Summary:

Group messaging app Rumr brings the novelty of anonymity to private messaging, but is the company ready to handle the possible consequences?

Man Text Messaging
photo: Corbis / Sara Wight

Like passive location and selfies before it, it seems that anonymity is the mobile app trend for 2014. While much of the focus has been on anonymous public forums — Whisper and Secret come to mind — anonymity is now extending to group messaging with rumr, a mobile app that allows groups of people to communicate with an added layer of anonymity. After a period in closed beta, the company released the app for iOS on Tuesday.

Rumr“We made a messaging experience that’s for emotions,” said CEO James Jerlicki. “I wanted people to really express themselves, whether funny or serious or in between.”

The company raised a round of funding last year from the likes of Google Ventures, Khosla Ventures and Greycroft Partners — PandoDaily reported the total funds raised as $800,000, which the company would not confirm.

While the app does have anonymous features, it isn’t meant for talking to strangers. Instead, users connect their phone number and email to the system, and then choose a username. In order to start a conversation, users must agree to entering a chat with a listed number of people they know — although it’s not clear who starts the chat. The “anonymity” comes during the chat: Instead of showing names, users are each randomly assigned a color. Jerlicki says that right now, users can text message only.

“There are certain things standard in messaging apps that we don’t have access to yet,” Jerlicki said. “You notice pictures aren’t in there.”

Jerlicki said that the product was beta-tested over the last few months by roughly 85 users — mostly colleagues, friends and family. But Rumr hasn’t been tested by teens — and the app’s anonymity layers allow groups of teens to knowingly enter chats that could easily lead to bullying. Under the safety of (at least partial) anonymity, teens could feel compelled to pick on others or gang up on a single users. But, as of right now, it’s up to the user who feels uncomfortable in a chat to leave it and contact support on their own.

“An anonymous chat can’t be monitored the same as an identity based chat and requires additional steps to protect the anonymity and the safety of the users,” Rumr told me in an email. “We already have features in development to help make Rumr even safer, with features like flagging offensive posts and timeouts for users who are misbehaving that could lead to a permanent ban on Rumr.”

But these features won’t be available in the chat’s first build — which means that Rumr faces a conflict: push for growth knowing that the measures to help flag offensive users aren’t in place, or wait and risk missing growth while the anonymity trend remains hot. With the benefit of prominent VCs and Google at its back, Rumr has a chance to bring anonymity into a new kind of communication.

 

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