Really, it’s amazing that it took this long for an app like Cloak to appear. Years after the arrival of MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, and Instagram, we finally have an app meant to do the exact opposite of other social media — to disconnect us from each other.
Disconnecting from some
Think about it for a minute — right after the euphoria of being able to connect to anyone and everyone you’ve ever known, the reality sunk in that there were people you really didn’t want to hear from. There was a good reason you hadn’t stayed in touch over the years. Now take that realization one step further, and you have the idea that there are people you would like to actively avoid. The Cloak app even suggests a starter set, “Avoid exes, co-workers, that guy who likes to stop and chat— anyone you’d rather not run into.” Brilliant.
Cloak realizes that the best way to avoid someone isn’t to ignore them. Heck no…then you’d never know where they are. The best way to avoid someone is to connect with them and then use that intelligence to never actually run into them.
They’ve monetized what we often wish we could have said, like, “What a shame, I left the bar right before you arrived. Go figure” and ”You were there, too? Crazy I didn’t see you.” And best of all, it works for those you’re not connected with as well, provided they share their status publicly (as far too many do, especially the people we’d all like to avoid…ouch).
The challenges of anti-social networking
Cloak isn’t alone as a trend. There are other apps that potentially promote negative behavior. Snapchat, which deletes posts in a timeframe set by the sender, and Secret, which broadcasts messages anonymously, are both anti-social in their own ways. Snapchat has been used for sexting and Secret for inappropropriate leaks of sensitive information.
Marc Andreessen wrote an excellent blog on the topic of “pseudonymity” recently that I highly recommend. He breaks social media into four quadrants to explain the spectrum of apps that manage reputation and those that don’t, and apps that require identity versus those that allow for anonymity.
His piece is thoughtful, and if you don’t have time or inclination to read it, I’ll just let you know (spoiler alert) that he’s against apps that allow people to be hurtful without consequence, aligning Secret to the behavior of those driving cars versus the more personal (and controlled) behavior of those pushing shopping carts. Great analogy.
Here’s Andreessen’s take on Secret and other similar apps:
I know that Secret isn’t going away any time soon. It has captured the tech zeitgeist and has now raised a ton of money. But this isn’t the first big wave of anonymous bullying apps to emerge. The last cycle we had formspring and juicy campus that were both super hot for nanoseconds and both fizzled for different reasons.
So my advice for anybody building apps that are anonymous is to try and nail the balance of pseudonymity and authority or reputation management. Think about how quickly you remove flagged items that are identified as bullying (you could always reinstate later). Think about having consequences for those that cross the line into bad behavior. Being “put in the penalty box” for bad behavior and banned for repeated bad behavior, for example, would help with the system.