Dalton Caldwell might be “the craziest person in Silicon Valley,” said Chris O’Brien in the San Jose Mercury News. The widely respected 32-year-old entrepreneur touched off a firestorm this month when he accused Facebook executives of threatening to destroy his start-up, App.net, if he didn’t sell it to them. “I know all about intimidation-based negotiation tactics,” Caldwell wrote in an online letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “I didn’t want to believe your company would stoop this low.” Caldwell had already made waves by publicly lambasting Twitter, saying it was more interested in pleasing its advertisers than its users. That criticism led him to his craziest idea yet: App.net, an ad-free social network much like Twitter that people would pay to use.
The most surprising part? Thousands of people have started paying, said Charles Arthur in Guardian.co.uk. App.net, which costs a minimum of $50 for a year’s membership, has raised over $750,000 from more than 11,000 users in less than a month. Caldwell says he knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. But he’s convinced that many more users want a social network without ads, “where the product is something you pay for” instead of a site “designed to squeeze every advertising penny out of you.”