It’s both remarkable and overwhelming to see the number of new applications being introduced daily in the field of online marketing and social media.
I only recently stumbled upon social apps such as Yik Yak, Secret and Whisper. Essentially, these apps enable hyper-local communication while retaining users’ privacy. Initially created to allow the sharing of information between people in the same location, the apps became extremely popular as people wanted to share or receive unfiltered real-time information in any area.
Prior to apps like these, people usually monitored local events or breaking news by following a reporter or others using a hashtag. But this required trusting that the information providers were actually in the area. The inherent value of apps like Yik Yak comes from the ability to select remote locations and seek out the direct source to learn more about a topic or event of interest.
All this is great, but anonymity is at the core of these apps. And is that good or bad? Unfortunately, like most powerful tools at our disposal, it depends on who’s using it. Anonymity can sometimes be a great thing, but it also has an ugly side.
It has many useful characteristics. For example, there are many troubled people who are afraid to reach out to their friends or family when in need – these apps offer a way for them to find help from a non-judgmental source. These apps also encourage meaningful dialog about important issues that might not otherwise be shared by someone due to fear of repercussion.
Of course, the ugly side usually materializes when less-desirable humans are using them. The tools can be used to perpetuate cyber-bullying and slander that can have devastating consequences. After the launch of Yik Yak, there were reported incidences of cyberbullying and an anonymous bomb threat.
It’s interesting that the courses in this program have focussed on how we can use social media to help promote ourselves and the organizations we represent through the disclosure of personal information. Yet these apps derive their value from providing the exact opposite – through hiding behind our computers.
I’d be curious to know if you use apps like this, and if so, for what purpose? In the end, most apps survive through targeted advertising – do you think users of these apps are really anonymous after all?