Social Media's Next Act: Disappearing, Private, Secret-Filled Networks

The next step in social media isn't more authenticity—but anonymity.

Remember your "Top 8 Friends" on MySpace?

If there was an ugly time in social's history, this was it. Not just due to the gaudy graphics, but also due to the fact that we were in love with the new possibilities of our digital selves. If you loathe today's Instagram selfies, they are masterpieces compared to the MySpace days when our crappy camera phones made our already awkward duck face reflections look remarkably worse.

Today, we should be a tad more optimistic about social media's next act. While there are plenty of places to go online for mass public conversations, the random days of ChatRoulette and the competitive days of collecting friends are (almost) behind us. Moreover, social media is here to stay—so we ought to get smarter about how we build it and how we use it.

As danah boyd describes in her bestselling book, It's Complicated, "Rather than resisting technology or fearing what might happen if youth embrace social media, adults should help youth develop the skills and perspective to productively navigate the complications brought about by living in networked publics."

The next wave of social media sites complicates less and protects more. These trends present an opportunity for us to erase our digital footprints and to engage among smaller, more private groups—or even the possibility to reach out anonymously altogether.

Disappearing social media

Cyber Dust

SnapChat is one of the first mainstream tools to reinforce our desire to live more privately. While the term "disappearing" is a misnomer (after all, smarthphone screenshots are always just a tap away), this app makes it easy to share personal photos and videos within a smaller social network.

Cyber Dust is following suit. This iPhone app is set up for anyone over 13 years old to message without leaving a trace. The company describes on its site that all "messages disappear off of the recipient's device and our servers 30 seconds after the recipient enters the chat room and reads the message." Mark Cuban, whose team is behind the app, says this about Cyber Dust on his Twitter account: "Nothing good ever comes from friends or business associates being able to keep/forward your texts." Disgraced former NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (a.k.a. Carlos Danger) would likely agree.

Private social media

Path was one of the first networks to introduce a friend limit—capping this number at 150 people. Last year, they become even more exclusive with new features to enable sharing with an even smaller inner circle.

In a corporate environment, Yammer does for businesses what Facebook and others cannot. While the platform does stress openness, it does so for individual companies and their clients. These private spaces are social, but they are restricted for more productive and relevant interactions.

There is also a growing number of apps that enable you to create private groups, apps such as Everyme so you can share safely with a select community of people. With this download, you can slice and dice your network into smaller groups.

Secret-filled social media

Whisper and Secret are sneaking into news headlines. Both offer an opportunity to share anonymously.

Secret focuses on sharing secrets within your network, connecting you based on the contacts on your iPhone (in other words, you know the secret is from someone you know—but you don't know who it is from exactly). Some users are relying on this app to vent about their jobs, among other things, and others are simply lapping up the gossip.

Whisper

Whisper (iOS/Android) is similar in some ways, but its secrets are displayed on top of images and its focus is on public discovery since it's not tied in any way to your network. There is an element of digital therapy to this app since a lot of what people are posting is akin to bite-sized diary entries.

Secret recently announced that users, despite the fact that they're anonymous, now also need to be nice. If you post something defamatory or mean, it (or you) could be deleted.

These secret-filled networks do feel a bit (well, a lot) childish, but what they do enforce is the reality that there are plenty of users who want to stay anonymous online.

The appetite for disappearing, private, and secret-filled social media is growing—perhaps putting a final nail in the coffin of the big, public, social media giants who became too personal, too often, and too fast.

[Image: Flickr user kennejima]

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5 Comments

  • Mike Smith

    Privatoo.com has just launched. It is an attempt to create a bridge among the many different social networks people might want to use. The idea is to create a privacy-centric "base" from which a person can share on other services. That is, Privatoo is designed to be completely under a person's control from a privacy standpoint and then allow a person to post to other networks or blog sites with varying audiences and privacy/publicity assumptions. In keeping with this idea of user control, Privatoo also allows its users to choose where their files are stored (at Privatoo or elsewhere). In sum, the Privatoo alpha site is a working example of how people might take control of their privacy decisions while still using the services they do today--just in a more targeted manner.

  • Oopakar Admin

    Fogochat.com is a Private Social Network where membership and posts are completely private, only members within the Fogochat group will be able to see other members and posts. So, group members need not worry about privacy outside of the group they belong to, everything stay within the group. Fogochat provides advanced functionality like, ability to create sub-groups, hashtags, reference members within the post to name a few.

  • Rob Anspach

    As the author of 2 social media books whereby I teach how to build trust to attract followers I'm not sure how using a secret or disappearing message would add to boosting ones social influence. But from a techie standpoint I find these features sort of cool and wonder how I can use them to enhance social interaction. It's a catch 22. But every person is different and not everyone wants to use social media for business. Having a tool and knowing how it works is two different things. So, before you embrace any social medium understand how it works and why you need it.

  • Julee Meltzer

    This is not necessarily a good thing! I use social media to save the lives of hundreds of dogs in shelters across the country. We need permanent posts that can be shared everywhere!