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Che Guevara Spraffl

Creating and curating a public persona through social media can be powerful, but would you tweet differently if you were anonymous? 

A new social media tool lets you do that and could bring an interesting and controversial twist to social media.


Che Guevara SprafflSocial Media, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare are now instrumental in the way we communicate, interact, share, shop and socialise. One thing they have in common is letting users build a profile based on what they say, where they go, what they like, whom they follow.

Every time we tweet we share a little bit of ourselves to the world. But are there things you'd like to share anonymously instead?

A new mobile-based social media App, Spraffl aims to fill this space by enabling anonymous, location based tweeting. What are the pros and cons of this new type of social media?

Getting to know you: the public side of social media

Facebook and Twitter are both profile-based social media and what you say on these channels is ultimately a reflection of you.

It's important to choose what not to say, what status to post and crucially, which photos not to upload or not. We've all heard stories about employers checking out the Facebook profiles of prospective employees and embarrassing mishaps with private Tweets being sent publically by accident….Twoops!

Privacy settings can limit access to your information, but in general, if you chose to put information on your profile, it can be viewed and anyone can learn about you.

So whilst social media has become an essential tool, it does so at the cost of some level of privacy.  

Spraffl aims to offer an alternative to this through anonymity. Spraffl is a new free iPhone App that is currently in beta testing which allows for anonymous, geo-temporal message posting. Eh, what?

What that means is that that users can post short messages (like Twitter) that are completely anonymous, ensuring privacy.

These messages are tagged with the GPS location and flagged on a map allowing others using Spraffl to see what messages have been posted in the nearby area.

The map is fully interactive allowing users to move the focus and zoom in and out to see what’s being ‘Spraffed’ in other locations. This location and time based approach allows an immediate and location based interactivity similar to Foursquare or setting your Twitter client to show all local results. However there are no badges, check-ins or even usernames shown.

Why?

Spraffl lets the user ask a question, offer a statement, picture or message about things in the local area. It’s not just your friends and followers that sees it but everyone and anyone.

‘Where can I get a good burger around here?’,’ Look out the road at the West end is blocked’, ‘this club is jumping … get along here now’.

Like replying on Twitter, Spraffl lets people communicate with others on Spraffl nearby and conversations can be linked into a discussion stream with that user (whoever they are).

 The power and perils of anonymity

The intention is that while Spraffl lacks friend networks or the ability to follow people it provides a shield of anonymity potentially making it a ’truer’ message posting tool.

Say what you really think…and no one will really know who posted that message. 

The anonymity could therefore have an interesting effect in today’s current environment of press standards, privacy and superinjunctions preventing revelation of names or information.

In some contexts Spraffl’s anonymous posting could be…revolutionary. Social Media’s role in the Arab Spring and other global movements has been well recognised.

Could this impact be even more dramatic if the people posting the message could remain anonymous and reduce the risk of any consequences for expressing themselves online?

This aspect may make it especially appealing  to activist groups such as Anonymous. 

Although there is a potential for anonymous social media, there are clearly some challenges and it will be interesting to see how Spraffl addresses these. 

  • The first challenge is to have enough critical mass of people on the network to make it feel worth taking part in. It's not much fun making your statement (anonymous or not) if no one is around to appreciate it. As in any beta programme, momentum and members are needed especially in these early stages.
  • Having control of who and what you listen to is important. It can be hard enough to find the useful bits on Twitter even when you carefully choose who to follow. With potentially anyone Spraffing their thoughts, and the main filter being only your location, it may be difficult to feel satisfied with the signal to noise ratio of the content.
  • Trust, safety and responsibility are clear challenges. To what degree would you engage with your twitter stream if you had no idea who posted each message? Although Spraffl has extensive terms of use, guidelines and ways to report abuse of the system, it may prove difficult to ensure the content is useful, not derogatory and within today’s ever-shifting boundaries of what’s legal and acceptable to post online.
  • Monetising social media is a challenge even in more mature social media channels and no doubt it will be here too.
  • A wider platform is needed – currently Spraffl is only available on iOS, but Android is on its way. Although these mobile apps are clearly geared to people on the move, a desktop app would be useful as well for the laptop-toting masses.
  • It is yet another social media channel to check for short messages. Even if this can be added to existing twitter applications, many already feel at capacity keeping up with the current stream of social media. Will people really want to check the views of people that they don’t know- but just happen to be near? 

Will anonymous, location based temporal tweeting take off? It is likely that anonymity will play a significant role in the Tweeting...sorry Spraffing behaviour of its users.

Whilst some may be able to use this App to be themselves, others may use the anonymous nature of the posting to play an even more extreme role. And those who don’t really care what Stephen Fry thinks might feel differently about what those in the same street think, or in the same bar or restaurant.

Either way, this format does offer the user a new and probably controversial dimension to a crowded mobile scial media market. It certainly will be interesting to see how this format develops over time.

Have you tried Spraffl? If so feel free to share your thoughts or experiences below.

Chris Rourke

Published 20 December, 2012 by Chris Rourke

Chris Rourke is Managing Director of User Vision and a contributor to Econsultancy.

23 more posts from this author

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