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Why anonymous apps like Secret and Yik Yak failed

Miranda Katz, writing for Backchannel, on why apps like Secret, Yik Yak, and Whisper failed to gain traction or live up to their promise:

From the bulletin boards of the early internet to the subreddits of today, anonymity has always had a place online. But as Secret, Yik Yak, and Whisper all discovered, anonymous social networks are something of an oxymoron. An anonymous app that relies on social connections to be relevant all too easily breeds foul behavior, and quickly becomes antisocial. An anonymous app that lacks real-world social or geographical ties, meanwhile, struggles to be addictive. What does work, more or less, is an anonymous or pseudonymous group that forms around an interest, where a person’s identity matters less than their willingness to engage on a shared passion.

In Byttow’s view, a fatal flaw of anonymous social media is that using the apps doesn’t pay dividends. Users can’t build relationships or burnish their own reputations while operating without names. From time to time, people may have a piece of information they’d like to share with the world without revealing their identity, but that’s not enough to sustain a network. What makes an app sticky is positive reinforcement: more followers, more friends, more retweets. “For the most part people want to communicate with an audience,” says North. “People want credit for what they’ve said and done. Anonymity flies in the face of people’s need to have acknowledgment.”

This passage nails it: app retention is largely built around “stickiness” — what gets people to come back and keep engaging with the app. In an anonymous social network, the incentives are largely missing.