From the nameless comments on news stories about politics to free-for-all Web forums like Topix, anonymous text has proved to be some of the most dangerous and hurtful on all of the pre-social media Internet. For a time, Facebook changed all that, connecting a name and a face with every bat-crap crazy thing that someone had to say somehow, even if just barely, managed to civilize the tone of conversation a little bit.
Well, that's all about to change thanks to a new crop of social media networks powered by the sexy lure of anonymity. This trend is being led by apps like Secret and Whisper, which together have set places like Silicon Valley abuzz with their too-personal-to-say-with-my-name-attached content.
And at first, market watchers were wary, if not outright skeptical, of the ability of apps like Secret and Whisper to monetize their platforms in any way that would benefit brands interested in spending ad dollars. But it turns out, this concern was misplaced. There's a lot of information you can know about someone without knowing their name or what they look like.
By mining user content and GPS-targeted location data, a brand can quite easily serve ads efficiently and effectively to those anonymous users of whichever dirty secret app you happen to be using.
The popularity of these new services even has Facebook exploring anonymous features.
So now that you know that these sorts of apps might not be a total waste of time, here's a quick breakdown of some of the most popular anonymous platforms out there now:
The kids are loving Yik Yak. Loving it so much that this anonymous app made headlines in California when a high school student used it to issue a bomb threat to his school. Originally designed by college students for college students, Yik Yak connects users to others who are nearby without profiles or user names or passwords. As its users spread from colleges to high schools and middle schools across the country, Yik Yak was becoming ahaven for bullies and a concern for parents. In an innovative solution, Yik Yak has now blocked the use of its app in over 80% of the high schools and middle schools in the US, with complete blockage just around the corner, as a smart proactive move to save its brand's image.
The anonymous app Whisper is trying to have it both way: to be the go-to place for gossip, rumor and allegations but while trying to maintain an anti-bullying policy that prevents the use of real names of classmates, co-workers, bosses or exes. Can that work? With 3.5 billion page views in January, the answer seems to be a solid maybe. Whisper recently got its mainstream tabloid moment too when someone claimed Gwyneth Paltrow was cheating - and a few months later she and her husband separated.
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Billed by some as a "more intimate" version of Whisper, Secret works in a similar way, except it posts its messages on a flat colored background, while Whisper uses an image background. While Whisper veers towards celebrity gossip, Secret is mired in the tech world. If you want to know who the "douches" are in Silicon Valley, this is the network for you.
It's being called the "Snapchat for business" and bills itself as "your off-the-record messenger." Confide is a messaging service that sends self-destructing text messages that cannot be captured by screenshot, like Snapchats can. If someone tries to take a screenshot of a partial message, Confide lets you know that they tried. Not an anonymous app in the same sense as Secret and Whisper, but certainly could still have opportunities for marketers who want to reach only a select few without the word getting out to all the riff-raff. It raised $1.9 million in seed funding earlier this year.
The app Wut bills itself as a "semi-anonymous app," whatever that is. It works by sending a message to any of your friends who have the Wut app installed. It's anonymous in that it doesn't identify you, but since only your friends are receiving the message, there's a good chance they can sniff you out. Wut messages only appear on your phone's lock screen, and don't build up inside the app, so they are as ephemeral as the time. It's the Facebook of anonymous apps, if that makes sense.
The Popcorn Messaging app is designed to allow you to talk to anyone within a one-mile radius of your location, and meant to engage strangers sharing the same space, like at a sporting event or a music festival. Not to be confused with Popcorn Time, the movie piracy app; orPopcorn App, an app for the bar and restaurant industry. The developer got his first 1,000 users in the first day of its launch with a post on the Hackers News site, so despite the SEO challenges, Popcorn Messaging might have a shelf life.
Want to take a picture but it would just be too rude to do it? You need Sneakyshot. All you do is touch the app, then act like you're talking on the phone, then a voice counts down, "3, 2, 1" and then it takes four photos without the flash or shutter sound. THEN, you are compelled to share said sneaky shot anonymously on the Sneakyshot server, powered by Tumblr. Oh, how terrible this could go wrong.