $2MM of advertising per month at peak." 

This time around, free from ad concerns, he says he’s confident his user-focused service will be a hit: 

“During this development process, we have spent a great deal of time thinking about realtime feeds, developer APIs, and creating a service that we enjoy using,” he says. “It’s also worth mentioning that this iOS [app/service] is the highest-quality piece of software my team has ever built. We have learned a lot of native app development lessons the hard way… but tough lessons ultimately yield fantastic software."

Google’s always wanted to do hardware

Who knew? That was my reaction after reading the New York Times piece this week about Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s presentation at the Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho earlier this week. 

Schmidt spent a good part of his talk with the media there showing off Google’s latest pieces of hardware: The Nexus Q, a cube-shaped, home entertainment device, and the Nexus 7 Android 4.1 tablet. 

As the article notes, 2011 was a relatively quiet year for Google on the hardware front, but this year’s shaping up quite differently. For one thing, Google’s $12.5 billion purchase of device maker Motorola Mobility became official. 

“While Mr. Schmidt acknowledged that Google purchased the company and its patents, in part, as a reaction to rival ‘Apple’s behavior,’ he said its hardware business was a real draw. Mr. Schmidt was tight-lipped about Google’s plans for Motorola but he promised that a new batch of products were nearly ready for prime time.”

“We always wanted to be in the hardware business,” he said. “Larry and Sergey have always wanted to do hardware in one form or another. This was a way to get into it quickly.”

So much for the idea that Nexus is just a way to give its hardware partners a kick in the rear to innovate faster. It sounds like Google’s in it to win.

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