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When The New York Times reported this week that Facebook was working on an “anonymity app,” the internet lit up with speculation. Many wondered whether Facebook’s product would compete with Secret or Whisper, the anonymity apps to which the tech world has paid the most attention.
But a broadcast from Josh Miller, the Facebook staffer running the project, suggests another app may be the inspiration. Two weeks ago, Miller tweeted about Yik Yak, the anonymous app taking off with the college demographic.
The tweet has since been deleted.
Yik Yak, the dark horse of the current anonymity app space, may wind up being the one with the most lasting power. Its U.S. iOS download ranking in App Annie has steadily climbed as Whisper’s and Secret’s have fallen. As of Thursday, its iOS app is ranked 5th in US social networking, compared to Whisper’s 24th and Secret’s 187. The app is like a location-based Twitter. When users, who adopt and discard pseudonyms at will, post on the app, it broadcasts only to a 1.5 mile radius. Likewise, their feed shows them posts only from a mile and a half away. It’s a very different product from Whisper and Secret, and its founders consider the app’s location technology to be its main differentiator, not anonymity.
Likewise, Facebook’s Miller denied speculation that the company was focusing on anonymity in its new app following The New York Times report. Miller tweeted, “Anonymous Apps: Focus should be on what human desire you want to enable, not anonymity as the focal point.” He also denied that the app was an imitation of Secret or Whisper, saying, “I hope people know the @branch crew wouldn’t build a clone of anything.”
That’s all well and good, but Facebook has a history of ripping off competitors. It built its Slingshot app after its engineers were inspired by smaller startup TapTalk, and it built Poke to take on Snapchat. That doesn’t mean its reported anonymity product will imitate Secret, Whisper, or Yik Yak, but given these are the reigning figures in the space, it’s likely Facebook at least looked at them when experimenting with what to build.
And if Miller’s tweet is any indication, it was more impressed with Yik Yak than all the rest.
Post-note: After this story was published, Miller responded to me saying that although he thinks Yik Yak is cool, he’s not interested in building something similar because of the potential for gossip when anonymity is tied to “friends” or “schools.”
This story has been updated to clarify that Miller was denying speculation about the anonymity focus, not The New York Times’ original coverage of the app. It was also updated to include Miller’s comment about Yik Yak after the story ran.