Watch These Coders Build A Social Media Future That Doesn't Depend On Google, Twitter, Or Facebook


This post is part of the Roadmap To The Future Series. Roadmap To The Future explores innovative industry trends and breakthroughs in science, entertainment, and technology. This series is sponsored by Verizon. March 2013 Hackathon

Earlier this month,, a social service supported by donations and subscriptions instead of advertising, held a hackathon in San Francisco.

Business Insider was on the scene to see what the coders were up to. isn’t actually trying to kill off Twitter or Facebook, as some early coverage suggested. But it is trying to provide an alternative that lives alongside the social giants.

Dalton Caldwell, the CEO of Mixed Media Labs, the company behind, wanted to give developers like himself a place to experiment, play, and build that wasn’t subject to bigger companies’ sometimes capricious-seeming rules—backed by the users directly. developers pay $100 a year, while users pay either $5 a month or $36 a year.

Last month, unveiled a free, more limited version of the service, considerably expanding its reach; the hope is that paying customers will subsidise the free ones, while the free users make more valuable.

The hackathon,’s second one ever, wasn’t a huge startup jamboree, but the one-day event, held at the WeWork building on the border of San Francisco’s SoMa and Financial District neighborhoods, drew a passionate crowd of coders, designers, and tinkerers. One developer, Jonathon Duerig, drove in from Salt Lake City.

Besides Caldwell himself, there were a few tech celebrities who showed up. One was Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz. (While Andreessen stepped down from Mixed Media Lab’s board last year, Caldwell invited him to see if some of the independent developers had ideas he might want to back.) Another was Steve Streza, the lead developer of Pocket, an app for saving online articles for reading later.

The results are encouraging. As Streza subsequently noted, many of the new tools coming out of look nothing like the ones we’ve seen built on top of Twitter’s platform. The next target for the community: Providing a substitute for Google Reader, the news-reading tool that Google recently announced it planned to close in July.

That incident highlighted the need for something like—a user-supported platform that won’t fold up shop if it’s not fitting into some big corporation’s goals.

Andrew Knapp and Bryan Berg of welcome the hackers.

Here's creator Dalton Caldwell in the thick of things.

All the basics—where to chat and what hashtag to use. developer advocate Orian Marx gives colleague Ben Friedland the thumbs-up. It's a go!

Down to work.

Joe Workman (foreground) worked on Kiwi, a tool that integrates into Mac OS X.

Eric Bell, who works at social-sharing toolmaker Addvocate, chats with Jonathon Duerig.

Former ReadWrite writer Jonathan Mitchell is working on a new project, The Daily Portal.

A lot of projects were focused on mobile apps.

An old-school dot-matrix printer that runs off shows how you can plug almost anything into the service.

Brenda Neigbauer, Randall Leeds, and Brett Slatkin work on projects. Leeds and Slatkin are working on Heartbeat, a service that graphs data like website visits over time.

Ashley Nelson-Hornstein and Andrew Haskin work on an app that transforms text chats into comic-book panels.

It looked really cool.

Pocket developer Steve Streza (in hat) puzzles over a problem.

Marc Andreessen and Dalton Caldwell chat up a participant.

Jonathon Duerig chats with NewsBlur founder Samuel Clay. NewsBlur's now touted as an alternative to Google Reader.

Shannon Whitley, shown here chatting with's Ben Friedland, writes apps for HR and marketing tasks. He also built a Windows Phone client for

The motto of the day.

Hackathons are part of Silicon Valley culture now ...

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