By Christie Young, News Correspondent
Most college students remember their first foray into social media as the one and only MySpace.
The site, founded in 2003, allowed users to create and personalize profile pages and use them to interact with others. Users could fully customize their page with backgrounds, music, different colors and fonts, and the infamous “top eight” list of the user’s selected best friends. While the fad died, the idea of putting our real-life social lives on the Internet stuck.
Then came the behemoth social network: Facebook. By doing away with the sparkly layouts, unlimited creative control and copious advertising found on MySpace, Facebook created an experience that seemed more veritable and realistic. By 2012, one billion people had joined Facebook and founder Mark Zuckerberg became the world’s youngest billionaire at age 29.
Facebook’s omnipresence means that all of the information posted by users can be used against them. The New York Times found that the National Security Association, which has recently been receiving criticism due to its extensive spying on American citizens and politicians, uses Facebook and other social media apps to create maps of social connections.
This creates a sense of permanence that kids aren’t interested in, and now anonymity in social media is a new concept being explored by app developers.
“The teen market is information savvy and privacy savvy,” said James Sun, founder of Anomo, a Seattle-based app. “They don’t like the fact that Facebook is going to show that information forever and make it searchable.”
Anomo was launched in June 2013 and has since garnered 40,000 downloads and has about 4,000 daily active users. The vast majority–92 percent–of these users are between the ages of 15 and 19. Upon signing up, a user chooses from a few dozen avatars – characters of different races, hair colors and clothing styles. No information is given publicly, but other users can request a “reveal” for information about where the user lives, goes to school, their profession or even a picture.
“It’s pretty neat so far,” said Monique, 18, an Anomo user from California. “I love that it’s a much more simple and more anonymous way to talk to people without having to give away too much.”
Right now, Anomo is only available as an app and has not yet evolved into a full-fledged website.
Social media users are more wary than ever about keeping their information private, as Facebook’s privacy policies are constantly under scrutiny, Sun said. And in our information and iPhone society, people are always looking for the “next big thing,” especially since Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the three titans of social media, are losing their newness for some.
The Anomo app reads like a neon-colored Twitter feed and users can follow each other if they like the content each of them post, which can range from text posts to selfies. The idea is that a user can reveal as much or as little as they want about his or herself. The app organizes posts by time and location. It was created as a way to meet new people and is meant to be the “anti-Tinder,” according to Sun, because it’s not just a game of hot-or-not. Tinder is another popular social media app that allows people to “like” others within the context of hooking up. Once two users “like” each other, they can message each other.
“It’s safer than any other social network because all your personal information is behind an avatar so you don’t have to reveal everything upfront like on all the other social networks,” Sun said of Anomo. “All you do is describe what interests you have and then you can interact and meet new people and when you feel comfortable and get a good vibe from them, you can share real information about yourself.”
Anomo is just one app in a wave of anonymous social media sites. Whisper is another app where users share their secrets overlaid on a picture, almost like a scandalous meme.
Spraffl, which advertises itself as a non-personalized “revolution,” allows users to post things from where they are, but not who they are. Other users can comment on these posts, but there is no information collected about users.
It seems that by losing their online ego, users of these anonymous social networks are becoming more focused on connecting to others in a positive way.
“We had a teen write that he was dealing with depression. He would never write that on Facebook for obvious reasons,” Sun said. “When he wrote that on our app, there were over 60 people that responded to him saying ‘Hey, are you okay?’ and ‘Life can be good.’ That was super cool to see. That was probably one of our most proud moments in the company.”