In contrast to the largely popular, well-esteblished social networks we talked about in class last week, this week we focused on new social networks that are only beginning to gain popularity. Some of these include Google+, Quora, Diaspora, Branch, Medium, Ello, We Heart It, and Neighborland. I found it interesting to note that most of these websites are aimed at being improved versions of the larger social networks, rather than being completely innovative websites. For example, Google+, Diaspora, and Ello all have similar concepts to Facebook and attempt to replace it. I’m curious to see if their small improvements will be enough to pull people away from Facebook to join their networks instead. I’m more interested, however, in new social networks that are designed with unique concepts. I set out to find a new tool like this on the Internet and came across Heard after reading Forbes’ 15 Social Media Companies To Watch In 2015.
Heard is a social network that allows users to anonymously engage in social conversations. The Forbes article explains that the conversations are “similar to those seen at a party where crowds gather around storytellers, and form and disperse naturally as conversations change.” Users no longer need to worry about following people with similar interests as them because the app does the work for them, matching content to audiences that care.
I decided to create an account and try it out for myself. The layout of it is extremely visual – each post is displayed as an image on the page. It looks similar to Pinterest or We Heart It in this way, but when you press the image someone’s question or conversation topic comes up with it. The first image I pressed was of a bikini accompanied by the question “Appropriate for children?”. I thought this was comical, but also shows a great function of the app. It seems like Heard is a hub for people to ask questions that they don’t want to bother friends about, or that they want to get feedback from more people on. I could see my generation using it for this.
What I’m scared about though, is that the anonymity of the app could give people courage to post anything they wanted – which could include blackmail about their boss or gossip about people they know. Despite the Terms and Conditions which tell users “Don’t upload hateful, pornographic, or illegal material, including stuff you don’t own,” Heard users hypothetically have the liberty of posting hurtful messages on the Internet as an anonymous author. I think it’s likely that people will use it in such a way because that’s what happened to the app Yik Yak. Yik Yak is an app that allows users to create anonymous posts and read others that were posted in their area. It quickly blew up around the University of Miami so I tried it out for a day. When I logged on in Coral Gables, I was appalled to find it was essentially a forum for people to exchange gossip. Most of the posts included specific people’s names, exposing things they did or claiming that they’re hot or not. Yik Yak was intended to have posts about what geographically close people are thinking, not malicious messages. An article in Chatham Daily News explains that with anonymity, comes disinhibition and deindividuation, and it worries me that the same could happen to the users of Heard.
Another issue I noticed about Heard was that most posts had only one comment, if any. This is an issue that any new social network will have. The functionality and attractiveness of the app will only come to fruition if there are many users commenting on each others posts and having conversations on it. It’s clear that the Heard has potential but I think it will take awhile to overcome this obstacle and establish itself as a non-malicious brand.