Internet chat has come a long way. It’s had stellar highs (ICQ & MSN) and painful lows (Chatroulette & Omegle), but one thing it has never been is boring. That’s probably why it keeps coming back in various forms – there’s a lot of old nerds out there that remember the good times and want it to be like it was…
My first chat experience happened at my Co Founder’s parents’ house, sometime in the sixth or seventh grade (around 1994). I distinctly remember being, at first, disappointed by how visually unexciting it was, but then being blown away once we ‘surfed’ our way into the GeoCities chat rooms. Just reading the live conversation was cool in and of itself, but we could also ask anyone from anywhere anything we wanted; the possibilities were endless, and the anonymity meant we could pretend to be whoever we wanted to be – even adults!
As fun as that was, and as positive as it could have been, we quickly realized how that having a virtual mask might be a power better used for evil than good. We trolled; we trolled hard, and it was so much fun. My favorite memory was seeing my Co Founder’s eyes light up when I accidentally discovered a way to enter a chat with other people’s usernames. No one, not even the king of “Silicon Valley” (the hacker chatroom), was safe from our reign of terror. It was glorious.
But, we weren’t the only ones trolling. On the anonymous internet, it was too easy for one person to ruin everyone else’s good time, and that killed the internet’s first attempt at chat. It was sad to see it go, but it was fun to have been there while it lasted.
Instant messengers picked up the torch after the chat rooms shut down. The great thing about ICQ, AIM, MSN and others was that you had the ability to keep the experience positive by controlling your friends list. But, not being public, they never packed the same excitement as open forums, or did much for discussing niche topics with new people.
Facebook’s popularity had the next big impact on chat, as it led to the rise of the Identified Internet. All of a sudden, websites that wanted to host chats or forums could require users to tie their online identities to their posts, making the site less susceptible to trolls and the conversation much more civilized.
But, while this has led to a lot of great new online tools, the Identified Internet created two major problems of its own. The first problem should have been obvious, but surprised most of us: the end of privacy. People were way too willing to publicly share personal information, never thinking about how that information could be used by a predator or an opportunist. PleaseRobMe.com did a fantastic job of exposing the fact that by telling everyone where you are (how was this not creepy enough by itself?), you’re telling the wrong people where you’re not (ie: saying “I’m at the bar” is the same as saying “my house is currently unoccupied”).
The main solution to that problem, being careful about what you put online, leads right into the second problem of the Identified Internet – online image management. People worry so much about what they’re putting online that reality has gone out the window; people only share what they think will best reflect the image of who they want to be. And, since so many people want to be celebrities, the Identified Internet has left us swamped in selfies and social silence (the Pew Research center says social media leads to a spiral of silence in real life, as well).
Thankfully, people (especially young people) are moving away from platforms that gather and store information and towards anonymous and impermanent mobile apps. But, these apps aren’t immune to anonymity’s troubles – trolls are still bullying, making bomb-threats, and generally ruining everyone else’s good time. And, to keep the trolls at bay, these apps have to limit the rights of users and spend more on troll patrol than they earn in revenues.
It’s this environment that has shaped how we built BuzzIt. We’re old nerds (old trolls, actually, sorry!). We know where anonymity leads. That’s why we’re building something new, something that gives the best of both worlds; a pseudonymous system. How does that work? It’s pretty simple. Users log in but can be completely anonymous or a custom username on the inside of the app. This gives the BuzzIt community both the freedom of anonymity and the power to kick out trolls. Granted, this idea will face some hurdles, but we’re ready to face them, because we believe that the benefits that unrestricted local communication will bring make this an idea worth pursuing.
Want to help make this happen? Signup for our beta by clicking here.