Personalization and authenticity are two buzz words du jour, pointing to the underlying apparatus that fuels much of the social web: accounts tied to real individuals, with behavioral tracking to deliver a unique-to-each-user content and message experience.
Spraffl started as “one of those back of a bar mat conceptions,” says co-founder Jay Feeney, where the team was discussing the idea in their local pub.
The idea is to create a completely anonymous platform for user comment and interaction, a purely anonymous content publishing platform open to anyone, anywhere. There are no friends, no networks, no groups, no names – nothing but pithy comments by anonymous Sprafflers.
As they say, the revolution will not be personalized – rather, it will be spraffled, a variation on woffling that will certainly resonate with a certain demographic.
Will this turn out to be a haven for trolls? Or will this become a refreshing respite from the recriminations of having every last digital word tied to an identity-verified profile?
We started to discuss classified sections, where people write in to place anÂ anonymous classified message for people they spotted but didnât have the courageÂ to speak to at the time â e.g. âI saw you on the 99 bus wearing the red jacket, youÂ smiled at me but I didnât get to speak to you before you got offâ.
Itâs all a bit of funÂ and nothing serious but we wondered if there was a way to take that concept onto aÂ smartphone.
On Spraffl, the only identifiers beyond the geo-tag are categories for each individual post. Question, Observation, News, Statement, Flirt and Review are all options to attach to content, providing some context for sorting through the anonymous ramblings of the unwashed masses.
The team at Spraffl, consisting of CEOÂ Jay Feeney, CTO AJ Ostergaard, and Chief Developer Dasha Salo, took some time to answer our Tnooz TLabs Q&A.
Describe what your start-up does, what problem it solves (differently to what is already out there) and for whom?
Spraffl is a geo-social app that elegantly takes the âselfâ out of the social media equation. ItÂ introduces instant anonymous networks where people can share ideas, gossip and connectÂ without the âbaggage of identityâ.
Our initial thinking was to allow people to post anonymous comments tagged toÂ a time and location. Before long we realised that the simple concept of real-timeÂ anonymous publishing in a local environment was something that hadnât really beenÂ done â and we were incredibly excited about the concept.
Over the next few days, thinking more and more about this concept we realised thatÂ it could open up so many positive and useful possibilities (beyond the obvious gossipÂ and flirt aspect). We also realised that there could be a negative user case and afterÂ working a way to stamp out malicious activity, we decided to get to it!
People can jump straight into a ready-made network and engage with other users ââSpraffersâ – close by without the need and effort of building connections as with other socialÂ media platforms. Itâs an easy, simple and effective way of sharing hyper-local information.
Spraffl is about anonymity: is the Spraffer your colleague at work, the girl in the lectureÂ theatre, that guy in the bar? The conversation is the important element, not the social profile.
This freedom and anonymity is exciting, but Spraffl is automatically moderated and self-healing, allowing its users to potentially flag specific “Spraffs” as abusive. Three or moreÂ abusive reports will automatically remove a Spraff, and if a Spraffer does this three timesÂ they will be removed from the network.
Spraff: What you spraffing about? Spraff (ing) is a slang term for chit-chat. Spraffl is a pureÂ social network aimed at relevant local conversation rather than self-promotion.
Why should people or companies use your startup?
Anonymity has been an incredibly important part of the way we communicate over theÂ centuries and has proved its great worth in print and other media.
The ever-evolving opportunities to live a life online have been exciting and addictive butÂ weâre becoming a little bored by our online selves.
Weâre ready to ditch the baggage of identity and Spraffl means there are no people to follow,Â no check-ins required, no badges, no points, just pure and immediate conversation. SimplyÂ open the app and start spraffing!â
Spraffl connects people in any locale – the same bar, at the same office, in the same town orÂ watching the same football game.
Spraffers can say what theyâre really thinking by making anonymous location-taggedÂ statements. You can see where Spraffers are, but not who they are.
âSpraffsâ or updates can be used to break local news, comment at an event, make an honestÂ review, or pay someone a compliment, the opportunities are limitless.
Other Spraffers can read, rate and reply to posts. Spraffl is about location: you can seeÂ Spraffs near you and reply to them publicly or privately.
Users can also share Spraffs or other peopleâs Spraffs with their friends on Facebook andÂ Twitter. All Spraffs are shared as green posters.
Other than going viral and receiving mountains of positive PR, what is theÂ strategy for raising awareness and getting customers/users?
Weâre going to be focusing on self-sustaining pocket communities where Spraffl can workÂ without the rest of the world having to use it.
These would include universities, venues, largeÂ offices and various group/fan-based communities (like sports fan groups). Our aim is to getÂ more and more of these communities using the app when itâs expected that more organicÂ users will start percolating through.
How did your initial idea evolve? Were there changes/any pivots along theÂ way? What other options have you considered for the business if the originalÂ vision fails?
We had originally planned to allow the app to tell you what had been said near you at theÂ time you were there, so you could go back and see your activity plotted on location and time.
We soon realised that it was a much more simple and effective proposition to remove theÂ time aspect so that Spraffl was focussed on real time local anonymous activity. We doÂ however plan to introduce our time track feature in a future update.
Where do you see yourselves in 3 years time, what specific challenges doÂ you hope to have overcome?
Our challenge is to reach a critical mass so that the app grows organically and virallyÂ through its userbase and content.
If we can get a hyper local following even in a few areas, the app should start to grow itâsÂ own legs. Our challenge is to keep bringing people back to the app whilst attracting newÂ users.
Weâre really hoping that our users will encourage their friends to join in their local area â soÂ far weâre finding that our users are doing just that â Spraffl is all about building hyper localÂ communities.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requiresÂ another startup to help it out?
Spraffl isnât specific to the travel, tourism and hospitality industry but it offers realÂ opportunities for all.
Using Spraffl while on holiday, at an event or travelling offers a fun and useful way for peopleÂ to connect and share ideas and experiences with each other, without having to worry aboutÂ setting up or keeping a profile up to date.
If you have something to say, or want to connect, open up Spraffl, and Spraff, itâs that easy.
This idea is fresh and innovative, and unlike other new anonymous social networks like Social Number, there is a clear mobile-first play here that is poised to take advantage of the continued growth in smartphone adoption.
The broad ability to flirt, review, comment, etc. is also clever, as it allows multiple demographics to participate in the way they see fit, allowing the network to become a true utility of direct interaction.
The anonymity could be a negative, of course, when it comes to fostering true in-person connections and reducing the impact of trolls who see this as carte blanche to be completely idiotic, rude and inappropriate. The question of inappropriate content – such as foul language, pornographic media or other less-than-savory pieces of content – is also an important one. Who is monitoring these streams? What standards will the anonymous masses be held to? How will the Spraffl team manage this moderation without watering down the concept or seeming to censor people?
On the money front, the monetization strategy is to allow local businesses toÂ communicate and advertise to their local customers. Given the geo-located nature of the content, this could definitely work. There could also be some fun branding opportunties for the right businesses able to become a part of the conversation.
However, some businesses may be reluctant to place ads against content that is of uncertain character and tone. In addition, the businesses would not be anonymous while anyone who responds to the promotions are – this is a recipe for a trolling disaster, and is something that the Spraffl team should think seriously about.
Overall, this is a welcome development as travel businesses look to experiment with all kinds of geo-specific networks that allow them to interact with locals and visitors alike – however they choose to communicate.