Friday, March 6, 2015

Plum is Anonymous

Why have anonymous apps become such a big deal lately and why are we building Plum to be anonymous?  The lack of anonymity on social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn mean that those systems are little more than billboards for the best parts of your personal and business life.  Where do you go to talk about the real issues you have?  A pseudonymous forum or apps like Whisper and Yik Yak are likely destinations.
Side-bar: Pseudonymous means that you have some sort of permanent made-up name that represents you to other users. For instance, your Twitter handle might be @3CircusRings and people will know your real name only if you share it. They will, however, be able to tie everything that @3CircusRings tweets to a single identity.

Facebook and LinkedIn expect you to use your Real Names and Facebook has even gone so far as to drag some people into the spotlight in order to enforce their Real Name rules.  We believe that people want the freedom to discuss delicate subjects without revealing who they are in real life or they want to be completely open and honest without fear of social, corporate, or political retribution.  Gabriella Coleman of the New York Times seems to agree in her column Anonymity Online Serves Us All.   Another example is when seemingly-innocent tweets result in suspension from school, as the following ACLU article describes; In Disturbing Trend, Kansas School the Latest to Punish Student for Harmless Tweet. You can see why someone might want to hide behind a pseudonym or even complete anonymity.
Side-bar: Anonymous means that there is no traceable representation as to who you are (pseudonymous or real-life) to other users.
Anonymity can be used for both good and bad reasons. Anonymity is not, however, a means of avoiding personal responsibility/accountability nor a tool to advance criminal/rebellious causes. We can assure you that Plum will never support such applications of anonymity and will actively remove users who exhibit such behavior.

The need to discuss sensitive topics with honesty has led to the popularity of apps like Whisper, Secret, and Yik Yak.  These new applications give the user the ability to spout off in just about any manner.  The down side is that the only thing the poster has in common with the readers/responders is the proximity to one another or their college affiliation.  Having discussions with complete strangers can be fun but imagine how much more productive those conversations can become when the participants have something in common?

Besides letting you connect others with common interests, Plum will let you be as anonymous as you want to be.  When you join Plum, you can choose to be completely anonymous for all of your posts or you can choose a completely arbitrary Plum name.  In the latter case, Plum places you in the driver’s seat by allowing you to control when to use your Plum name or when to turn it off and be completely anonymous.  You can make this choice for each chat you participate in and/or each group you join.  In this way, you can build a history and longer-lasting relationships with specific users while remaining completely anonymous with everyone else. 

We hope that Plum is a way for you to meet and build new relationships and that some of those relationships can grow outside of Plum.  To safely facilitate two people getting to know each other’s real identity, you can reply to a specific user’s post/comments using a one-on-one chat.  It is during these one-on-one chats that you can optionally share more personal information, such as your real identity or actual location.  For similar reasons Plum, will not be adding support for pictures and video until the community has grown and matured enough to handle the issues that can arise from those types of content.  While we understand that multimedia is a great way to express yourself, it is also the easiest way to accidentally expose the identity of yourself or another user.

As you can see, Plum is trying to walk a fine line between protecting your anonymity and providing an easy way to connect with people like you.  We feel strongly that the only way we can connect people while respecting each user’s anonymity and privacy is by being completely open, honest, and transparent.  This leads us to our final upcoming article about how and why Plum is Transparent.

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