As one of the best New Yorker cartoons wisely noted, “On the Internet, no one can tell you’re a dog.” Now, a new social network named Spraffl is championing the idea that, for dogs and everyone else, location-based anonymity is the cat’s meow.
Under the slogan that “the Revolution will not be personalized,” the Scotland-based Spraffl launches this week its geo-social smartphone app for the iPhone (the Android version will be available soon) and its network. Its selling point: users — or Spraffers, if that word ever takes hold — can say what they’re really thinking by making anonymous, location-tagged statements to others who are physically nearby. Users can see where other Spraffers are, but not who they are.
Users can reveal themselves if they so choose. Others can rate posts, and can reply to them publicly or privately. Eventually, the company said its business model will allow local businesses to “engage” in some unspecified way with their local Spraffers.
Jay Feeney, co-founder and CEO, proclaimed in a statement that “it's time for a selfless revolution.” His company sees the need to build social connections as an impediment to honestly connecting with people who share the same physical location. In fact, Spraffl makes a differentiating virtue out of having “no people to follow, no checkins required, no badges, no points, no history.”
To prevent abuse from all those mysterious people, Spraffl says that it is “automatically moderated” so that users can flag Spraffs if they appear to be abusive. After five reports of abusive posts, a Spraff will be removed. Repeatedly posting abusive Spraffs will get a Spraffer de-Spraffered, or locked out of the app. The company noted that registration is linked to a Facebook account, so re-registering would require a new Facebook account.
Does Spraffl offer anything new and desirable?
Certainly, anonymity — or, its modern online version, fake identities — are not unknown on social networks. In fact, a popular MTV series, Catfish, and the award-winning documentary of the same name, are built on the idea that even online romantic partners are not always who they seem to be (E.g., Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o.)
And, even if my real identity is showing, is there much that isn't said online? Dissertations are undoubtedly being written about how online conversation, even between identified participants, encourages a level of honesty not always possible in the real world. Although Spraffl’s standards for “abuse” are not specified, anonymity could lead as easily to harassment, insult, nastiness and slander as to honest discourse.
Spraffl reminds one of a bulletin board with anonymous postings, except with physical locations specified. Postings become single-shots, with reply threads dangling. The question is whether that offers one enough to keep coming back to the network.